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How to budget for your event

When it comes to planning an event, your success is going to hinge on one thing: how well you’ve managed your budget.

If you go over budget, you’ll start eating into your profits and may even end up losing money.

Even if you stay within your budget, if you mismanage your money and spend it on the wrong things, your event won’t pack much of a punch.

So, if you want to leave delegates raving about your conference, festival, or networking event, it’s crucial that you map out where every pound is going to go long before you open your purse strings.

To help you budget for your event without the stress, we’ve put together this step-by-step guide to taking complete control of your event’s finances.

Read on to find out:

  • Where to start when it comes to budgeting for an event
  • The budget planning template that will help you get the most out of every pound
  • How to decide where to make cuts if your event is going over budget

Where to start when it comes to budgeting for an event

Pound coin rolling over other coins

First things first: before you can start planning your budget, you need to know how much you have to spend. Of course, you might be planning on spending more than you’re expecting to make back on your event if you’re doing to for marketing purposes. However, it’s important to estimate how much you expect to earn from each potential source of income so your event comes in on budget.

Once you’ve done this, you’ll have a rough idea of how much you have to spend on making your event the best it can possibly be.

The revenue from events usually comes from:

  • Delegates buying tickets
  • Sponsorship
  • Advertising revenue

If you’re hosting an exhibition, you can also recoup some of your costs by charging an exhibitor’s fee.

So, if you want to get your event off to the best possible start, sit down and map out all your event’s potential streams of revenue.

When you’re doing this it’s important that you’re realistic. It’s much better to end up with more revenue than you were expecting than less, so keep your feet on the ground when making these estimations.

Bear in mind that it’s going to be a lot easier to estimate your income if you’ve had experience putting on similar events. If this is the case, you should not only be able to come up with an accurate total, but also have some ideas about how you can improve that revenue straight off the bat. 

If you add up your realistic estimated income and it’s less than you were hoping for, it’s time to think outside the box. Spend some time coming up with ideas for how you might increase your revenue from each of your potential streams of income.

For example, could you increase ticket sales by using your event marketing budget more effectively? Or can you think of any ways to bring more sponsors on board?

Use the estimated income you’ve come up with to form the basis of your budget, but take the time to try to implement as many of your ideas for generating more revenue as you have the resources for. If any of them work, you can update your budget accordingly.

So, before you even think about booking a venue or arranging entertainment, make sure you come to a working total of how much you have to spend on the event.

Event budget template: How to plan your event’s expenses

Sheet of numbers and a calculator ontop

To help you budget your event without the stress, we’ve put together an event budget template to help you keep a firm grip on your finances throughout the planning process.

Here’s our step-by-step process for budgeting your event:

Create your budget sheet

Head to Google Docs and start a new spreadsheet. Using this free Google service, which stores your documents on the cloud, ensures everyone who needs to access or edit your budget sheet can do so anytime.

Create four columns: ‘Item’, ‘Description’, ‘Estimated cost’, and ‘Actual cost’.

Empty Spreadsheet

List everything you need

Now that you’ve set up your budget sheet, the next step is to list everything you’re going to need for your event.

In the ‘item’ column, list out everything you can think that you’ll need to buy. Unless you’re an experienced event organiser, this is unlikely to be exhaustive — don’t worry, you can add to it later. The point of this exercise is to get to a starting point.

Add a brief description beside each item in the ‘Description’ column to clarify what you’re looking for. For example, if you require a venue fit for 200 delegates, you might add “200-person capacity” into the ‘Info’ column.

Spreadsheet with item and description columns full

 Estimate your expenses

Once you’ve listed all your items to buy or hire for your event, it’s time to estimate your expenses. 

If this isn’t the first event of this kind you’ve arranged, this should be easy — simply look back on the expenses from your last event and use those as a guide.

If you haven’t got previous experience organising an event, estimating your expenses is going to take a bit of time. However, this is a crucial step in the budgeting process, so make sure you follow it through if you want to make sure your event comes in within budget.

Take each item and list all your potential options. The more options you have at this stage the better, so make sure you do your research here. Search the internet for what you’re looking for and ask around for recommendations.  

Once you’ve shortlisted your options, get in touch with them and ask for a quote. This will give you a good idea of the going rate for whatever you need, which you can then use to generate an estimated cost. If you’re not sure which option you’re going to go with yet, list this estimated cost as a range between the lowest and highest quotes.


Estimated cost column populated

Once you’ve estimated the cost of each item, you should total them up so you know your estimated expenses.  

Total Cost added

 Add a contingency

There are so many moving parts to an event that it’s not unusual for something to go wrong along the way. So, once you have a rough idea of how much your expenses are going to come to, it’s important to add a 10% contingency for unforeseen costs.


Contingency added


This safety net will give you some breathing space and account for some of your estimates being off.

If you have exceeded your estimated total spend, you need to review your current spend and

On the other hand, if your estimated total is less than the amount you’re planning to spend, you have the opportunity to spend more on your event. If you don’t think this is necessary, you’re set to come in well within budget.

Keep in mind, more money doesn’t ensure a better event, however it does ensure you have money to support other aspects of the event financially should you need it.

Keeping your budget sheet updated

You now have a good idea of how much your event is going to cost alongside an approximation of how much it’s going to make. However, these figures are just estimates.

To ensure you spend your event budget wisely and keep your finances on track, it’s crucial that you add every single item you buy to your budget sheet. Fail to do this and you can quickly lose track of your outgoings and end up overspending.

So, whenever anyone spends money on the event you hadn’t initially accounted for, create a new entry for these and just fill in the ‘actual cost’, skipping the estimated cost as shown below:

Actual costs added


The best event planners are meticulous about recording their every expense. Adopt this trait and you’ll always be aware of whether you’re staying within the budget and more likely to result in profit.

With this in mind, it is recommended to keep track of your contingency amount for those times you know you could overspend. This will ensure you stay subjective and focused on maintaining the budget, while having the funds to cover unexpected expenses.

Total actual cost added

It’s also crucial that you record your revenue along the way so you can be sure you’re bringing in the kind of money you’ve planned for. If you organise your event using our event management system, you’ll be able to find your real-time revenue, payment details, and attendee numbers on your dashboard, making it easy to track your income.



Keeping track of your event budget

Calculator with spare change

By recording your expenses and revenue streams, you should always have a good idea of whether your event is coming in on budget. However, the best event planners know this isn’t enough to guarantee you’re going to hit your financial targets. So, if you want the best chances of financial success, you need to plan time with your team for financial forecasts.

One of the first things you need to do when you’re planning your event is to organise meetings in the calendar - 12 weeks, 6 weeks, a fortnight, and a week before the event. You should get together with your team, open up your budget sheet, and make sure everyone is updated on the financial progress of the project.

Holding these meetings will help flag up whether or not you’re sticking to the budget, highlight any expenses you didn’t account for during planning, and make you aware of whether your revenues are where you expect them to be.

When an issue arises, you should try to come up with a solution during the meeting. For example, if you realise six weeks before the event that you’re going over budget, you’ll have to come up with a strategy for cutting costs or increasing revenue — the quicker you do this, the more likely to resolve any issues.

This proactive approach to budget planning will keep you in complete control of your event’s finances. It will also give the members of your planning team the chance to voice any concerns and share their successes for their colleagues to learn from.

If you assign one person to record all this information during the meeting and write it up into a document, it will also help you improve your processes for your next event, supporting the growth and success of any future events.

How to decide where to make cuts if you’re going over budget with your event

Meeting with Laptops and working out sheet

Even the most seasoned event organisers can get their estimates wrong. If your costs have come to more than you were anticipating or your revenue isn’t as high as you’d planned, then you’re going to have to make some sacrifices. But what should you cut?

The ‘nice to haves’

This is where your detailed budget sheet comes into its own. If you need to cut down on your costs, look down your list of expenses. Can you see any ‘nice-to-haves’ that are taking up a big chunk of your budget?

Sit down with your team and be realistic about which of your expenses are essentials and which you could do without. Those ‘nice-to-haves’ should be the first areas you look to cut costs if you’re struggling to make ends meet.

Once you’ve gone through your budget sheet and reduced those 'nice-to-have' expenses, you should move on to getting the most out of your remaining capital.

How to make the most of your event marketing budget

One way you can cut your costs is by streamlining your marketing efforts for the event.

Marketing is an essential part of any successful event, and removing it from your budget entirely to save money on expenses is going to be counterproductive, as successful marketing can significantly increase your revenue.

However, your marketing budget should be next on your list to scrutinise, because it’s often misspent.

Sit down and consider the ROI of your marketing efforts. Focus on your delegate acquisition cost (DAC): how much you spend on marketing per delegate. The success of your marketing efforts should be measured on how low you can keep this figure.

In order to keep your DAC as low as possible, you should start by profiling your target audience. Find out where they spend time online and what niche publications they read. Can you use highly targeted ads on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to get in front of these potential delegates?

As this method is a lot more refined than traditional advertising, it’s often a lot more cost-effective. Although you do need to know your audience to target market your events, so make sure you set aside the time to do some in-depth market research to succeed with this approach.

You can also reach a larger audience by identifying your industry’s influencers: the people who lead the conversation about your sector. If they have a popular blog, podcast, or magazine, contact them and ask if they’d like to collaborate with you. For example, you might be able to buy ad space in their newsletter, magazine, or podcast, or you could produce some editorial for them that lends your knowledge and expertise.


So, there you have it: a fool proof formula for bringing your event in on budget. Stick to our budget template and follow our tips for making cuts, and your event is sure to be a financial success.

If you’ve got any questions about budgeting for your event that haven’t been answered here, get in touch with a member of our team on 0344 822 3227 today and we’ll be happy to help. If you’re looking for an easy way to organise your event and keep a close eye on your revenue, then get started with Event Stop today.    

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