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12 Secrets Event Planners Won’t Tell You for Free

We caught up with top event planners around the country to learn what really matters when it comes to making a memorable party on a reasonable budget. Let's get this party started!

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Restaurants are more budget-friendly than banquet halls

“If you’re hosting fewer than 100 people, definitely skip renting a banquet hall, hotel, or loft space for your event,” explains Tammy Cohen, owner of popular New York City eatery and catering company, Eighteen. “Hotels and halls are known for up-charging for everything from food to linens, whereas restaurants already include furniture, most linens, and place settings, and generally have all their own liquor and staff already. Nobody is going to try to take a markup on using their chairs if they already have them for regular dinner service.”

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You can absolutely make your own floral arrangements

Cohen says there is no reason to shell out big bucks for fancy floral arrangements if you’re strapped for cash. Whether you host the event at home or at a restaurant or banquet hall, almost every venue will allow you to come in with your own festive flowers, which can easily be purchased at a local flower market. She suggests adding several small, low vases with hardy flowers for each table. “The key is to have a stacked, lush appearance without interrupting anyone’s field of vision. You want cute, understated flowers that add ambiance but don’t discourage guests from speaking to each other or making eye contact, so skip the tall vases with big, bushy flowers.” Cohen says you can easily save hundreds of dollars per table with this tip alone. Use these tricks to make cheap supermarket flowers look expensive.

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You must avoid decorating with glitter

Leave glitter to princess parties and ’70s disco revivals. “Sure, glitter is sparkly and fun, but it gives a juvenile appearance and gets stuck to everything,” explains Cohen. “Not to mention that if you’re renting a place for your event, you may even be stuck with an additional cleaning fee.” She suggests adding sparkle with metallic place settings or bejeweled napkin rings, but never, ever actual glitter.

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Table runners are an excellent investment

If you’re hosting an event on a budget, you can transform plain tables to suit your party’s theme with table runners instead of expensive tablecloths you would need to either rent or purchase. Cohen suggests hitting discount stores for inexpensive runners that can be layered on tables, bar tops, and other surfaces to add richness and depth to an event’s color scheme without breaking the bank.

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There are ways to save on beverages

Don’t go overboard with booze. “A selection of beverages to complement the menu is a must,” shares Emily Sullivan, owner of Emily Sullivan Events, “but you don’t need to spend big to make a huge impact. Consider craft brews and a cocktail that pays homage to the location or occasion.” And since more and more people are cutting back on alcohol, consider preparing some exciting mocktails, like these festive non-alcoholic drink recipes.

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It’s cheaper to do a DIY dessert table

Are you ready for an excuse to have a maple syrup taffy bar? “If your venue allows, I always suggest DIY-ing your dessert table,” says Lindsay Parrott-Masiewicz, owner of P3 Events. “Most guests will pick through that at the end of the night, and it is still never completely empty when the lights come on. A professionally prepared sweets table can run you $1,200 to $3,000, depending on guest count, but curating your own with the help of a boutique candy shop or another online shop will cost you $500 to $1,800 instead!” For lower key parties, bake your own sweets, like these truly decadent vegan desserts.

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Music and entertainment are a must

Even great conversation goes only so far at a party, so leave money in your budget for music and entertainment. “Entertainment is important because it is what gets your guests up and moving and more importantly, guides the evenings big moments: entrances, speeches, and cake cutting,” shares Parrott-Masiewicz. “You want a lively band or DJ that can read a room, keep guests entertained, and feed off the vibes in the room. People always remember how much their feet hurt the next day because they never left the dance floor.”

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You can skip printed menus and place cards

“If you have a tighter budget, consider DIY-ing your event day stationery,” suggests Kevin Dennis, a certified planner and owner of Fantasy Sound Event Services. “Menus and place cards can be a fun project to tackle that will save you big.” Check out these gorgeous ideas for place cards.

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Lighting really helps set the mood

Professional lighting started as a “nice-to-have” element and has grown to a “must-have” feature of events, according to Kevin, and he’s not the only professional who thinks lighting is one of the most important elements of an event’s success. “I always tell our event clients they need candles, blue or purple lights, or even small strings of delicate electric lights to drape around tables,” says Tammy Cohen of mood lighting. “Subtle lighting can almost magically transform a room and costs almost nothing when it’s done right.”

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Get smart about linens

Forget about making decorating mistakes, because gorgeous tablecloths are always a hit. “Consider the fabric, which is what really plays into budget,” says Becky Baker, owner at Becky’s Brides. “If you are trying to cut down on your budget, nice poly-cotton linens that are floor length will be a great blank canvas for your centerpieces and table setting without breaking the bank on more expensive fabrics.” And then cue your smart runners to complete the look!

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Be cautious about taking on too many DIY projects

There’s no reason to try every single project on the Internet, because you’re bound to end up with at least a few Pinterest-ing party fails. “DIY is risky business when it comes to weddings because you have to factor in the labor involved,” explains Becky. “The best DIY projects are small things that can be done ahead of time such as signage: welcome signs, bar menus, sign-in boards, and hashtag signs.”

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Head to the dollar store for fabric napkins

If you’re working with a simple color scheme, Cohen suggests hitting discount stores for fabric napkins that are inexpensive enough to throw away if they’re ruined, but cute enough to keep if they’re left in great condition. Renting napkins can get expensive, but if you find them for around a dollar a pop, you’ll save money and end up with a supply to keep for future holiday dinners, potlucks, and stay-at-home date nights. It’s also a great way to reduce your carbon footprint.

Bryce Gruber
Bryce Gruber is an expert in gift ideas, shopping, and e-commerce. You've likely seen her work across a variety of women's lifestyle and parenting outlets and on TV shows. She lives and works in New York's Hudson Valley with her five small children.