The Back Office Guide to Budgeting for a Holiday Party


The annual holiday party is a much-loved office tradition. It can range from the mundane to the insane, and can help you get to know your colleagues in a whole new way.

But holiday parties can be costly. A number of companies stopped having holiday parties after the recession due to financial constraints. That's why it's important for your planning committee (even if it's a committee of one) to create a budget.

Here are six ways to keep costs under control when planning a holiday office party.

Choose a Less Popular Date

As anyone who's eaten out knows, dinners are usually more expensive than lunches. That's one explanation for why the 2017 ERC Holiday Practices Survey shows that 46% of companies are holding lunchtime holiday parties. Overall, Friday is the most popular day for the holiday party, with December 15th being the most popular date. If you want to save money, follow the lead of the many companies that hold their party after the holidays.

Hold The Party at the Office

One of the advantages of holding your party at work is that you don't have to pay extra for a venue, though you will have to budget for decorations and food. The downside is it can be hard to ignore work and get in the party spirit if you're still in the office. Around 52% of companies have their parties off-site. A nearby restaurant is an option for a lunchtime party and it will likely already look festive.

Arrange a Fixed Rate on Food

If you're planning an offsite, then arranging a set menu in advance at a fixed rate per head is the best way to keep costs under control. You'll need to think about people with special dietary requirements, too. Even if you're staying in the office, catering is a must, and it's something that 70% of companies do, according to ERC.

Keep Consumption Under Control

A big decision is whether or not you're going to serve alcohol. Keeping consumption under control is not only responsible, but it keeps costs manageable too. Only 47% of companies serve alcohol at holiday parties, and about half of those limit consumption, often by distributing limited numbers of drink tickets. If you're not getting a package deal from a venue, consider buying drinks wholesale to save a bit more.

Have a Gift-Giving Raffle

Corporate gift-giving is currently at a 50/50 split. These gifts can range from a ham or turkey to cash, gift cards or small tokens. Having a raffle for a few gifts instead of getting a gift for everyone can save hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars.

Keep Entertainment in Mind Early

Providing food, drinks and gifts will most likely be enough for most people, but if you're going to do more, expect to spend more. For example, if you hire a DJ, it can cost anywhere from a couple of hundred to a couple of thousand dollars. If you really want entertainment, but are on a tight budget, consider asking a talented friend or trading services instead of cash.

So, how much should you budget for a holiday party? The current average cost per head is about $75, which means if you have 100 employees it will set you back around $7,500. You can use this party calculator to work out your actual costs as you get quotes from vendors and suppliers.

The good news: your holiday party may be tax deductible – especially if you invite employees only. Check out IRS publication 463 to see if your party qualifies.

Using an expense management system, such as PEX, can help you organize and control your spending and ease the process of payments with your vendors.

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