Create a reliable event budget in 5 steps

Elizabeth Dulcich photo
Elizabeth Dulcich

Published on May 13, 2024


Planning an event is hard enough. But managing a budget while planning an event? Even seemingly simple events quickly become complex. 

It takes lots of practice, or at least good tools, to juggle event planning and budget tracking with ease. This article will take you through five steps to create a reliable event budget (and keep it up to date), plus some tools that’ll help along the way.

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What is an event budget?

Whether it’s the big annual bash or a small team retreat, events are part of our work lives. But events are rarely free! Companies need to spend money to put on events. 

Essentially, an event budget is the money allocated to put on an event. As with every budget, this is an estimation of how much the event will cost; you never know your actual spend until the event is said and done.

Usually the Marketing or Communications departments handle putting on events, so it falls to them to decide how to spend the money set aside for this purpose. 

These budget ownershave a big responsibility: choosing how to allocate company funds to pull off an excellent event that’s within budget. So even if you’re not a finance whiz, you’ll still have to track where this money goes, and spend it wisely.

How to create an effective event budget

To have a great event, you’ll need an effective budget to guide you. You need to track and limit costs effectively for good record keeping, and to prevent events from getting out of hand.

Being able to see what you’ve spent in real time is an absolute must.

Here are the five steps to create an event budget:

1. Set goals

First, you need to decide what kind of event you’re having. Are you announcing financial results to an audience of investors, or is it a team retreat? A company-wide party? Or just one department team building day? Different types of events lead to different questions that you will have to answer while working on your event. 

A good next question: how many guests will be at the event and what are their expectations? Obviously, the answers to these questions have a determining impact on the budget. A gourmet sit-down dinner does not have the same price as a cocktail party, and doesn’t require the same number of servers.

The event budget is also based on the potential impact of the event. For example, maybe the goal of a free event is guests’ level of engagement or satisfaction score. On the other hand, a bigger event (and bigger budget) may hopefully lead to more customers or website hits. So clearly define the goal of the event, the expected outcomes, and how you’ll measure success.

The length of the event depends on the aforementioned goals. If it’s simply a matter of presenting a project, a product, or results, a meeting or conference format is preferred. If the goal is to offer a complete experience to your employees during a workshop or retreat, you’ll need a much longer event to allow everyone to meet.

2 . Decide on a venue (or channel)

Whether it’s virtual, physical or hybrid, the event will need a venue or a channel to be broadcast. In general, there are three types of professional events: 

  • Announcement events and other conferences, meetings, or webinars

  • Trade shows and large industry gatherings

  • Workshops, retreats, and all team building activities (company parties, offsites, etc.).

With this in mind, you can now decide what kind of venue (or channel) to go with for your event.

For example, if it’s an announcement or a meeting that brings together an audience from several countries, a virtual or hybrid format might be best. On the other hand, a team building event or retreat is much better when all the participants are gathered in the same physical space. 

Trade shows are back and in person, so you’ll need to evaluate the cost of acquiring a stand, plus registration fees. 

Last important point: the services offered by the venues. Is it more cost-effective to use the services included with the venue rental, or use suppliers chosen separately? It’s here that you can spend wisely and save by optimizing your budget and even negotiating with vendors.

3. Use specialized vendors and platforms

Negotiating prices with a vendor is a must. It’s important to remember that everything is negotiable, as long as you have solid arguments. 

The number of guests, and the required services are levers to lower vendor costs thanks to economies of scale. You can also increase savings by going with suppliers who choose seasonal products, an approach that’s both wallet- and eco-friendly.

For hybrid or virtual events, the technical system is a key cost factor. Platforms such as Cisco Webex, Hopin, Splash, or the classic Zoom can be a good starting point to compare the costs and features of each platform.

Finally, calling on a professional in the field of hybrid and virtual events can guarantee that all the technical aspects, which can sometimes get complex, are taken care of.

4. Set aside funds for unexpected expenses

With any event, there are always unforeseen expenses. In fact, any project involving dozens (if not hundreds) of moving parts will have snags. This doesn't have to be a source of stress, you just have to be aware of it and give yourself room to overcome these glitches. 

How do you plan for the unexpected? Set cash aside. 5% to 10% of the total event budget should be set aside for contingencies in case of problems. 

There should always be a “miscellaneous” line item in the event budget for contingencies. At best, there will be a surplus left over at the end of the event. At worst, you won’t be caught unprepared.

5. Optimize your budget and expenses

In order to create, organize, and carry out the best possible event, budget tracking tools are of the utmost importance.

There are many event budget templates out there to help organize events. Nevertheless, a tool built specifically for this kind of use will certainly prove to be more efficient than a simple Excel file.

A spend management tool like Spendesk allows you to directly allocate each expense to the relevant cost center and budget. You can also categorize these expenses and assign them to each type of service for the event. 

For this purpose, our supplier invoice tracking tool and built-in OCR technology is ideal. Spendesk budget calculators are customizable and intuitive.

Not all event planners or organizers are accountants. Offering them an easy-to-use budget tracking solution will save time and headaches. And with 100% spend visibility, they’ll be able to stay on budget and on track.

Create and manage your event budget with confidence

Events, and their accompanying budgets, aren’t one-size-fits-all. 

You’ll have to reflect on the type of event you want, how many people are coming, where to have it, which vendors to use, and plan for the unexpected. All of these factors will help you determine and allocate your budget, so you spend according to your company’s priorities and needs to create a unique event.

Spendesk can’t help you with your event, but we can definitely help you create and stick to your event budget! Try our Marketing Budget Template here:

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