What are some tips for creating an elegant and memorable event on a tight budget?

Events can be very expensive. How can you create a guest experience that leaves an impression but stays within your budget? Here are some suggestions from pros in the industry.

Event lighting is the most bang-for-your-buck event décor item.

Looking for the best way to plan a memorable event on a tight budget? Light it up! Event lighting is the most bang-for-your-buck event décor item. Lighting instantly transforms any venue from drab to fab. Lighting and color also affect mood, which makes event lighting critical for creating an amazing ambiance for guests. Our clients are always amazed at how using just a few uplights adds a major “wow” factor!

"Event lighting is the most bang-for-your-buck event décor item." @RentMyWedding Click to Tweet

Marie Kubin

Founder and CEO

Rent My Wedding,

When working with a small budget, keep the timeline of the event shorter which will keep catering and bar costs down as well as staffing.

When you don’t have a big budget, you want to allocate your money into the things that guests will remember. Those key points are food, beverage and music/ entertainment. When it comes to decor, lighting can make magic not to mention candles. Mirrored surfaces are good to work off of when playing with light, and you can create a great ambiance with small touches. Make sure your event has a beginning, middle and finale and that your event follows a real thread. When working with a small budget, keep the timeline of the event shorter which will keep catering and bar costs down as well as staffing. You want your guests to leave wanting more, rather than wanting to leave. Get creative with your favors – edible is usually the way to go when in doubt.

"When working with a small budget, keep the timeline of the event shorter which will keep catering and bar costs down as well as staffing." @Hollywood_Pop Click to Tweet

Brett Galley

Director of Special Events

Hollywood POP Gallery,

Don't worry about trying to "wow" the audience with every facet of the event.

Pick a few focal points in particular to highlight. Don’t worry about trying to “wow” the audience with every facet of the event. These focal points could include (but aren’t limited to) lighting, draping, bars, stage pieces, entertainment, food & beverage presentation, a grand entrance, etc… By narrowing your focus to a few key areas, these areas will stick out more and guests are more likely to remember them.

"Pick a few focal points in particular to highlight. Don't worry about trying to "wow" the audience with every facet of the event." @brinkevents Click to Tweet

Aidan Henry Brink

Owner & Creative Director

Brink Events, Victoria, BC

The best possible way to stretch your wedding budget is to trim the guest list...and...be very strategic about your venue selection.

The best possible way to stretch your wedding budget is to trim the guest list. Each extra guest means additional hors d’oeuvres, entrees, beverages, china, chairs, centerpieces, invitations, escort cards, and more. The list goes on and on! Ask yourself honestly whether you will truly have a relationship with some of the people on your guest list in 10 years. If the answer isn’t a resounding, “Yes!” then reconsider their invitation.

Next, be very strategic about your venue selection. With a limited budget, there won’t be room to bring in lots of expensive decor. Choose a location that speaks for itself in beauty, whether it’s a rooftop with stunning city views (and a built-in rain backup plan; tents aren’t cheap!), a countryside winery, a cabin with a mountain backdrop or an elegant restaurant on a beach. If possible, choose a location that already includes pretty tables and chairs to avoid extra rental costs.

Once you’ve trimmed your guest list and identified the right venue, choose your 3 top priorities. In my professional opinion, you should book the best photography, catering, and entertainment you can afford within your budget. These are the core elements of an elegant event. A great photographer will capture everything in its best beauty, and talented entertainers will make it a true party. Great food is a must-have: making your guests suffer through a lackluster meal with an extravagant centerpiece on the table would be inhumane! If you keep the event intimate with a lovely sense of place and a focus on doing the basics well, your wedding will be just perfect.

"The best possible way to stretch your wedding budget is to trim the guest list...and...be very strategic about your venue selection." @MeggieFrancisco Click to Tweet

Meggie Francisco

Wedding Planner and Designer

Meggie Francisco Events, Columbus, OH

The best events are not due to an over the top floral design or the most exclusive location. It’s based on laughter and joy.

Do things that you like to do. Don’t get caught in the idea of what you think a wedding should be like based on what you see in magazines. Remember that no one knows what you didn’t do, they only know what you did do. And finally, your guests are there because they want to join in the celebration.

So if you are worried about creating a memorable night then base it on one of your favorite nights out with your friends. What were you doing, what was the conversation, where were you? Then build from there.

The best events are not due to an over the top floral design or the most exclusive location. It’s based on laughter and joy. The things that we have in common is that we are human, we are fallible, and we are all trying to do our best in this world. Giving your friends and family an opportunity to let go and have some fun is everything, and this can be done in your backyard, a random venue, or a traditional hotel. And finally, NEVER apologize for not being able to do more. If you feel that you need to apologize for a wedding celebration then you need to invite different people.

"The best events are not due to an over the top floral design or the most exclusive location. It’s based on laughter and joy." @keithwillard Click to Tweet

Keith Willard

Owner/Designer

Keith Willard Events,

Think outside the box when it comes to your event venue!

Think outside the box when it comes to your event venue! You’ll save some serious money and create a stronger impression for your guests. Before you begin your search, list all your must-have criteria. How many people can it accommodate? Is it in the right location for your target audience? You also want to keep an open mind. For example, don’t let the lack of a full kitchen deter you from hosting an influencer dinner at a venue. There are plenty of chefs and caterers who embrace the challenge of working in non-traditional spaces. Nearly anything is possible with the right vendors. Our favorite unconventional venue so far? A flower shop!

Companies should also explore teaming up with another brand. Events are all about building community, not only with you and your customers but also with other brands. Consider partnering with a like-minded brand that offers a complimentary product or service to an audience that’s aligned with your brand. You’ll be able to split the cost of the event and grow your brand’s exposure. We recommend partnering with no more than two additional brands to avoid diluting your brand’s presence at the event.

"Think outside the box when it comes to your event venue! You’ll save some serious money and create a stronger impression for your guests." @cynthia Click to Tweet

Cynthia Samanian

Founder and CEO

Hidden Rhythm, San Francisco, CA

If the client is looking for a full-service option on a tight budget, then we like to recommend venues that have built-in catering kitchens to help reduce rental and labor costs.

We believe that everybody should have access to healthy, organic and locally sourced food for their special event, which is why we offer two types of service for different budgets. Our most cost-effective option is our drop-off service which reduces staff/labor costs and rentals. If the client is looking for a full-service option on a tight budget, then we like to recommend venues that have built-in catering kitchens to help reduce rental and labor costs.

"If the client is looking for a full-service option on a tight budget, then we like to recommend venues that have built-in catering kitchens to help reduce rental and labor costs." Click to Tweet

Joyce Malicse

Co-founder

Pink Salt Cuisine,

Buy orchids - everyone thinks they are fancy.

To create elegant and memorable events on a tight budget make sure the guest experience is seamless. No one remembers the couches you picked out, no one cares about the flowers after the event, and lastly, no one remembers the lighting package. We recommend clients focus on service and the guest experience from the moment they are escorted from their car to the last person saying goodbye, we make sure our staff understands they are the most important element in any successful event. Make sure guests don’t have to wait any longer than necessary for a cocktail, make sure the valet is quick to return with their vehicle, and never let a staff member say “no” or “I don’t know” to a guest and everyone is guaranteed to feel like a celebrity whatever the budget is. Also, buy orchids, everyone thinks they are fancy.

"Buy orchids - everyone thinks they are fancy." Click to Tweet
Joe Moller Events

Joe Moller

CEO

Joe Moller Events (JME), Los Angeles, CA

My biggest tip is to utilize in-kind donations.

Oh man – I have a lot of those. The majority of my career has been in non-profits or academic institutions. Both are notoriously underfunded. I once planned a fundraising event with a starting budget of zero and managed to produce an elegant event that brought in thousands of dollars in donations. My biggest tip is to utilize in-kind donations. Offer to trade your services (or marketing to your list) in exchange for their services. The key is to offer a fair trade. Think of it as a modern-day version of bartering. If done right, it works fantastically. I’ve been able to secure venues, vendors, food, entertainment, etc. using this method.

"My biggest tip is to utilize in-kind donations." Click to Tweet
620 Events

Samantha Bellinger

Owner/Event Planner

620 Events,

Reuse flowers!

Reuse flowers! For example, if you have floral arrangements lining the aisle for your ceremony, use those same flowers as centerpieces for your reception tables. Also using rentals like lighting and colorful/patterned linen will spruce up your décor without breaking the bank. It’s amazing how much lighting and linen can add to the overall design of an event.

"Reuse flowers!" Click to Tweet

Maya Tarach

Owner and Certified Wedding & Event Planner

Preoccupied Bride Events, Evanston, IL

Just about everything is negotiable.

Just about everything is negotiable. Especially if you work for a nonprofit. Let them know just how small or tight the budget is and see what can be done for that amount. Talk to people and see if they have any personal connection and if you can bring them in as an in-kind sponsor for a discount on what you need.

Leverage your relationships. Because of the volunteer work I have done with the International Live Events Association (ILEA) and the Council of Protocol Executives (COPE) in NYC, I’m able to connect the people I want to work with using those associations as an incentive. It’s about building relationships and making contacts in the industry to help each other out.

"Just about everything is negotiable." @CurePSP Click to Tweet

Jaclyn Zendrian

Vice President - Events

CurePSP Inc., New York, NY

Tiered cakes are labor-intensive and require more stacking, more supporting, baking, and decorating which increases costs substantially.

This past summer, I had a bride reach out to me in need of a cake for her wedding in less than 30 days. When it comes to a wedding cake or large-scale events you want to book in a timely fashion. She was on a tight budget. I offered her a three-tier cake and three sheet cakes to serve her guests. I shared with her that she would have her beautiful cake on display to cut with her groom and that the hall can cut up the sheet cakes in the back kitchen. Her three-tier cake consisted of pineapple coconut rum and her sheet cakes were wicked Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt Caramel. Tiered cakes are labor-intensive and require more stacking, more supporting, baking, and decorating which increases costs substantially.

"Tiered cakes are labor-intensive and require more stacking, more supporting, baking, and decorating which increases costs substantially." @DelorCakery Click to Tweet

Kayisha Shoshana Thompson

Cake Executive Officer

De L’or Cakery Corporation, Bronx, NY