Before deciding to stay at home with my son, I was a professional event planner. I planned everything from galas to conferences to children’s parties for 600+ people. I usually worked with a very comfortable budget. While planning these events, I daydreamed about the day when I would be able to host events in my own home. In the months leading up to my son’s first birthday party, the wheels in my head were turning thinking of all of the ways to make his party special.
Hearing about my glorious visions of grandeur, my husband told me that we had to be very budget conscious for this party. He reminded me that being a professional event planner = spending other people’s money to put on events. We are now a single-income household, and the expenses for this party couldn’t be charged to a corporate Amex. (Well, they could have been, but then my husband would have been fired. Blerg.)
With a lot of planning, I was able to stay within my budget and figure out ways to stretch the budget for our next party even further. Here are 8 tips that will help your bottom line when planning your next event:
1. Always Create a Budget
Before spending a penny, price out what you want to buy and outline all of your expected expenses. After window-shopping around, create a spreadsheet listing all of your estimated expenses. Doing research saves you from the impulse purchases that often put you over-budget. Spending money before you have allocated funds can get you into a pickle (Yeah, I’ve been watching The Sandlot with my nephew a LOT lately.). For example, had I ordered the birthday cake that I wanted for Ben (a tiered fondant cake) before creating the budget, I wouldn’t have realized how much I would have had to sacrifice in other areas of the event. Rather than budgeting for that schmancy cake, I budgeted for boxed cake mixes to make cupcakes and accessories to decorate a tiered server I already owned. I only spent a quarter of what I would have spent on the professional cake.
2. Start Early
The sooner you establish your game plan, the better. In my personal life, I’m a slight procrastinator (My husband might tell you that my use of the word “slight” is a bit liberal.), but if there is one thing I don’t procrastinate on it’s shopping for deals. My Christmas shopping for the year is usually done months ahead of time, but sometimes I still have one last minute present to find. Do you ever notice how those last minute presents always wind up costing a lot more than you wanted to pay? It’s because you’ve got less time and options. Try to establish your budget and theme (if you are going to have one) at least a few months prior to the party so you can keep and eye out for sales. For Ben’s party, I knew that I was going to serve mac & cheese months ahead of time, so I was able to load up on pasta when I saw a 2 for 1 sale. His invitations were half off. You don’t want to miss out on a printing steal because you haven’t nailed down your logistics yet.
3. Repurpose What You Already Have
Look around your house and yard to see if anything could be repurposed for the party. A few weeks before the party, my husband had to replace a few planks of wood from our backyard fence. I used the discarded planks for signage at the party. With a little bit of chalkboard paint (that I already had in my utility closet) and some colored chalk, I had a custom entrance sign for Ben’s party. Perhaps you have an old chair sitting in your attic that can be decorated like a throne for a princess party? Or Mardi Gras doubloons that can be used as a pirate’s treasure? Continuing with Mardi Gras loot, maybe you have pearl beads to use as decoration at a Breakfast at Tiffany’s baby shower?
4. Timing is Everything
Avoid scheduling the party at a mealtime. That way you’re not spending a large chunk of your budget feeding entrees to the masses. I scheduled the party to start at 1:00 pm, but next time I will schedule it after the lunch window to save money in the budget for other areas of the party. That said…
5. Do More of Less
If you can’t get around having a mealtime party, serve more of less. It is more cost-efficient and time-efficient to prepare larger portions of a few items than to offer a Court of Two Sisters-sized buffet. The same goes for decorations. If you don’t have the budget to decorate your entire event space, rather than having a variety of sparse decorations throughout the party, invest all of your decor budget into creating focal points. Decorate your cake table, perhaps make a cute area for pictures, and then call it a day.
6. Two for One is Twice the Fun
I love (want-to-marry) purchases that are multifunctional. Don’t have room in your budget for decor and favors, but really want to have both? Choose a decoration that can double as a favor. What kid doesn’t love helium balloons? Decorate the party with balloons and then let each kid take one home with them. You’ll have pops of color throughout your party, and you won’t be stuck disposing of dozens of balloons. Bonus for the parents of your guests: the balloon will only last a couple of days unlike those tiny, plastic, chotchkies that NEVER go away. And any balloons leftover can provide a great comedy hour for your family if you start inhaling that helium. Post-party Lollipop Guild variety show? Yes, please! For Ben’s party, our snacks were multifunctional. I found small pails for $1.00 each and made a sign to give the arrangement a little height. With a few bucks and a few minutes in Photoshop, we had cute centerpieces and guests had the convenience of having snacks right at their fingertips.
7. Barter and Borrow (but Don’t Beg or Steal!)
Are you great at baking, but aren’t good at graphic design? Barter! A friend loved a poster that I designed for Ben’s party and offered to bake themed cookies for our next party if I designed a poster for her. I would have done it for free, but I can’t pass up a good trade! Not everyone will be willing/able to exchange goods; however, lots of friends might be happy to lend you things. I’ve lent friends serving dishes, chalkboards, and even furniture in the past. For Ben’s party, a friend lent me a small bounce house and a cousin lent me a canopy. Those borrowed items saved us lots of cash and provided fun and shade for our guests.
8. Think About the Big Picture When Purchasing
As mentioned in #3, I love it when you can repurpose something you already own for an event. Keeping that in mind, try to invest in items for your party that can be used for future events or even used as an everyday item in your home. Last fall, I purchased a wooden screen to use as a backdrop for the welcome table at a baby shower knowing that I would be able to use it for other events. As predicted, I was able to reuse the screen as the backdrop for Ben’s cupcake display. For the shower decor, I also purchased a wreath that now hangs on my front door. For Ben’s nautical party activities, I bought hula-hoops to use life preservers and bouncy balls to use as buoys. Part of the reason I chose those items (aside from their affordability) was that I can reuse them multiple times. For example, if I were to host a Candy Land party, the hula-hoops could be peppermints and the balls could be hard candies. In the meantime, Ben can play with them. Before purchasing items for the party at hand, think about the bigger picture. Can this item be used for another party? Or do I have everyday use for this item? If the answer to either of these questions is “Yes” (and you have storage space), then I say that you find a way to squeeze it into your budget!
I hope these tips will help you with your next party! The most important thing to remember when party planning is that everyone attending your event is really just there to see you and celebrate your occasion. Plan a party that you will enjoy and don’t feel pressured to keep up the with Joneses or the Marthas. Whether your budget is $50, $500, or $5,000, your party will be a success as long as there are smiles, laughter, and good friends and family!
Are you surprised by how quickly a budget can be spent these days? Do you have any helpful money saving planning tips to share?