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

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.

Small budgets can often create ingenious beauty, and massive ones can sometimes be an expensive mess.

First and foremost, great style has nothing to do with budget. Small budgets can often create ingenious beauty, and massive ones can sometimes be an expensive mess.

Don’t invite more people than are really important to you. Every person you invite spreads your budget thinner. I’ve planned some truly magical evenings for friends’ weddings that had no more than a dozen people attend, and we were able to create over-the-top experiences because it was so intimate.

In terms of décor, I relish repetition; single blooms en masse and lots and lots of candles. Utilize nature when possible, and don’t be afraid to nip some bits and bobs from the backyard.

"Small budgets can often create ingenious beauty, and massive ones can sometimes be an expensive mess." Click to Tweet

Christopher Confero

Wedding Planner & Designer

CONFERO, Atlanta, GA

Sourcing a venue that is beautiful on its own is always a good idea.

After spending over 10 years in the non-profit world, ‘champagne events on beer budgets’ are at the core of what we do best.  Sourcing a venue that is beautiful on its own is always a good idea. When the space itself is a showstopper there’s often no need to spend a ton of money on decor. Can’t afford a full band? Consider hiring a duet or even a solo artist. Additionally, candles are often more elegant than flowers and come at a significantly lower price point.

"Sourcing a venue that is beautiful on its own is always a good idea." @sasseventsdc Click to Tweet

Stacy Heit

Principal/Owner

sassēvents, Washington, D.C.

Focus on small details that have a large impact.

First, focus on the things that matter most to you – spend your hard-earned dollars in the areas that you are excited about first!

Second, focus on small details that have a large impact. I love to spruce up a table with a fun colored water goblet or unique escort card that keeps guests talking. These are small details that guests will remember, that will make your wedding day details shine in photos and will create a highly personalized atmosphere — all without breaking the bank. Choose 2-3 details that have a big impact on the room or guest experience that you can get excited about! If you don’t know how to select these details, consult your wedding planner and/or designer!

"Focus on small details that have a large impact." Click to Tweet

Tionna Van Gundy

Wedding Planner & CEO

Wedicity, Chicago, IL

For private and personal events, we frequently utilize the client’s china, crystal and flatware [often whimsically, mis-matched], to reduce rental costs.

Budget. The dreaded word that virtually no individual wants to hear.

We are inspired in the design of tight budget events by Will Roger’s quote, “The quickest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it in your back pocket.” Clever, yet often true.

For private and personal events, we frequently utilize the client’s china, crystal and flatware [often whimsically, mis-matched], to reduce rental costs. We pilfer client’s beautifully decorated homes for unique objets d’arts from exotic global travels or eclectic collections to create fanciful and conversation-starting tablescapes. Depending on the event experience, luxurious linens and table coverings may come from a favorite tapestry, colorful pāreu or textured blanket. Create a warm and welcoming ambiance for your guests by using inexpensive taper and votive candles throughout.

When on a tight budget, use what you have, yet design it with love, layers, innovation, and pure imagination.

"For private and personal events, we frequently utilize the client’s china, crystal and flatware [often whimsically, mis-matched], to reduce rental costs." Click to Tweet

Jeff Hughes

Chief Experience Officer

The Huestudio + Company, Mt. Prospect, IL

On a tight budget, smaller floral arrangements can be added to add a pop of color.

The majority of the events I plan are for non-profits and conference-related. So, budgets are usually tight and conferences aren’t necessarily very elegant. However, you can create small parts that are elegant by adding florals to the space or the registration/check-in desk, using beautiful linens, or even adding a balloon wall or beautiful artwork to the space.

On a tight budget, smaller floral arrangements can be added to add a pop of color. Talk with the facility as many have linens you can use for free so no need to bring in outside linens. Also, you can find a local artist who would be willing to have their artwork shown at your event and generally they will display their work for free.

I would say leaning on your vendors and ensuring you have good relationships with a variety of vendors as they are generally willing to work with you and work within your budget.

"On a tight budget, smaller floral arrangements can be added to add a pop of color." @planitevents15 Click to Tweet

Courtney Coulombe

Owner/Lead Planner

Planit Events Inc., Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Greenery and Candles are so beautiful together.

Greenery and Candles are so beautiful together. They create a warm and lush look to any table, room, and event. We use a lot of greenery and natural elements in our designs. If large floral arrangements are not in the budget, mixed bud vases are a perfect answer to that. Mixed greenery can be used in several of the bud vases, adding a bud to just a couple gives an elegant feel to your event decor.

"Greenery and Candles are so beautiful together." Click to Tweet

Lisa Formaro

Owner

Willow Jaymes Events,

Here’s a protip: candlelight, candlelight, candlelight!

It can certainly be done! The most important thing is to understand your limits with a tight budget. Adjusting your expectations is so important; for example, you can’t have a fantastic floral ceiling installation without a bigger budget! However, there are so many ways to create a beautiful event at any level. Choosing the right venue is key, as well as considering your needs for decor. What can you thrift, reuse, DIY, or recycle? We have loved creating decor out of stacks of old books, small figurines, bud vases with wholesale wildflowers, paper or sheet music flowers…the list goes on. Checking out a few wedding recycle websites is a great idea, too! And here’s a protip: candlelight, candlelight, candlelight! Buy a bunch of wholesale candles, and the romantic vibe will be undeniable.

"Here’s a protip: candlelight, candlelight, candlelight!" @aelochicago Click to Tweet

Carolyn Johnson

Owner & Co-Founder

An Event Less Ordinary, Chicago, IL

The number of guests and the time of year you get married have a significant impact on the overall finances.

I always tell my clients to complete an exercise independently and then discuss it as a couple. They would write down their top three priorities (food, music, season) and then see where they were both at. If they had matching or similar priorities, more of the budget could go to those things. Also, the number of guests and the time of year you get married have a significant impact on the overall finances.

"The number of guests and the time of year you get married have a significant impact on the overall finances." Click to Tweet

Ashley Radosav

Owner and Lead Planner

Ashley Nicole Events Inc., Chicago, IL

I recommend focusing on one single wow factor and go from there.

My biggest tip for creating an elegant and memorable event is to focus on what will catch everyone’s eye. So often people focus on what is on the table. If you are looking at the room while everyone is seated, you don’t see what’s on the table. I recommend focusing on one single wow factor and go from there.

Another way to make things memorable is to always infuse the personality of the host(s) into the design of the space. If you are a music fan, why not showcase that?

Ultimately it’s about the journey your guests take from the time they receive the invitation to the time they get a thank you card or email. Every step should be intentional. You don’t have to spend a great deal of money to make something intentional. Elegant does not necessarily mean over-the-top multi-million dollar displays.

"I recommend focusing on one single wow factor and go from there." @andrewrobyevent Click to Tweet

Andrew Roby

Event Storyteller

Andrew Roby Events, Washington, D.C.

A limited budget does not always have to mean you limit your vision!

A limited budget does not always have to mean you limit your vision! Keep in mind that the largest driving factor in your budget is your guest count. It potentially can limit the spaces you can use, raises your costs in almost every area (food, floral, bar, need for a larger dance floor, etc). Remember if you’ve not spoken to them in the last year they really don’t need to be on your invite list.

Then other suggestions:
Focus the money on impactful areas. Are you able to reuse your ceremony space? Yes, then make it a focal point! No, then keep it simple! Go big on the decor behind the DJ or the band, stay more modest on the table centerpieces. Maybe do something really cool at the bars, or at the entrance. Double your escort card display as a picture opportunity… pick an area or two and get creative!

Using the same idea for the food, focus on the appetizers and the dessert. Most people don’t remember much of the entree! Acknowledge it for sure, but if you wow them before they ever sit down and again at the end of the night the middle can often be remembered as outstanding without much effort. If you’re wanting a buffet try for stations instead as well. Keep the same items that would be on your buffet but break them up into stations. The simple change elevates the event in most people’s minds.

"A limited budget does not always have to mean you limit your vision!" Click to Tweet

Laura Maddox

Owner/Partner

Magnolia Celebrates, Atlanta, GA

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

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

Just a pro tip and I learned this early on, pipe and drape and lighting is an amazing way to either create elegance or the depth that you want on a limited budget. 

There are a lot of people who think they have to spend tons of money to have a really epic event. That is the farthest thing from the truth. Create a plan. It should have the elements you really want. Then do the research, figure out what business is the highest cost, and then scale down. There are a slew of incredible businesses that do amazing work that actually offer their services at a reasonable price or one that fits your budget.  Just a pro tip and I learned this early on, pipe and drape and lighting is an amazing way to either create elegance or the depth that you want on a limited budget.

I have found that there are some people who want to throw an event just to impress people.  Then there are those that are really excited and authentic about celebrating a life event or an event in general. They want to make it their own and create a really personal atmosphere that is true to them. I definitely feel every event needs a “Wow” factor, but it certainly should not break the bank. I really want to encourage clients that you can really create something memorable on any budget, and that your lack of budget should not hold you back from having an event.

"Just a pro tip and I learned this early on, pipe and drape and lighting is an amazing way to either create elegance or the depth that you want on a limited budget. " Click to Tweet

Meredith Bond

Founder/ Creative Director

Seven14 Events, Boston, MA

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." @CurePSPjaclyn 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

Make meaningful moments.

Make meaningful moments. Do the college song during the band break. Do your private last dance. Take the photo with all your college friends. Make the most of the vendors you have to do things that don’t cost extra but have special meaning to you.

"Make meaningful moments." @pearleventsATX Click to Tweet

Becky Navarro

Founder

Pearl Events Austin, Austin, TX

My number one goal is to plan beautiful events while saving my clients money wherever possible.

My number one goal is to plan beautiful events while saving my clients money wherever possible. I always point out places to save. Could be in the choice of vendors we pick based on their priorities. Have to hire me to get my trade secrets.

"My number one goal is to plan beautiful events while saving my clients money wherever possible." Click to Tweet

Jamie Joffe

Owner/Planner

Jamie Joffe Events, Chicago, IL

The key to working on a tight budget is spending time prioritizing the elements of your event that will be most impactful on your guests.

The key to working on a tight budget is spending time prioritizing the elements of your event that will be most impactful on your guests. For example, for Weddings, food + entertainment are the most influential aspects of how your guests will feel walking out the door. Are their bellies full and feet hurting from dancing so much?

For another example, when hosting a Fundraiser, your main goal is to keep guests thinking about your mission as they walk out the door. Putting budget towards items that help achieve that goal are the best ways to make your money go the furthest.

It’s easy to get caught up in the elements like centerpieces, linen color, chair shape, etc. While fun to pick out and definitely help bring a cohesive look together, these are not the pieces most of your guests will be thinking about on their way home. Focus on the ways that help make your money go the furthest and bring the most value to your event.

"The key to working on a tight budget is spending time prioritizing the elements of your event that will be most impactful on your guests." Click to Tweet

Kelly Soule

Founder/Principal Planner

Kelly Elizabeth Events, Boston, MA