The Basics of Building an Event Budget

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As an event planner, staying within your client's budget is key. And to do that, you need a detailed event budget that you and your client agree on. Whether you're new to event planning or a seasoned professional, keeping an event budget will help you stay organized and prepared for any client inquiry, all while helping you avoid going over budget.

Important Aspects of an Event Budget

For a basic event, such as a seminar or dinner party, Excel or other spreadsheet programs can be helpful. List the following four categories along the top: item, projected expense, actual expense, details. From there, you just fill in the spreadsheet and manage it like you would any other part of your business.

  1. Track site rental costs. As you plan the event itself and as you meet with your venue sales manager, track all projected rental fees for the event and function space, housekeeping, baggage handling, and related expenses.
  2. Estimate catering costs. This includes all food and beverage charges, including tips and gratuities, which can account for up to 30 percent. Catering budgets can balloon or shrink, and managing them with care is a good idea, as they can be a great source of savings.
  3. Document transportation charges. This includes shuttles, coaches, event transfers and any related expenses. Don't forget insurance, fuel, tolls, or trailers if they are needed.
  4. Add decor expenses. Most events include expenses for decor, such as centerpieces, florals, tent rentals, etc. This is where you list those costs.
  5. Document entertainment & equipment fees. Common expenses in this category include the A/V equipment, but it's also a good spot to list honorariums to speakers or if you are hiring entertainers.
  6. Summarize printing charges. Several small item charges actually combine to make a larger expense line item. These include invitations, name badges, program booklets, event signage, and banners.
  7. Create a line item for gifts. One common event tip is to never allow a guest to leave empty-handed. So, whatever gift or gifts you provide, track the cost for them separately; you'd be amazed at how much these items can cost.
  8. Identify activities expenses. If your event includes activities such as golfing, tennis, spa, rafting, biking, or other activities, you will want to note the cost of these fees separately. Consider summarizing the total cost in your spreadsheet and attaching a breakdown.
  9. Post other expenses. If an expense doesn't fall into any of the above categories, list them as a miscellaneous expense item here.
  10. Give yourself a contingency fund category. Depending on the size or complexity of an event, you may want to give yourself as much as up to 20% of the event budget here. Despite the best planning, charges are going to exceed projected plans with expenses that you never consider. This will keep you from going over budget every time.
  11. Summarize projected expenses. As you build your event program, you will have a good projection of the total expenses. This is the information that you will share with the event client to make sure they are aware of the event budget so that there aren't any surprises later on.
  12. Summarize actual expenses. This happens after the event has concluded. Subtotal the invoices into the above 10 categories and document the actual budget. If extremely favorable, identify savings in actual budget vs. the projected budget, demonstrating the value you brought to the role.