Events October 27, 2021

How do you plan an event on a budget?

Planning an event involves gathering lots of pieces of a puzzle and fitting them perfectly together. You’ll need a place to hold your event, furniture, equipment, refreshments, staff… and, of course, guests to attend. But how do you achieve all of that without overspending? Crafting an event budget involves considering several options, prioritising what to spend on and being flexible along the way. The costs of running an event are often higher than you might expect, so without proper planning, it can be easy for costs to spiral out of control. If you’re wondering where to begin, we’ve put together a step-by-step guide to get you started.

Step 1: Establish the budget for your event

Event planners are often given an allocated budget for an event – and this figure will be your starting point to source everything you need. Sometimes, the budget for your event is a bit more complex as it will depend on ticket sales, sponsorship or fundraising. In this case, you’ll have to estimate your budget before you begin and reassess along the way depending on how many tickets you sell or sponsorship deals you land. 

Is the purpose of your event to make a profit? You should establish the profit margin that you hope to reach and factor that into the cost of your tickets, merchandise, or fundraising activities. 

Step 2: List all of your event requirements

Start by putting together a ‘wish list’ of everything you would like at your event. There’s no harm in dreaming big at this initial stage – but it helps to be realistic. If you’re organising an event on a tight budget, adding a champagne reception, live band and luxury gift bags to your wish list might just set you up for disappointment later on. 

Start by detailing the essentials for your event – venue, staff, insurance etc… Then, underneath, add any extra elements that you would like to include if the budget allows. 

Your list will vary depending on the type of event you are planning, but some typical costs might include:

  • Venue hire
  • Equipment hire
  • Catering 
  • Technicians
  • Insurance
  • Marketing
  • Invitations
  • Staffing 
  • Transport
  • Entertainment

Step 3: Get quotes and list your projected costs

Once you’ve mapped out everything that you would like at your event, it’s time to research the exact costs. Some costs will be set in stone from the outset, for example, staff wages – but you might want to shop around for the best quotes in other areas. 

Contact a few different suppliers and find out how much it would cost to hire them for your event. If the initial quote is higher than expected, ask for a breakdown of the costs and propose some ways to bring the cost down. 

Depending on your budget, you may need to make compromises. Is the quote for a three-course dinner going to cost too much? Find out if you can lower the cost by serving two courses instead, or look at alternate options like hiring a food truck for the evening. 

If possible, it’s helpful to look at similar past events to get an idea of costs before you begin. Past budgets can act as a useful benchmark to compare your quotes too – but remember that industry costs increase with inflation each year. 

Once you’ve found the best price for everything you need, create a spreadsheet and list the figures as your ‘projected costs’. This is how much you think you will spend – but of course, things could change. 

Step 4 – Adjust your budget and allow for contingency

With all the projected costs in front of you, it’s time to make some decisions. Perhaps you can comfortably afford everything on your list, but maybe you’ll need to make some changes to your plans. 

Depending on the size of your event, keep 10-20% of your budget aside as a contingency fund. This means that if there are any unexpected costs or last-minute changes, you won’t go into the red. With that in mind, look again at your budget and consider if there are any costs that you should cut back on. 

If the budget is tight, consider what the most important elements of your event are. For example, at a conference you might not want to compromise on the quality of the AV equipment, but perhaps you can cut costs by sending email invitations instead of paper ones. 

Step 5 – Make purchases and keep track of actual costs

Once you’re happy with your budget, you can start locking in important elements of the event. It’s sensible to start by spending on the non-negotiable items on your list – for example, the venue or the staff. Log each expenditure as an ‘actual cost’ in your budget spreadsheet and monitor any expenses that cost more than you predicted. 

It’s important to remember that a budget is a flexible document. Some costs will be fixed from the outset, but others will depend on how many tickets you sell or guests that RSVP. For example, if you don’t sell enough tickets to a festival, you may discover that it’s not economical to set up three different stages. You’ll need to reassess your budget and consider the alternative options. Maybe you only set up one stage, or maybe you recruit some volunteers to cut back on staffing costs?

Step 6 – Assess your final figures

After the event has taken place, you’ll be able to gather all of your expenditure and assess it against your budget. Did you spend more than expected? Perhaps you made a great profit? Look at each area that you spent your budget and consider if you could have done anything differently. Make notes so that if you’re planning a similar event in the future, you remember what went well and what you might like to change. 

Budgeting for an event can seem like a daunting task – but it’s easy to stay in control. Start the budgeting process early, stay flexible and allow for circumstances to change along the way. With some creative thinking and an open mind, you’ll be able to plan and budget for your next event with confidence.

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