How to Plan a Party Without Breaking the Bank

By: Lindsey Smith

Whether you’re “tightening your belt,” “doing more with less,” or “cutting out the fat” of your budget during these “tough times” (or getting sick of all the doom and gloom clichés), that doesn’t mean you need to put life on hold, nor does it mean not celebrating the good things in life. Couples are still getting married. Children are still getting older. Companies are still gathering for corporate events. Whether it’s a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, a wedding reception, or a corporate event, you can plan a fun and lavish-looking party without breaking the bank. Small adjustments can lead to major savings as you celebrate life and all the adventures that come along with it.

Top tips from San Diego event planners include creating a budget, and shopping around. “It’s all about shopping around,” said Grace Paterno, Catering Sales Manager at the Hilton Garden Inn, San Diego/ Del Mar. “Do your research. It’s like shopping for a car; you don’t buy at the first dealership you visit.” When planning a party or event, compare services and the prices of a variety of venues, caterers, florists, DJs, bands, photographers and videographers. Companies are competing heavily for your business right now, meaning good deals are waiting to be found.

Here are some additional tips from industry insiders.

Timing – “Definitely consider having your party on a Thursday, Friday, or Sunday,” says Paterno, “Anything but Saturday will land you a better rate.” Also, for weddings especially, not having your event in the summer will lead to lower costs. “During the summer, rates often go up,” added Paterno. “October is a great time to do a wedding, the weather is still pretty nice, especially in San Diego, but you won’t have the demand of the summer.”

Another potential timing advantage is a quickly approaching event date. “It’s a catch-22,” explains Paterno. “You may not have the options you would have if you were giving yourself more time to plan. But, when you do find a place that has the date open, you’ll have a lot of negotiating leverage. Venues would rather sell the date at a lower cost than not sell it at all.”

Finally, consider having a luncheon rather than a dinner event. “Guests tend to drink less at a luncheon, and lunch menu options are usually cheaper,” says Paterno.

Support Staff – Professional planners are a nice luxury, but not essential. Being organized is the key to planning a fabulous party. Lauren Oviatt, a wedding and event planner in Salt Lake City, recommends buying a three-ring notebook as you begin to plan the event. “Fill it with dividers, and then organize it by categories,” says Oviatt. “As you talk to various vendors, and see pictures of décor and menu options that you’d like to incorporate, put that information into your binder. Things will be much less stressful if you have all the information in one place.”

Also, remember, if you plan to have your event at a hotel or privately owned club, the staff at that hotel or club wants your event to be successful – it is in their best interest. Most hotels have a Catering and Event Manager who will help you out along the way with an initial check list, recommendations for musicians, DJs, florists, and keeping prices within your budget. Word-of-mouth marketing is very powerful. Hotels and clubs want to assure that you and all your guests give positive recommendations about their service.

Decorations – Depending on the event, and your creativity, you could make the decorations yourself and save bundles. For Bar or Bat Mitzvahs, and other birthday parties, balloons are less expensive than flowers, and lead to a less formal ambiance. For weddings and more formal parties, flowers are often a big expense – but they don’t have to be. “Why not buy wholesale flowers, or pick flowers from your garden (or a friends or relatives),” recommends Claire Bowes, the owner of the Wedding Planning Online website.

Food – This is one area, where cutting costs comes down to basics. “There are several ways to save on the food and beverage expenses,” says Paterno. “First, minimize your guest list, more people equates to more money. Then, simplify your menu. The more variety you offer your guests, the more you will have to pay.”

Also, think about your talented friends. Do you know any photographers, bakers, or designers? “You could get a friend to make your wedding [or birthday] cake for you,” says Bowes. “And opt for a smaller tier cake.”

Remember, life is meant to be enjoyed. Weddings, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, anniversaries, birthdays and parties do not need to be abandoned nor put on hold during this recession; nor should they put you in debt. Instead, set a budget, get organized, and shop around.


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