Setting a Party Budget You Can Stick To

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This is part of the Party Primer Series. Answers to all of your party and event planning questions.

Parties can get expensive in a hurry, especially if you go in without a plan. By the time you’ve strolled through Target and the grocery store, you’ve spent three times as much as you should have – and you still have more to buy! Just as we saw last week with your timeline, setting a budget before the party planning starts will help you to stay on track and throw the party you’re dreaming of, without all the buyer’s remorse and spending guilt.

It’s important to go into the budget planning process with realistic expectations. The wonders that are the blogosphere and Pinterest often leave us overwhelmed with so many ideas and without any real sense of the expense that went into those “Pin-worthy” parties. I can promise you they weren’t cheap.

Now I am all for throwing fabulous events that are decorated to the nines with hundreds of coordinated details, but that doesn’t have to be every party you throw or even any of the parties that you throw. If I tried to pull out all the stops every time I invited friends over to dinner I’d not only be broke, but totally burnt out on party planning. Have a budget in place will help you stay focused and make the important decisions.

The best place to start when planning your budget is determining the amount that you are reasonably able to spend, this is your absolute maximum. That doesn’t mean you have to spend this much, it just sets an amount to build around. Now, determine a goal of what you would like to spend on the party. This should be lower than your maximum obviously, and shouldn’t leave you cringing.

Next, think about your vision for the event. Who’s there? Where are you? What kind of food and drinks are you having? What do the decorations look like?

Now comes the hard step – reconciling the vision with the reality. Maybe you’re planning Thomas the Tank Engine themed a first birthday party and would love to dress each child up in little conductor’s overalls. That is an adorable idea, and will be perfect if there are only going to be a few children at the party, but if you’re inviting the whole extended family, 30 pairs of child-sized overalls gets expensive in a hurry.  Maybe you decide that each child will get a hat instead, much more affordable.

You also have to consider your non-negotiables items. Mainly, this means the food. If you’re throwing a casual afternoon cookout, you’re going to be able to spend less than at a formal dinner. Unless you decide you want to grill filet and salmon for the cookout and serve carryout pizza at dinner. It’s all about your choices.

It’s also important to determine if there is anything in your vision you just can’t part with. So if you know you just have to have those rosette tablecloths for your daughters 8th birthday at $40 each, you’re probably going to have to refrain from inviting the entire soccer team. This is why it is always a good idea to plan your budget for an amount less than the absolute maximum you are able to spend, it allows for a splurge now and then.

To help you get started I’ve outlined the most common expenses for a party, and what you can expect to spend in each area and what percentage of your budget should go towards each item. I’ve also put together three budgets based on the same amount, to help you see how your choices impact the party.

% of Budget

#1 $300 Birthday Party for 10 guests

#2 $300 Birthday Party for 20 guests

#3 $300 Birthday Party for 40 guests

Food & Drink

























Slush Fund









Each party had a budget of $300, but the types of party and the choices of the hostess determined how the money was spent.

The first party was a dinner for a 30th birthday celebration, it was small and the focus was on the food and drinks. Everything else was kept to a minimum.

The second was a pretty typical child’s birthday party, complete with a $50/hour magician.

The third party was also a child’s birthday party, but since there were so many guests, many of the extras were trimmed.

These are all hard decisions, I know. What makes it harder still is that there is no right or wrong answer. Each party and each party hostess is unique. What is important to you may seem trivial to someone else, that doesn’t make it wrong, it just makes it your opinion.

The most important thing to remember is that whether you throw a simple party or an extravagant one, the key is enjoying the time you spend creating memories with your guests, because that is truly priceless.


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