If you’re planning your very first event, or you are on a tight event budget, the costs may seem almost insurmountable. However, you can start small, cut costs where you can, and still put on an amazing event.

The first step to working with a small budget is to write out your budget and stick to a plan. However, once you have your basic budget in place, there are some additional things you can do to save even more.

Pinching Pennies

There are a number of ways you can stretch your event dollars even further. One key way to stretch your event budget is to think outside the box.


Seek out volunteers rather than hiring people to do the work. Any volunteer saves you money.

  • Are there any cooks or caterers in your organization who would donate their time? This would mean you’d only have actual food costs.
  • What about people to serve the food? Typically, you will pay a caterer for this, but if you can get volunteers instead, you may only need the food from the caterer.

Local Speakers

Instead of hiring speakers out of state and having to pay for travel costs, hotel expenses, and other costs, try to find local speakers who will talk for free or the cost of attending the event. Even if you wind up having to pay them a small fee, you will still save a bundle on travel costs.

You may not attract as many attendees as if you got the big name keynote speaker, but you can work toward that as your budget builds.

Recycled Decor

Buying centerpieces for the tables can add up. Talk to the venue and see if they have any centerpieces leftover from another event that they’d be willing to let you use for free.

If that isn’t an option, ask your members to adopt a table and decorate it. People can get really creative with this. While each table will look a bit different, that can actually be half the fun. You can even give out a prize for the table that gets the most votes for its look.

Venue Shopping

Not all events are created equal. Some places are highly sought after and thus cost a premium to rent. Instead, look for event venues that aren’t used as often. This can be smaller hotels, wedding venues during non-peak wedding season, and new venues that have not yet built up a following.

Extremely small events may be able to utilize a clubhouse in someone’s neighborhood or a local library room. Visit each venue and take notes about what they have to offer versus what you need in an event venue. You might even want to create a checklist of must haves. Then, it is just a matter of choosing the best price combined with the one that is willing to work with you in a friendly way.

Event Budget Busters

There are some things you should probably avoid if you are on a tight budget.

  • Live entertainment. If you want to have music at your event, a DJ is much cheaper to hire for a few hours than a band.
  • Beef. Let’s face it. When it comes to catering, chicken and fish are just cheaper.
  • Custom anything. While it might seem like a great idea to have all volunteers wear the same shirt, there is a cost to ordering those shirts. Instead, create badges and ask volunteers to wear a black or white T-shirt. This will make them identifiable, but won’t cost you anything as they’ll use whatever they already have in their closet (preferably something without any logos on it).

A Word of Caution about Hotel Reservations

When you reserve a hotel for an event, they will ask if you want to block out rooms for your attendees. I learned a lesson here the hard way. Years ago, I planned a small writers’ retreat in southern Indiana. I had never planned anything like that before and when they asked if I wanted to block out some rooms, I blocked out about 50 rooms.

Fast forward to the event. We had about 24 people show up, but some shared a room and some were married and shared a room. Even though I’d informed them two weeks beforehand who was and wasn’t coming, the hotel let me know I was still on the hook for the cost of 50 rooms. Me, personally, on the hook, because I reserved it.

While I should have known or asked this, youth and inexperience were at play. I was able, in this case, to throw myself on the mercy of the manager. He was kind and let me out of paying for the rooms we hadn’t used. I told him that the organization was growing – true at the time – and that we might plan other retreats in the future. Also, I was very humble and told him that I hadn’t realized. I just could not afford to pay for 20+ hotel rooms on my own (around $3000). He agreed to let it go and not charge me (thank God – I was praying really hard).

Be aware of things like this when you’re planning an event. Ask questions about what you are responsible for to the caterers, the venue, etc. Nothing will break your budget faster than not realizing you have to pay for cancellations yourself. This also might impact your cancellation policy.