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How to Budget for an Event

Budgeting for an event can be stressful. It can even be tempting to not budget at all, but the stress of budgeting is far less stressful than overspending.

Thankfully, budgeting for an event is easy: you probably already know all the key information. Budgeting for an event means you get to take that information and attach to it a feasible plan. With a well-formed budgeting plan, your financial resources, your goals, and your strategy will all be in sync. With all three in perspective, you will be in control of your event’s final outcome from the very beginning.

Here’s what to keep in mind when it’s time to start your event budget.

1. Over-communicate with stakeholders.

Creating an event budget can be intimidating, but it is the single most important step in making your event happen. Assessing available funds you’re working with, sitting down with others on your team, and creating a budget should be the very first step in your event planning process.

Unless you are singlehandedly planning, funding, and executing an event by yourself, chances are there are many other people involved. You might have an idea of how much you want to spend on marketing, but other team members could have a dramatically different vision of what that looks like. Talk to them about their goals, their vision, and their available assets. Miscommunication can wreck your entire budgeting plan, so make sure you’re on the same page at the beginning.

2. Define your focus.

What do you want your event to achieve? Why are you having this event? Refine and clearly articulate your goals. Is the food most important? The eclectic music? The decked-out decor? Hone in on what matters most to creating your vision, and allocate your funds to reflect your priorities.

3. Estimate a headcount of attendees.

Event Budgeting Headcount Groomsmen Figurines

How many people are you expecting at your event? Do you need to budget for 50 attendees, or 500?

So many cost drivers such as venue, place settings, catering, and concessions needs will all revolve around headcount. If you’re not sure how large your party will be, your head might be spinning after your first pricing call with a vendor.

Knowing your headcount (even just an estimate) helps you better determine:

  • The type of venue you will need
  • Quantities of food, concessions, gifts, and seating required
  • How to organize your event layout
  • The scale and scope of amenities required to accommodate guests
  • Your overall budget and expenses

Once you figure out an estimate of your headcount, you can finally start creating a budget that’s realistic and sufficient for making your event a reality.

4. Start planning.

Budget Planner Green Calculator Angle

Open a spreadsheet.

When it comes to budgeting, a simple yet detailed spreadsheet can save you hours of headache and frenzied last-minute scrounging.Unless you have access to event budgeting software, from this point forward spreadsheets are your friend.

You can download a budgeting spreadsheet template on Google Sheets or start your own from scratch. If you decide to make your own, start by creating a few columns.

Create Your Budget Spreadsheet Columns

Item

Create a line item (in other words, an entry) for every individual item you will need. Be as specific as possible, and don’t lump items together (I.e. if “decor” entails centerpieces, tablecloths, chairs, and flowers, note each of these as separate line items. This becomes important for determining quantity and making changes in your budget later on.)

Description

Again, the more detail the merrier. What is the item, why do you need it, and what is it being used for?

For example, the line item “t-shirts” might have the description: “pink, size medium, ‘Women’s Classic T on Wish.com,’ will be included in gift bag. If you are distributing different sizes of t-shirts, make sure to annotate each separately.

(And don’t forget about things like delivery fees, shipping costs, or any minimum order sizes required by the distributor.)

Quantity

How many (or much) of this item do you need?

This is an important column considering it is virtually impossible to calculate a budget without knowing item quantities. If you don’t know, estimate.

As you refine your budget, item quantity is also one of the easiest places to make cuts if you want to save money. (Do we really need 15 door prizes?)

Estimated Cost

Costs vary, and it can be difficult to predict an item’s exact cost in advance. Nonetheless, it’s incredibly useful to know a ballpark figure.

When approximating costs, don’t guess. Visit retailers’ websites, call service providers directly to get estimates, look up the cost of similar items, or consult your event expenses from the past.

Don’t forget to account for things like tips and gratuities, fees that vary based on date or availability, set-up fees, and more.

Actual Cost

This is an important asset for planning your next event (and tracking your spending on this one as your budget dilutes).

Chances are that your estimated cost won’t be exact (as things change and we can’t predict the future), so noting the actual cost you pay for each item helps you track your actual spending as you go.

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5. Start breaking down the costs.

Now that you have your spreadsheet columns, you can start adding line items. This is where budgeting gets fun because you get to envision all the many factors that will create your event.

Try to think of everything. Here are a few important items it’s smart to make sure you include.

Common Event Budget Expenses

Travel Costs: Will you need to take a taxi/Lyft/Uber on the way? If you’re hosting a company event with staff attendees, will they receive a per diem for meals and lodging expenses? Will you be renting a van, limousine, or equipment truck for the event? Don’t forget to note these items in a category for travel costs.

Venue: This will probably be the most important (and expensive) cost on your list. Don’t forget to explore different venue options and varying costs by date (as well as any packages the venue you’re booking with might offer). Figure out what’s included, and consider costs and amenities across different rooms or areas (ballroom, garden, auditorium).

Remember to consider potential additional venue costs:

  • Is WiFi included, or will you need to purchase extra WiFi for your guests?
  • Will tables and chairs be provided? (If so, do you plan to use them?)
  • Does your venue charge a fee for outside vendors? (Some venues keep vendor lists or provide services themselves, charging guests an extra fee to bring in their own vendors).
  • What is the parking situation? Will you need to pay for valet parking or other fees?
  • If your event is outdoors, do you have a backup or contingency plan (like an outdoor tent) in case it rains?

AV Equipment: Lighting, speakers, microphones, DJ fees, and other AV expenses are just a few things you’ll need to factor into your event budget. Are set up and breakdown included with your AV rental? Are there potential additional costs such as late rental returns or equipment damage fees? How are you planning to use your AV equipment? (Everything from power strips to podiums should be included in your budget. Once you envision setup, you start to realize what you’ll need.)

Food & Drinks (Catering): Is there a minimum quantity or fee required to book a caterer? Will there be taxes, tips, and gratuities? Is serving equipment (i.e. dishes, serving utensils, trays) included with catering? Are there setup or breakdown fees, or fees for late cleanup?

Alcohol (If applicable): Does your venue (or state) allow you to serve alcohol at your event, or will you need to pay for a permit or license? Do you plan on offering a cash bar or a hosted bar with a bartender? Will there be taxes, tips, and fees required for this? What types (and price ranges) of alcohol do you plan to serve (if any)?

Video & Photography: How expensive is your photographer? Do you receive access to edited photos or just the raw image files? Are you paying your photography by the hour or by the day? Do you have to pay for photography and access to images separately?

Marketing: Marketing includes everything from Google Ads to guest gift bags or party favors to flyers and invitations. Don’t underestimate this part of your budget (and don’t forget about printer fees).

Decor: Chances are likely that your venue of choice will not come decked out with the decor of your dreams. Think through everything you’ll need. From functional furniture (podiums, cocktail tables, banquet tables, lounge furniture, and guest seating) to design elements (centerpieces, tablecloths, flowers, decorations, and more), your decor creates your event experience.

6. Set aside your ‘rainy day fund.’

red piggy bank on a colorful background

Unexpected things happen, which means unexpected costs. In case anything particularly unexpected happens (from last-minute cancellations to price hikes to faulty equipment), it’s important to keep some wiggle room in your budget.

Imagine your worst case scenario. Prepare for that (and factor it into your budget accordingly).

If you’re not sure how much to set aside for your rainy day fund, try factoring in about 15% of your budget (just in case).

7. Plan your event based on your budget, not the other way around.

Our visions are amorphous and (usually) flexible. Goals or event objectives can be actualized a variety of different ways: your event budget is your set of ingredients in a recipe, but you get to mix those ingredients up however you like.

Budgets, however, are more finite. There is only one answer to 2+2, or $960 divided by 96 people. Numbers are merciless, so it’s smart to play by their rules.

With a detailed, specific, and realistic event budgeting plan, you can estimate your ROI, plan for contingencies, and decide which elements of your event will generate the biggest return- and which can be cut. You’ll also create a viable template for future success.

Final Tips on Budgeting for an Event

  • The more details you include, the more accurate your budget will be.
  • Don’t underestimate expenses just to make your budget break even.
  • Plan for all worst-case scenarios.
  • Focus on what’s most important for your event goals, and allocate your funding to reflect that.
  • Document everything (including actual expenses).
  • Do your research when estimating costs.
  • Seek the advice of others and consult previous event budgets.
  • Balance your spending across categories (it doesn’t do much good to have an incredible DJ but not enough food).
  • Keep your mind open and your expectations flexible, and your budget won’t have to be.

Happy planning!

Do you have any tips on budgeting for an event? Let us know, and remember the event planning experts at Peerless Events and Tents are here to help.

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