Event Planning on a Budget – Part One: An Overview

February 27th, 2009

Just because you are on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t have the event you want. It requires some extra work and maybe a few compromises, but you can still get married or have a bar mitzvah or throw the party for your parents’ anniversary and have a real celebration. Working on a budget is something I do a lot, so I’d like to share some of my insights with you.

It's about the money.

It's about the money.

The first thing to do is to have an actual budget. This is sometimes an item that people put off, but I urge you to come up with a realistic budget as early in the planning process as you can. It will help to guide your choices as you plan your event. The main reason for procrastination, I think, is the simple fact that many people do not know how to go about preparing a budget. Here is my method:

Start with the total amount of money you are able to spend on the event. Be realistic about your ability to spend, including any contributions others have committed to making. It is not worthwhile to spend more on any event than you have. Unless your circumstances are unusual, it is not generally a good idea to go into debt for a wedding or other celebration. I also do not recommend spending everything you have for one day’s celebration.

Next, list all the things you intend to spend money on. Include everything you think you might need, and add a “just in case” category. For a wedding, your list might look something like this:

Ceremony venue
Dish rental
Event planner
Furniture rental
Guest directions
Linen rental
Other rentals
Place cards
Program book
Reception venue
Save-the date cards
Sound equipment
Table numbers
Unity candle or sand

This is not to say that you have to include everything on the list. I don’t think I have ever worked on a wedding that spent money in each and every one of these categories. And some events require things that are not on this list. Pick the ones that pertain to your event and make a spreadsheet.

Now comes the hard part: Fill in a number next to each category and make sure the total does not exceed your total budget number. (Computer spreadsheet programs such as Excel make this job much easier.) But how do you know what number to put there? You will have to do some research. Talk to vendors and other professionals (such as an event planner). Poke around online to get a range of prices. Decide what things you can do yourself to save money and what things will require professional services. For example, you might make place cards and table numbers yourself at minimal cost, if you have the time. In a future post, I will take a look at some of the more difficult categories and consider ways to estimate and reduce costs in each.

The creative bride of this wedding made her own programs, place cards, and even her own flower arrangements.

The creative bride of this wedding made her own programs, place cards, and even her own flower arrangements.

Finally, if your cost estimate exceeds your resources, you will have to find places to cut. You may have to reconsider how you define what things you need and remove some categories, or you might have to make do with smaller quantities or lesser quality on some things. These decisions are not easy, but keep in mind that the most important thing about any celebration is now how opulent it looks but what happens between the people. If it’s a wedding, getting married is the most important thing that will happen. If it is an anniversary or birthday party, the important thing is to honor the ones who have reached a milestone. If you can manage a lavish entertainment in addition, consider it a bonus.