As in-person conferences, meetings, and festivals return in force, event planners realize that their dusty 2019 budgets are no longer enough.

While consumer inflation is consistently logging cost increase levels not seen in forty years, these consumer numbers pale compared to the increases that event planners are staring down. By some estimates, event inflation has caused event costs to rise by 45% since 2019!

Event Planning Cost Drivers

Rising costs that parallel rising demand is not unusual. However, the cost drivers in the conference and event space have been particularly hard hit.

  • Labor. From hospitality to event labor, companies are struggling to keep these positions fully staffed.
  • Transportation. Transportation costs have increased faster than inflation overall and play a significant factor in event costs.
  • Food. Food costs have seen above-average increases and are an important part of every event.

There’s never been a more difficult time for event planners on a budget – especially if that budget hasn’t been updated in a few years.

Moving forward, smart meeting and conference planners are rethinking how to prioritize their expenses. At the same time, event attendees are so eager to return to in-person events that their requirements have dramatically evolved. This creates an opportunity for event planners to save money in innovative ways.

Here are some ideas to consider when trying to squeeze that old budget into the new reality.

Start Planning Sooner

The more time you have (and the more time you invest) the more likely you are to negotiate better costs. Doubling your planning period gives you more time to consider alternative vendors, negotiate prices, increase the number of bids you consider, and give you the degrees of freedom you need to expand your options and ultimately cut the best deal possible.

Get Rewarded for Your Loyalty

Does your organization plan multiple events? Are you willing to make multi-year commitments? If you’re not planning multiple events, can you team up with other event planners within your organization? By grouping budgets together, you can expand your purchasing power to negotiate better prices.

Simplify your presentation

Skip the bells and whistles this year. There’s no need to top last year’s outrageous design. For most of us in events, there was no last year. Today, attendees are simply happy to be out of their homes and talking to real people. Cut corners on audio visual, in-event design elements and anything where the objective is limited to receiving  a “wow.”  

Choose Budget Event Scheduling Software 

There is no shortage of options when it comes to software to help you plan, promote, organize and manage great events. Most make it difficult to figure out what they charge before they try to upsell you with a myriad of different options. 

Instead, consider an all-inclusive platform like Sched. While most platforms typically charge $10, $20 or even $40 per attendee per event, Sched charges just $4 or less per attendee and includes all the features you need from a mobile app, to post-event content hosting, to support for in-person, virtual and hybrid events at one low price.

Remove the middleman

Have you ever tried to negotiate room rates with an app? They tend to be quite rigid. If you speak directly with a hotel or an event venue, you are more likely to negotiate a better deal, especially if there is no middleman taking a cut.

You’ll need a certain amount of volume and likely have to make some guarantees, but skipping the internet and going straight to the hotel or venue’s sales team should generate more bang for for your buck

Rethink Your When & Where

Timing is everything when planning an in-person event on a budget. If you have some flexibility, time and location can be your best friends. Instead of telling your vendors when you want to host the event, ask them when you can get the best deal. They’ll help you zone in on the day of the week or even locations that can save you money.  Also consider moving the venue out of downtown areas that still have access to public transportation. 

Pay more get more

Just because prices are increasing doesn’t mean you can’t negotiate to get more for your money. You may not be able to bring down the price, but you could persuade your vendor to deliver a higher level of service.

For example, ask the venue if they can include AV and technical equipment in the rental fee. It may not be the latest and the greatest but this is a time for making smart choices about where to spend your precious budget. 

Don’t Scrimp on Food

While it’s easy right now to scrimp in many areas of an in-person event, think twice before you mess with people’s stomachs. Food is often one of the most important elements to overall attendee satisfaction, so don’t surrender quality here.

That said, there are still ways to tighten the food belt. Consider more vegetarian options. It costs less than meat alternatives and even the most dedicated meat eaters are typically happy with some exciting veggie options. 

Make the food count, but consider saving on how you deliver the food. Consider a “grab and go” approach where you can reduce the cost of serving staff, crockery and cutlery while still serving memorable meals.

Charge Your Attendees

Many already do this –  consider charging a bit more. If you’ve never charged for your event before, consider charging a small nominal fee. Beyond that, there are other ways of sharing the budget burden. For example, you could sell:

  • Drink tickets
  • Event merchandise
  • Ticket insurance
  • Premium food options
  • Season passes for multiple events 
  • Upgraded seating options
  • Advertising packages  
  • Access to the attendee database
  • Access to on-demand content after the event
  • Skip the queue option
  • Exclusive networking sessions
  • VIP ticket packages that include a bundle of the above

Don’t go crazy, but try to find ways to balance the books. Attendees have been spending on events for years now and they may be ready to pay for the privilege of in-person conferences, festivals and meetings.

Turn one day into one year

Consider recording your event and putting the event online. While a true hybrid event offers parallel online and in-person paths, this method expands the reach of your in-person event and enables you to share its benefits for months to come. This is also a great way to expand your attendance in following years. Attendees can return from your event and suggest sessions to their colleagues.

Inflation Fighting Summary

No one has ever had enough budget and while today’s realities are worse than the past, the solution is quite simple:

  • More time & planning
  • Ruthless prioritization
  • New revenue sources
  • And a new found flexibility to follow the bargains

Generally, a ‘back to basics’ mentality recognizes that great events are about bringing people together. No one will remember the missing ice sculpture or 300-foot video screen, but everyone will remember how good it feels to see people face to face again.