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16 Ways to Stretch Your Event Budget

By Christina Green

Are you looking to host an event but your budget doesn’t seem large enough to cover lunch in a cafeteria? No worries. These tips can help you make the most of a small budget.

If you’re working with an extremely limited budget, what can you do? Attendees have expectations for events and it’s not as easy as planning a personal event on a limited budget - or is it? Here are a few ways you can supersize your event without a supersized wallet.


16 Ways to Stretch Your Event Budget

1. Sell Swag Before the Event

Sell swag or a useful item on your registration site before the event. This gives you an additional revenue stream beforehand when you need it. It also helps increase excitement among event attendees and ensures they have the swag they want before they even get there.


2. Get Creative with Your Venue

Outdoor spaces are often less expensive than renting a hall. However, not all outdoor spaces are cheap. Instead of formal gardens and other traditional outdoor areas, look for ones that are less likely to have hosted events before. As strange as it sounds, alleyways and spots between buildings can become very beguiling with some fauna and white fairy lights. And they’re often inexpensive because people don’t think of them.

If you’re hosting a sporting event you’ll probably be limited in where it can take place but instead of a 5k around a track, you could be open to other cross-country options.

3. Don’t Write It Off Due to Space

Sometimes it’s less expensive to add an outdoor area to a smaller indoor one with a tent, then it is to opt for the larger conference room. Crunch the numbers and see what you get. When you’re on a tight budget, creativity is your best friend.

4. Don’t Serve a Meal

Eliminating a meal can save you money in several ways:

  • Food. Appetizers or finger-sized desserts are less expensive than a four-course meal.
  • Table and linen rentals. You won’t need as many if it’s a mingling event instead of a sit-down meal.
  • Waitstaff. Again, you don’t need as many people serving if it’s not a formal seated meal.
  • Space. You can accommodate more people without the bulky tables.

5. Go Handheld

Save on expensive audio visual tech by placing everything in the palm of your attendees’ hands. It’s a different approach but one that could be extremely personal if you select the right tech. This also helps you cut down on unneeded (and unappreciated) expenses like hallway signs. Some apps offer a freemium product.

6. Understand What Is Mandated and What Is Not

If you’re hosting an event with a small budget, it’s important to understand what the venue contract requires of you. For instance, must functions use the on-site caterer and AV team? If not, you can potentially save a lot of money. Some vendors are mandatory. Others may be “event planner’s choice.” Make sure you know which is which for the most savings possibilities.

7. Check Out Inclusive Furniture

Some venues come with tables and chairs, while others you’ll need to rent them. Price out both options to see which will save you the most.

8. Negotiate or Barter

Some costs might as well be etched in stone, while others are negotiable. It never hurts to ask about the price. Negotiating and bartering can help you do more with a tight budget but it’s not the sort of savings that vendors will advertise.

You may also have a stronger base for negotiation if you’re using the same vendor or supplier for multiple things or events.

9. Use Sponsors

If there’s part of your budget that you just don’t want to skimp on, get a sponsor. Almost anything can be sponsored if you have an audience and a way to get your sponsor views.

10. Get Your Keynote Paid For

If you have a keynote speaker who’s willing to give you a little extra time, you can have them present at your event and also have a private learning session or meet and greet that attendees pay additionally to be a part of. For instance, if your keynote cost $5,000 and a little extra time costs you $500. You can easily recoup your $500 and parts, if not all, of your $5,000 by charging VIPs for the opportunity to meet your keynote.

11. Know Timing Is Everything

You’ll get the best prices if you book early or at the last minute. Of course, last-minute bookings will limit your choices and increase your stress level if you can’t find anything that suits your event. If you have the kind of event you could host anywhere, take the gamble of booking last-minute. If not, book early. Still, booking last-minute is a great cost savings so you can afford the Pepto you’ll no doubt be chugging with your last-minute scramble.

12. Book a Morning Event

A morning event could be less expensive than an evening one if the venue can turn around the space and rent it out to another event later the same day. If it’s an option, go for it. But some events simply don’t lend themselves to 8 o’clock a.m. starts.

13. Increase Ticket Prices

An increased ticket price means more revenue and that means possibly translating that, albeit early, to a larger budget. However, this is a gamble. If you aren’t certain you can sell a good number at the new price, you might want to forgo this option.

If you can’t increase ticket prices, look to spend money on things your attendees will notice and appreciate like food and not directional signs. Your attendees will never say, “Look at that amazing use of signage. I can see why they raised ticket prices for those.”

14. Point Out the Advantages

If your sporting event or large conference will mean great PR, you might be able to leverage this to reduce your expenses. For instance, a local restaurant may be willing to sponsor the catering if they think there’s the possibility that attendees will visit their establishment. Some events are so large, they bring a lot of press to town. Help local businesses see how this could be a huge advantage for them.

15. Sell the Venue

Along those same lines of garnering favor for local businesses can be the notoriety the venue and its facilities will receive. Venues may be so happy with this idea of being linked to a prestigious or groundbreaking event that they may help with some areas of your budget. It’s also important to point out the potential long-term financial benefit of committing to hosting multiple events at the venue and making it your ‘home’ for the next few years.

16. Recruit Volunteers

Wherever possible, use volunteers. You may even be able to provide references or future positions to those volunteers who really stand out or just give them free tickets to the event. Alex Genadinik, entrepreneur coach suggests, “One of the best ways to get free staff for your events is to exchange labor with people who can’t afford to pay for a ticket. There are always people who ask for free tickets, so instead of rejecting them outright, you can have them do a job in exchange for attendance, which will immediately provide a free workforce. These jobs can be collecting tickets, manning booths or other simple tasks for which you would have otherwise had to pay someone.”

In Conclusion

If you’re hosting an event or conference with a tiny budget, there are many steps you can take to do more with less. Finally, don’t forget to look at ways technology can help you save money, such as by automating more tasks so that you can use your time more efficiently.

about the author

Christina Green
Christina R. Green is a digital storyteller and writer for associations and businesses, including journals such as the Midwestern Society of Association Executive's magazine and industry blogs. She's a voracious reader but has been known to stop reading if there are too many exclamation points used.
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