When starting to plan a special event, the task in front of you can seem daunting. Even if you are a seasoned planning pro, each event takes its own identity, and it can feel like you are starting from scratch.

One of the most difficult and often most limiting factors for an event is the budget. Knowing how to make the most of a budget of any size can be tricky. With all the variables to consider (food, date, audiences, etc.), it can help to have a general formula to plug in the details and go.

Here are a few broad guidelines for estimating key categories of your budget, as well as what those categories should include.


The budgets for catering and rentals can be combined because most caterers are able to include organizing the rentals as part of their service due to the overlap. This can save a significant amount of time and trouble.

The food is one of the most important parts of the event – and generally everyone’s favorite. When considering caterers, ask for photos of previous events they have done and compare budgets. By doing this, you should be able to get a clear picture of what you will receive at your budget level. Presentation and customer service are key elements to evaluate, especially if the caterers are also servicing the event.

Though it is the most important, catering is also probably one of the most flexible. Don’t be alarmed by your initial quote from a vendor; it is their first suggestion and open to revision. You may be surprised by how much eliminating one ingredient can lower your cost per person.

What catering can include: food, beverages, alcohol serving permits/bartender if needed, tables, chairs, linens, serving ware, decorations, serving staff, staging, heating/fans, labor, etc.

LOCATION – 10-15%

The location of your event can significantly influence your attendance. Hosting the event at your company can be good for branding, but may not be conducive to serving food. Holding the event at a new or unique facility may draw more interest, but it might be pricier option.

Conducting thorough research can help you determine your best solution. Compare the costs associated with a facility that offers a single site fee vs. an hourly rate. Be aware that some sites may have very specific contracts, like requiring pre-selected vendors or having strict time requirements.

Location can include: facility, access to power and water, technology, clean up, trash disposal, etc.


Using the motto “if you build it, they will come” can be disastrous for your event. Publicizing an event may be one of the more neglected categories, but informing and enticing people to attend your event is crucial to its success. Using door prizes or giveaways can be a good incentive for attendance, as well as a good branding piece for your company.

Consider your audience: tech-savvy individuals may catch you twittering about your event, while others may peruse local event calendars, like the CVB. Printed invitations are traditionally the most popular, but if that’s not in your budget, consider an electronic version instead.

Marketing can include: printing invitations, postage, e-vites, advertisements, media relations, grassroots marketing, phone calls, prizes, promotional items, etc.


Though an elusive category, budgeting for all your “miscellaneous” items can definitely add up. Even though they are miscellaneous, make sure you are aware of and don’t underestimate the different elements. Including a photographer to capture the event or providing event parking staff for venues without convenient parking can go a long way to impress your guests. You event should always “over-deliver” on the expectations of your audiences.

If you have event sponsors to help share the cost of the event, you need to have enough resources to thank and recognize those sponsors.

Miscellaneous items can include: additional décor, entertainment/speaker fees, transportation, event parking, printing of event program/materials, staff time, event photographer/videographer, technology/AV if not provided by the site facility, etc.

These guidelines can be good ballpark estimates to guide you in your event planning process. But keep in mind from the start, there is no one-size-fits-all for events. Each one brings together its own brand, purpose, audience, strategy and budget. It’s worth the time to find the right formula to ensure your event’s success.

Source: Emily Kosa, Special Event Planner

DNA Creative Communications