A stress-free guide to creating an event budget

Whether you’re hosting an unforgettable fundraiser or a cute baby shower, every kind of party should have a budget. 

Plotting out your budget, you’ll be able to prioritize the most important aspects of your vision and have the best possible party for the occasion.

How to make a budget for an event, cost by cost
The benefits of budgeting: why it matters
A budgeting guide for every party type
How to make a company party budget?
How to make a birthday party budget?
How to make a baby shower budget?
How to make a bachelorette party budget?
Tips for staying on track with your budget
Build your budget and host confidently with Paperless Post

How to make a budget for an event, cost by cost

What are you envisioning for your party? Cake? A cotton candy machine? Confetti cannons?

Creating an event budget starts with itemizing every potential expense your party may incur. Your job starts with listing it all, from the smallest expenses to the biggest-budget items to get as near to the actual cost as possible. 

Here are some expenses to consider as you’re building that list: 

Tip: We recommend embracing spreadsheets as you go to keep yourself organized. The more you can document, the more realistic of a budget you’ll be able to create from that record. 

 

Expense #1. Venue

No matter how humble (or extravagant), every party needs a place to enjoy the festivities. Venues are generally one of the costliest party-planning expenses, particularly if you’re reserving a large location during peak season.

Renting out a venue can cost anywhere between $100 to $2,000 per hour (or more), depending on:

— Venue type

— Location

— Season

— Length of rental

While location-related expenses can be steep, many spaces offer party packages to cut down on costs in other areas and absorb some of the time, energy, and stresses that can accompany party planning.

Whatever venue you land on, don’t forget to take event accessibility under consideration. Shuttles, parking, or late-night rideshares can all factor into your final bill.

 

Expense #2. Ground-level costs

Staple party costs include those elements of your party that support the basics—eating, drinking, and sitting:

— Food and catering: To start, ask yourself whether your guests will expect a full meal or whether hors d’oeuvres will suffice. While you might DIY fare for smaller parties, catering can be another costly expense for large events. For example, your average wedding catering clocks in at about $20 – $75 per person (and that’s excluding the bar).

Whatever type of event you’re hosting, be sure to ask vendors whether they charge for accommodating dietary restrictions and allergies. As an affordable alternative, consider recruiting a food truck, which has become a trendy alternative in recent years and averages between $8-$30 per head. 

— Beverages: Budgeting for beverages can be a gamble, as open bars can account for up to 20% of a party’s total costs. Your best bet is to lay down the ground rules from the beginning: will you host an open bar, will you provide a set number of drink tickets for every guest, or will patrons be expected to pick up the tab? Plenty of events exclude booze altogether, so be sure to let your guests know ahead of time what to expect in your party invitations.

— Furniture: Many venues and caterers include dining room set-ups in their rates. However, there are occasions when you may need to rent extra furniture to make every guest feel comfortable. Before you can forecast those expenses, ballpark your expected headcount and talk to your vendor about your options. 

 

Left: A green party invitation with cream tropical florals; Right: A peach and light blue table setting.Summer Nights Dream” by Cheree Berry Paper & Design for Paperless Post, image via Magnolia Rouge.

 

Expense #3. Decorations

Party decor can inspire–do not underestimate the power of balloons, lighting, floral arrangements, and other fun details to set the tone and bring your event together. 

That said, it’s easy to get swept away in the fantasy. To get down to brass tacks without sacrificing your vision, here are 3 budget-building steps to take:

#1: List your dream decor: Before you can budget, you need to dream: if money were no object, what experience would your guests have? Jot down every feature of your vision, floor to ceiling, including decorations. Think of the sights, sounds, and textures your guests would ideally encounter upon arriving.

#2: Whittle down your list: Next, identify which parts of this dream are the core elements that drive your theme the most. Prioritization is key. For instance, if you dream of having a live string quartet be the centerpiece of your anniversary dinner, you won’t need to budget for a DJ and A/V equipment. Sometimes, the more you can embrace minimalism, the more the specific choices you make will have an impact.

#3: Have a plan B and get creative with it: Every host realistically ends up having to make some compromises, whether it’s because you are booked out of your dream location at peak season or because there is a summer storm. Zero in on your event priorities, and with a little ingenuity, you can conjure the same magic you originally envisioned—without watching the costs climb.

Can’t afford an ice luge for your winter wonderland party? No sweat. Buy some tall glass vases, fill them with ice chips, trim them with string lights, and stage by the cocktail bar for a sparkling substitute.

 

Expense #4. Technology and tools

Budgeting for party tech equipment can be overwhelming. To get the best rates, think about what moments or portions of your event you’ll need AV support for. For example, AV-heavy parts of your agenda may include:

— Speeches

— Presentations

— Award ceremonies

– Live music performances

– Dancing

Which would require things like:

— Projection stands and screens

— Microphones

— Speakers

— Live music

Fortunately, many A/V vendors offer package deals for specific event types, like graduations or corporate dinners. It’s also worth dropping a line to your chosen venue to verify if they have a referral or approved list of vendors you’ll need to work with.

 

Expense #5. Event invitations and other stationery

The larger the event, the steeper the cost of traditional print invitations. Paper wedding invitations can escalate to $1,800 for just 100 invitations—and that’s excluding save-the-dates and thank-you cards.

Beyond the style you’re going for your event invitation budget may depend on the:

– Number of invited guests

– Postage required to send

– Follow-up messages or promotional materials

Digital event invitations are a great alternative to old-school paper invites, enabling you to set the tone of your event, take the headache out of collating responses and follow-ups, and provide budgetary relief in the process. (Paperless Post offers stylish invitations with RSVP-tracking capabilities for up to 250 guests starting at just $30!)

 

Expense #6. Marketing and promotion

If you’re hosting a ticketed event, marketing costs are a pivotal part of your budget. To draw a crowd, you have to get the word out. And to get the word out, you have to know where your potential guests are.

Before knowing how much to spend on marketing, it’s important to weigh your overall event investments against your projected ticket sales. Event marketing is a business all its own, but it typically includes:

– Advertising

— Social media marketing

— SEO services

— Event swag

Be sure to feature ticket links on digital invitations to let guests know your party requires a cover (and offer them a one-click route to make their purchase). 

Once you’ve established your promotional expenses, draft projections for how much you expect to make in ticket sales, raffles, or other fundraising methods on your agenda. When in doubt, keep projections modest—once you see results you can lean into what’s working.

 

Expense #7. Staff

In many cases, it takes a village to pull off a major event. Aside from your standard caterers and bartenders, be sure your budget accounts for the following kinds of people for support (where applicable):

— Security

— Party planners

— Waitstaff/servers

— Photographers

— Videographers

— Entertainers like DJs, musicians, comedians, or magicians

— Experiential elements like psychics or tarot readers

 

Expense #8. Unexpected costs

No matter the size of your party, every budget should have extra margin to make room for unforeseen circumstances. Accidents or other unforeseen costs come with the territory, which is why many venues require you to purchase liability insurance for major events.

To save costs in the long run, consider the most high-risk elements of your party and factor in the price of finding a backup. When a shuttle bus doesn’t show up, the bartender calls in sick, or the bachelorette needs an emergency costume change, you’ll be glad you added the padding.

 

Expense #9: Favors and fun stuff

Now that the key elements of your party are budgeted and accounted for, do you have room for some extras? These additional touches can make a party even more special and can include:

– Branded clothing to wear at the event

– Party favors like monogrammed wine glasses, pens, or candles

– Sweets and treats to take home after the fun is over

– After-party expenses like transport, drinks, and late-night snacks

– Professional photography

– Any other items that come up along the way

 

Left: Flowers and wine on a table under a tree; Right: A wine tasting event invitationwith iridescent lines.Biotic” by Kelly Wearstler for Paperless Post. 

 

The benefits of budgeting: why it matters

Budgeting is a foundational part of the party-planning process, as it enables you to envision all aspects of your event ahead of time, and forces you to prioritize. Tracking your expenses can also help you to:

— Save on event expenses

— Negotiate with vendors to secure the best rates

— Distill which aspects of your party are most important to you

— Make attendance more affordable for guests (if applicable)

— Increase your event profits (if applicable)

We know that drafting a budget will never be as glamorous, memorable, or fun as the event itself. But being fiscally conscious throughout the process will enable you to take the stress out of the planning process so you can enjoy it when the day finally arrives.

 

A budgeting guide for every party type

Each celebration is unique, but there are key costs associated with certain types of parties that you’ll want to account for in your budget.

 

How to make a company party budget?

If you’re planning an office or company party, you’ll probably be given a capped budget to work with. Once you know your ceiling, these are the primary costs you’ll want to account for:

— Catering

— Seating and dining

— Invitations

For bigger/more formal events:

— Tech and equipment

— Entertainment

 

How to make a birthday party budget?

Like most events, birthday party budgeting is highly contingent on the size of the event you’re holding.

What’s more, milestone birthdays like quinceñeras, sweet sixteens, 21st birthdays, or 60th birthdays each have their own unique elements, requiring a specific kind of decor and set of activities for guests to enjoy.

When planning a birthday party, each planning decision you make should revolve around what will make the guest of honor feel extra special. To budget accordingly, be sure to decide on:

— Light fare, food, or catering

— Beverages and alcohol (for 21+ guests)

— Birthday decor

— Birthday cake

— Activities or entertainment

— Invitations

— Thank-you notes

 

How to make a baby shower budget?

Baby showers tend to have guests from all walks of life (and ages!) who are close to the baby’s parents. To tailor your budget, consider:

— Hors d’oeuvres or light fare

— Beverages and alcohol-free cocktails for the pregnant party-goers

— Baby shower decorations

— Baby-themed games

— Child-proofing (if any little ones are in attendance)

— Baby shower invitations

 

Left: A baby shower invitation with greenery illustrations; Right: A baby shower table setting with greenery, yellow roses, and hot air balloon decor.

Grandissant” by Paperless Post, image via 5ive Fifteen

 

How to make a bachelorette party budget?

Many bachelor and bachelorette parties are held out on the town—or at a single location where guests can celebrate all weekend long. 

The main attraction here is the activities, which means your budget should account for the following:

— Food

— Beverages

— Transportation

— Bachelor or bachelorette party-themed decor

— Bachelor or bachelorette regalia (e.g. crowns, boas, and drinkware)

— Hotel bookings (if applicable)

— Invitations

An event budget can help serve as a gauge of what your boundaries are. For example, if it’s too expensive to transport attendees a long distance, then consider hosting a small local party for in-town friends and family or those willing to travel. 

 

Tips for staying on track with your budget

For large-scale parties or events, take a more vigilant approach to accounting. Track each expense you incur and if you plan to turn a profit, create 12-month, 6-month, and 1-month forecasts of your projections. Not only will you keep expenses under your budget ceiling, but you’ll also walk away with a budget blueprint to streamline any future fundraisers you organize.

Above all, keep a flexible attitude. Once you know your budget cap, it’s up to you where to loosen or tighten your belt with respect to expenses. Each celebration will come with trade-offs as you plan your party, but don’t be discouraged – odds are your guests have lower expectations than you do as the host and will have a good time.

 

Build your budget and host confidently with Paperless Post

When considering invitations for your next event, you can reduce costs and stress with Paperless Post’s elegant collection of digital invitations. Not only is it more economical than paper invites, but you can also advertise ticket sales, track RSVPs, and give your guests something to look forward to when you send your invitations.

 

 

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Hero image via Planterra Conservatory.