100 Virtually Free Event Planning Ideas

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[emb_content_sidebar /]We have all worked on events with a great vision but no budget to match. Here are 100 ideas to help you create an amazing event that cost next to nothing when funds are limited.

It can be hard not to be disheartened when you have a virtually non-existent event budget and still want to stand out for the right reasons. Not everything has to cost the earth though, sometimes a really small outlay in time and money can create the wow factor.

The key is being resourceful and clever with what you already have available or perhaps even upcycling items from reclamation or thrift stores. Repurposing becomes your friend and you’ll find yourself discovering craft talents you never knew you had. Your attendees will be inspired by your innovation and enjoy seeing everyday objects making their event experience fantastic and original.

These ideas cover everything from low-cost branding, marketing and catering through to AV, staging and tech so that you can plan the best event possible with a very small budget.

Marketing Ideas

1. Instagram Frame Props

Make your own Instagram giant frame, pop some moustaches on sticks or dig out the old retro dressing up outfits and wigs to create a photo prop box at your event that guests can pose with.

2. Stealth Marketing

Get members of your event team to go undercover at your event and find out what attendees really think as well as drum up interest for the event, sponsors or your new products.

3. Banners

Just because it’s traditional, doesn’t mean they don’t work. Add a low-cost banner to your event, inside or outside and remind the attendees why they’re here.

4. Social Media Hashtags

Get attendees Tweeting, Facebooking and sharing your event on social media by encouraging them to use an event specific hashtag and get it trending.

Ah Mr Deeks… @mark_deeks at the launch party of We Are Sparkle with @nicolajsparkles

Une publication partagée par Emma Bunting (@emmabuntinguk) le 27 Juin 2016 à 1 :09 PDT

5. Sidewalk Chalk

Add fun pictures, event themes, hashtags, your social media accounts or a chalk entranceway to get people talking about your event and entice them inside.

6. Newsletters

Keep attendees up to date by building a strong email list and following up with them by sending out regular email newsletters that could include offers, exclusive content and event details.

7. E-Vites

Reduce the need for invitations and the associated costs by sending online or digital invitations.

8. Event T-shirts

Create t-shirts with the event logo, details and future event dates and distribute them wisely to staff and influencers who will wear them, or use them giveaways and mobile marketing opportunities.

Décor Ideas

9. Go Outside

If you need a bigger space and can’t afford a larger venue, opt to take your event outside and use a public park or outdoor area, just make sure to obtain the proper permissions and permits first.

10. Local Artwork

Reach out to local artists for large murals or displays that you can offer to list for purchase in exchange for free décor.

‘Tuart Leaves’ by Caroline Arnold. From the P&K Dawson private collection 😁 #localart #dongara #art@easter

Une publication partagée par Kelli Dawson (@kjd4279) le 21 Mars 2017 à 9 :27 PDT

11. Photo Entrance

Create a low-cost and interesting entrance that will engage with the guests and strike their interest from the very beginning with these strung photos. You could use personal photos if you know the attendees, or previous event photos if you don’t.

12. Frozen Flowers

This simplistic but fun idea can spruce up any drinks display or outdoor cooler by freezing flowers in ice and when it melts you are left with a beautiful effect.

13. Homemade Bunting

Spruce up tables, stages or entrances with homemade bunting, you could also use it as a marketing opportunity too.

14. Handmade Signage

Find someone with neat handwriting to create some fancy lettering and you can write on anything to let your guests know where to go and what to do.

Ceremony > Reception >>> #yvfwedding

Une publication partagée par YVF Weddings (@yvfweddings) le 20 Mars 2017 à 6 :00 PDT

15. Natural Décor

Use what you have available and spruce it up to make talking points at your event, even if you are outside.

16. Wall frames

If you have a pretty wall, use it, no need to add a picture to spruce it up, just use a fancy frame for an interesting and frugal décor idea.

17. Black And White Theme

Avoid the cost of extra colors and opt to have a black and white theme which is cheaper, as it is more often provided as standard by many venues and easy to create a striking impression.

Giveaway Ideas

18. Event Tickets

Give away free entry for a forthcoming event you are holding. Depending on the value of the prize you could also throw in a VIP lounge, queue jumping, or a bottle of champagne. Perhaps your sponsors want to provide extras? The options with this one are limitless.

19. Online Competitions

Run a competition alongside your event on social media or on your website for attendees to take part in to win prizes and share.

20. Networking Prizes

Offer opportunities for an exclusive meeting with industry experts or entrepreneurs at your event to ask them questions they would never otherwise have the opportunity to ask face to face.

21. Envelope Wall

Offer small prizes, fun incentives or quirky compliments using a variety of envelopes that attendees can go up and pick.

CBP Holiday Party gift card game #everyonesawinner

Une publication partagée par Cheree Berry Paper (@chereeberrypaper) le 12 Déc. 2014 à 6 :17 PST

22. Digital Swag

It doesn’t cost anything on the day and this could be anything from free downloads to discount offers or free entry into a prize draw.

23. Sponsored Prizes

Ask sponsors to contribute larger more expensive products of their own that you can promote, or combine smaller prizes, to offer appealoing and attention-grabbing prizes.

Catering Ideas

24. Repurposed jars

Rustic is a popular theme so make do with this frugal way to reuse old jars and bottles as glasses at your next event

25. Food Stations

Grouping food together in a self-serve option reduces the need for serving staff, saves money on catering and encourages people to eat less while looking like there is more available. You can separate them into food, drink and dessert stations.

26. Bicycle Drink Bar

No need to hire a mobile drinks station, speak to a friend who can ride around giving out drinks on the day.

27. Potluck

For events where you know the guests, or for friends and family, ask them to bring their own alcohol or provide a food dish each, you only need to provide the basics and the rest are down to your guests themselves.

イースターパーティー🌸 * ここ数年盛り上がりつつある春のイベント、イースターを先取りしてみました╰(*´︶`*)╯♡ みんなが持ち寄ってくれたお料理でかわいくて豪華な食卓に✨ 子どもたちは卵探しをしてお菓子をたくさんもらえてご満悦でした☺︎ * わが家にとって過去最高の収容人数(大人6人子ども10人)だったけど、とりあえず誰も流血せずに済んで良かった😂 * #ランチ#持ち寄り#イースター#ホームパーティー#easter#potluck#homeparty#cooking#instafood#LIN_stagrammer#ig_japan#onthetable#elleatable#イースターパーティー#子連れ#3歳#ママリ#手料理#うきうきスプリング#コッタ#おうちごはん#おうちカフェ#手作りパン#手作りお菓子#モザイク寿司#グラタン#キャラごはん#春の食卓はじめました#デリスタグラマー#クッキングラム

Une publication partagée par aoi (@aoimokenpi) le 21 Mars 2017 à 5 :18 PDT

28. Cake Pops

They definitely make a cake go further, are relatively simplistic to make and can be adapted to any color, flavor or decoration to fit in with the event themes.

29. Stay In Season

Choose food that is already in season so that it is at its lowest price to avoid having to ship or pay extra charges. Consider the time of year when planning your menu.

30. Deconstructed Food Bars

Provide plain options and allow the guests to mix it up themselves. For example make your own coconuts, waffles, cakes or even drinks. It also provides entertainment and plenty of photo opportunities.

#wafflebar #wafflestation #reliefsocietybirthday #reliefsociety #happybeeday

Une publication partagée par Ashley Lloyd (@ashandcashman) le 21 Mars 2017 à 6 :31 PDT

31. Rustic Decanters

Punch or easy drinks are inexpensive so make minimal drink options stand out by propping up old style drink decanters.

32. Appetizers Only

Choose to only serve appetizers or finger foods to limit the amount of food you need to buy and make it go further. Plus it saves on washing up.

33. Food Displays

If you have less food options available, turn them into a display instead to detract from what isn’t there. Plus it makes it look grander than it is.

Good morning, Albuquerque! Let’s start Monday off with a Smiles For Miles fruit arrangement, guaranteed to put a smile on your face 😊🍓🍊🍇🍍 #fruitarrangement #smileitsmonday #ortrytoatleast

Une publication partagée par Albuquerque Florist Inc (@abqflorist) le 20 Mars 2017 à 8 :42 PDT

Branding Ideas

34. Logo Badges

Add your logo or brand image to the badges of every attendee that they will no-doubt use as a keepsake as well. Make this cheaper by opting for single color print options.

35. Branded Cake

All manner of cake, bakes and confectionary can be branded so get talking to the caterer and add your company name or logo to the top!

Corporate logos on cakes – celebrate your brand! #logocake #sugarcoated #cakeart #brandedcake

Une publication partagée par Sugarcoated – Tina (@sugarcoated.edibleart) le 28 Févr. 2016 à 8 :13 PST

36. Staff Uniforms

Make them easy to identify and help embody your brand with staff in matching outfits or uniforms. You could also keep it with the event theme too.

37. Logo Rugs

A cheaper alternative to big effects, such as projection mapping could be branded flooring, such as this. If you can use it time and time again for your events you can soon justify the investment needed for this one.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day 🍀 #beabridgesclient . . . . . . . . . . . #tradeshowbooth #exhibit #b2b #b2c #makeitmemorable #branding #marketing #communication #display #skincare #beauty #green #stpatricksday

Une publication partagée par Bridges Comm 🇨🇦 (@bridgescommca) le 17 Mars 2017 à 8 :09 PDT

38. Branded Tablecloths

Whether it’s for a trade show, sit down dinner, or the event welcome desk you can opt for branded table cloths to add a professional touch. A cheaper alternative would be investing in table cloths matching your main logo colour.

Trade Show/Exhibition Ideas

39. Exhibition Bags

If your budget won’t stretch to canvas bags investigate branded or plain paper bag options that can still add a touch of class.

40. Leaderboards

Provide a fun and easy guessing game or fitness challenge at your booth and have a leaderboard displayed to encourage attendees to come back and check on their rankings.

I’m not shocked my co-worker @morgankcarlson and I killed the game on the seated water row tonight! We made the #leaderboard! Great workout at @otfmontgomery! Remember sometimes life will require you to push past yourself! Everything won’t come easy! #otf #otfnation #orangetheoryfitness #basepushallout🍊 #fitgirls #faithandfitness #gymrat #healthnut #workhard #workoutmotivation #mondaymotivation #instafitness #endurance #power #strength #healthyliving

Une publication partagée par Rosanna Marie (@gracefullyrose) le 20 Mars 2017 à 6 :31 PDT

41. Business Card Notes

Add little notes to your business cards that you will be handing out on the day. Write questions and add personal touches that make you more memorable to show you have put in more effort than the competition and it doesn’t cost anything.

42. Paper Wristbands

Opt for paper wristbands at a trade show or exhibition as a low-cost entry alternative to lanyards or passes, you could also get them sponsored too.

43. Program Board

Avoid printing costs for several hundred programs and have one or two centralized boards with the order of events dotted around the venue.

44. Live Demonstrations

Whether it is cooking, dancing or product demos, making your booth interactive is bound to attract more attendees.

45. Message Book/Board

Add a white board and pen, pin board or a book for attendees to write their thoughts about a specific topic throughout the event.

#Love is a #universallanguage. No matter what you use and how you express it, it remains the constant and the same. #messageboard pinned by kids for their moms. Written in different languages and penmanship but same feeling…LOVE. ❤️💐 . . #messages#happymomsday#mothersday#kidstuff#kidslove#kidsmessages#messageboards#notestomom#welovemom#mommydiaries

Une publication partagée par Aimee DC. O (@momonabroomstick) le 22 Mars 2017 à 6 :17 PDT

46. Balloon Booth

Blow up balloons and trap them in a Perspex box for a fun table idea you could create yourself!

LOVE & BOOCH & MAGIC 🎈 ✨💖🦄🍀🌈💫

Une publication partagée par rachel zarrow (@rachroobear) le 12 Mars 2017 à 3 :59 PDT

Event Tech Ideas

47. Live Streaming

Connect to Facebook Live or other platforms and give your followers a taste of what they are missing as well as making your event more accessible for everyone.

48. WiFi Splash Page

Set an event specific WiFi login page that requires sign in and ask for permission to contact them in the future if you are looking to expand your email list. Or opt to add marketing or event information instead.

49. Bespoke Landing Page

Build a bespoke landing page, pop up or lightbox on your event website to get event details out there and boost marketing potential. Add a short video to capture attention.

50. Animated GIFs

Create an animated GIF to capture attention in advance or even at the event.

51. Bitmoji

Create a Bitmoji – a personalized emoji – to give more personality to the key person behind your event planning.

Entertainment Ideas

52. Mascots

They provide great photo opportunities and can be fun for kids and adults alike depending on the character.

โปเกมอนก็มา มาสคอตน่าร้ากกก เด็กไม่วิ่งหนี มีแต่วิ่งเข้าหา #pokemon #store #mascot #hapinaha #naha #okinawa #japan

Une publication partagée par นัน•ท•วัน – Nan●ta●wan (@nan_tawan_sri) le 21 Mars 2017 à 9 :44 PDT

53. Flash Mobs

Create a surprising and fun atmosphere with a flash mob at your event and entertain the other guests while having fun at the same time.

54. Photo Boards

Use old photos to create interest at weddings or personal events. A fun décor idea to amuse the guests and give them something to look at.

55. Garden Games

Play larger versions of traditional board or garden games for a new twist on the old classics. Options like Jenga and Noughts and Crosses you can even make yourself.

56. Caricatures

Allow caricature artists to draw your guests for a small fee that you take a percentage of and you not only have a free entertainment idea but could end up with a little profit if they are popular.

😊✍️ #graphite #caricature #mechanicalpencil #sketching

Une publication partagée par Efraín Malo (@maloart) le 19 Mars 2017 à 1 :06 PDT

57. Lego

A fun idea to keep the guests entertained and you could use it as a sponsorship or marketing idea too.

58. Karaoke/Talent Shows

Allow attendees to show what they are made of and compete for prizes as well as have fun, plus it provides entertainment for everyone!

Идеальное решение для вечера – провести незабываемый вечер в кругу Ваших близких и друзей! Караоке-кафе “Токио ” – идеальное решение для любой компании! #караокепояпонски #токио #караокевоскресенск#развлечение #караокесистема #авторскаякухня#заведение #персонал #сушикафе #праздник#резерв #уют #tokio #dance #party #karaoke#караоке #ресторан #вечеринка #karaoke_tokio#караокетокио

Une publication partagée par Караоке по-японски (@karaoke_tokio) le 30 Mars 2017 à 8 :35 PDT

59. Fancy Dress/Ugly Outfit Competition

Invite guests to dress up completely or opt for a specific item of clothing such as ugly jumpers or onesies and host a competition for best, or worst, dressed.

60. Photo Backdrop

You can create this with anything that allows your guests an interesting backdrop for their event photos. Don’t forget to mention your hashtag either or get the event name up there for a little extra marketing.

Lighting Ideas

61. Jar lights

Repurpose old wine bottles, drink jars and mason jars for the perfect outdoor lighting that can be placed on ground level, on tables or strung up and hung from trees.

62. Colored Bulbs

Adjust the natural room lighting by changing the bulbs of existing fixtures to different colors to highlight certain areas instead of larger, more expensive light displays.

#lights #bulbs #colorbulbs

Une publication partagée par K á l m á n A t t i l a (@atiboy2otlet) le 26 Janv. 2017 à 1 :53 PST

63. Plastic Cup Lights

For the creative types who want larger light options to be interesting but can’t afford fancy fixtures, use regular plastic cups to create these intricate light surrounds.

64. Umbrellas

Repurpose everyday household objects to create a lower ceiling and reduce the amount of lighting needed. Combine these with fairy lights and you’re onto a winner.

65. Fairy Lights

Use fairy lights to line an area and create a lit backdrop against the night for evening events

66. Paper Lanterns

Make your own tea-light paper lanterns which are perfect for lining paths for outdoor events and could be used from tissue paper or card! Or let your guests release their own paper lanterns. However, be careful in high winds and check the venue health and safety policy on these.

Sponsorship Ideas

67. Signature Drinks

Cut down drink options by providing a specific signature drink which could be incorporated into sponsorship ideas.

68. Backdrops

Create an area where attendees can take photos with a sponsored backdrop behind them that they will then splash all over social media. Place sponsor logos in prominent photo taking locations.

69. Sponsor Discounts

For all attendees offer a special discount code off purchases or services from the sponsors website for a limited period.

70. Escort Displays

Write on glass or windows in white pen for fun and unique sponsorship opportunities that are specific to your venue and event. Don’t forget to wipe it off afterwards.

We love using our vintage doors as escort displays! 📷:

Une publication partagée par details delivered (@detailsdelivered) le 20 Nov. 2016 à 6 :03 PST

71. Sponsored Keynote Speakers

Providing industry experts or celebrities as keynote speakers at an event increases credibility. If your budget won’t allow it try to find a sponsor to cover the cost. In exchange the speaker could take some time to talk about the sponsor and or their product at the end of their talk.

72. Welcome Signs

Adding signage to the entrance or exit of your event can be a guaranteed place where all the attendees are going to see it.

Event banners!!! #eventbanners #banners #events #premier1prints

Une publication partagée par Premier1Prints (@mr.premier1) le 1 Févr. 2017 à 6 :45 PST

73. Water Stations

A free amenity that can be provided to attendees and spruced up with some signage and cups providing a great sponsorship opportunity.

Furniture Ideas

74. Hay Bale Benches

For outdoor events, throw some linen over some hay bales and voila virtually free seating, you could also create tables, sofas or children play areas too.

One of our favorite set ups✨ rustic with a hint of chic ✨👰🏼🌿

Une publication partagée par Oz Farm✨ (@ozfarm) le 19 Mars 2017 à 6 :18 PDT

75. Barrel Bar Tables

Create higher seating areas for smaller venues using old barrels for taller tables and pair with stools to encourage conversation.  

76. Outdoor Picnic Tables

To allow big groups of guests to sit together outside, provide traditional picnic tables which have their own seating all in one.

77. Community Seating

Encourage networking and discussion at your event for attendees that may not know each other with community seating ideas.

78. Mis-matched Seats

A combination of bean bags, large cushions, couches or benches can provide a fun and relaxed environment to your event with something for everyone!

What goes better with a brunch wedding than a lounge area!? 😍

Une publication partagée par Leo Carrillo Ranch (@leocarrilloranch) le 21 Mars 2017 à 12 :18 PDT

Meeting Design Ideas

79. Talk to Me About…

Get attendees to write on their event badge one thing they want to talk to others about.

80. Ice Breakers

Warm up the room and get everyone in a good mood with something silly at the start of a meeting to break the ice. Ice breakers are especially beneficial to brain power if it gets everyone moving.

81. Collaborative Input

Use paper or shared software to allow everyone in the meeting to collaborate and add their notes and ideas as they go along.  

我指的什麼 #Threesmall#mindmap#小學生字體

Une publication partagée par 艾力克斯二世 (@dingding921012) le 9 Févr. 2017 à 8 :00 PST

82. Team Building

Include a creative team building game or activity so that everyone feels like they are on the same page and have achieved something.

83. Mix Up The Venue

Take your meeting outside, choose a different room or go to a coffee shop, the change in scenery can promote innovative thinking and stops your team from becoming bored.

AV and Staging Ideas

84. Use Existing Walls

Without a budget to surround the stage it can leave it feeling too exposed and small, place it in a corner or up against a wall and you can use it as a natural backdrop that you can opt to decorate or not without the need for fancy rigging.

85. Your Own Playlists

Provide your own music and create a playlist on your device before the event so that the music can be plugged in and played. No need for a DJ or fancy equipment.

86. Stage Holding Screens

Use a holding screen to get across your message or provide sponsorship opportunities by using slideshows or interesting images as backdrops on stage.

87. Live Photo Feed

Create a display with real time tags, tweets and social media that is related to the event on stage so attendees can see what is going on as well as when their own photos appear on the big screen.

88. PVC Pipe

To make unique stage designs PVC piping is cheap, cost effective and can be used to create cool lighting effects or add a dynamic background.

Yes, the title of this stage design is a Starbucks pun. Get over it. (link in bio)

Une publication partagée par Church Stage Design Ideas (@churchstagedesignideas) le 4 Oct. 2016 à 8 :00 PDT

89. Local Bands

Ask an aspiring musician to play at your event for free by offering them a chance to share their CD or demo at the entrance or on stage. They will likely have well known songs in their repertoire as well as some of their own.

90. Paint Splatter Backdrop

These are easy to make and you don’t have to be crafty, plus you can make each one unique to your event and use the same colors and theme.  

Today it looks a bit spacey, it does to me anyway! #paintsplatter #paint #painting

Une publication partagée par VickyBee (@vickybower) le 28 Mars 2017 à 9 :17 PDT

Table Setting Ideas

91. Bold Linen

Avoid the cost of bold flower displays or fancy settings by using a bold color table cloth or napkins to offset the standard white plates.

92. Tea Lights

Creates a beautiful mood and casts an ethereal light.

93. Woodland Centerpieces

Use what is available to you such as these stunning succulent, chopped log table centers.

94. Wildflowers

Pick your own flowers rather than having arrangements and incorporate them into the place setting.

95. Napkin Origami

Create interesting art pieces with the napkins to spruce up the table without costing a thing. There are hundreds of napkin art designs available for a variety of skill levels and you could even incorporate into an event theme.

96. Branches

Do a bit of plant-scaping and add natural elements like branches to a simple table setting.

97. Shell Table Centers

Use some beach inspiration for fun and cute table centerpieces that are completely free and that the guests can take home with them afterwards.

98. Foldable Favors

Make your own favors out of foldable boxes and fill with sweets, chocolate or treats that you can also make yourself.

Sunflowers are often overlooked but can truly make for beautiful table centerpieces! Here’s a great example☝🏼️ #events #eventspace #eventvenue #eventprof #eventprofessional #eventplanners #eventcoordinators #planning #venueforrent #launchevents #productlaunch #artshows #eventnews #networkingevents #elegantvenue #eventrental #popupshop #fashionweekvenue #fashionweekrentalspace #eventcatering #eventappetizers #cocktails #fashionweek #NYCfashionweek #eventplanners #eventcoordinators #planning #venueforrent #launchevents #productlaunch #artshows #eventnews #networkingevents #elegantvenue #eventrental #popupshop #fashionweekvenue #fashionweekrentalspace #eventcatering #eventappetizers #cocktails #fashionweek #uniqueeventspace #weddings

Une publication partagée par Y-CLAD’s HIDDEN GEM 💎 (@ycladshiddengem) le 14 Août 2015 à 9 :27 PDT

99. Table Petals

Drastically reduce the cost of flowers by using petals on the table instead, which will make them go much further.

100. Wine Bottle Repurpose

Use old wine bottles to act as vases, candle holders or even table numbers or settings for an endless supply of ideas!

We think our beer loving clients are some of the coolest 🍻

Une publication partagée par details delivered (@detailsdelivered) le 8 Déc. 2016 à 5 :01 PST

In Conclusion

Hopefully we have given you some inspiration and budget friendly ideas that cost next to nothing and can take some of the stress out of event planning with smaller budgets. Keep these ideas up your sleeve to get creative and give your client exactly what they need, without costing the earth.