Retreat Budgeting: 5 Commonly Overlooked or Underestimated Costs – With Anna VanAgtmael

December 7, 2020
Jen Corley
7 min read

Whether you are a first-time or veteran retreat leader, it’s not always easy to plan for every scenario and the price it has on your event. No matter how experienced you are at planning and organizing, the inevitable hidden costs, which are commonly overlooked or underestimated, tend to crop up along the way.

With the help of Anna VanAgtmael, founder of Wandering Roots, we uncover some of the frequent oversights related to budgeting and costs that tend to trip up newer and experienced retreat leaders respectively. Anna also shares some valuable insights into strategies to account for the harder-to-estimate line items, such as your own valuable time.

We were thrilled to have this conversation with Anna, as she offers mentorship and planning services to help women in the wellness industry plan and host their own profitable retreats.

In addition to her professional services, Anna founded her company to provide laid back, all-inclusive retreats where guests can choose their own adventure.

5 Hidden Costs That Are Commonly Overlooked Or Underestimated

Unexpected Retreat Planning Costs

1. Costs Related To Unexpected Events

Jen: Let’s dive right in with our first question! What’s the most common mistake you see first-time retreat leaders make?

Anna: Usually, it’s failing to plan for the unexpected – things you didn’t consider in the first place or “emergency” costs related to unexpected developments, accidents, or natural disasters.

I always tell my clients to put in a line item for these types of hidden costs, usually around 10% to 15% of your overall budget. That way, when something unexpected happens, and it often does, they won’t be caught having to take the financial hit.

Personally, the biggest thing I’ve struggled with in this category is rental car costs. I have a business account, I get very detailed quotes, and I prepay. But still, no matter which country I’m in or which company I use, there’s always a bill when I get home!

The other big one is having solid contracts. I normally have a photographer and chef on staff at my retreats. We work together and come up with detailed agreements. Still, there have been cases where my photographer needs to rent additional equipment on-site, or my chef needs to run out and do some extra shopping. Then, I get a bill later for lens fees or groceries.

It happens.

Retreat Budget

2. Provision The Cost Of Your Time In The Budget

Jen: How about something that even veteran retreat leaders often don’t quite get right?

Anna: Here, I think it’s the return on the investment of your time personally. Time management is a huge thing for any entrepreneur – figuring out how long it takes to do the admin and behind-the-scenes tasks. Stuff like maintaining your email list and client management software or doing your bookkeeping.

Those are things that don’t spring to mind when you first consider running retreats but can actually end up taking more time than planning your schedule upfront or spending time in-person with your clients.

It’s hard, but there are ways to do it so that you pay yourself an appropriate hourly wage. Some of this comes with experience, and that’s why it’s an area I focus on in mentoring other retreat leaders.

It’s important to make sure that you’re compensated fairly for your time. Otherwise, you’re going to feel depleted and experience burnout.

3. “A La Carte” Costs At Retreat Centers

Jen: I know I tend to underestimate the time it will take me to do my least favorite parts of any project. Unfortunately, I think it’s human nature! Really a good thing to keep in mind.

Could we shift gears and talk about venue-specific costs? Usually, retreat center contracts are pretty detailed and formulaic. But what are some accommodation-related costs that people often miss because they’re not necessarily explicitly included in standard contracts?

Anticipate Costs

Anna: I agree with you. I think retreat centers generally have got it down; they’re in the business of finding hosts and taking care of things on their behalf. So their processes tend to be streamlined, organized, and easy to digest.

But, if you’re contracting with a newer retreat center, working with one that has a very “a la carte” pricing structure, or renting space in a venue that’s not a traditional retreat center, there can be a lot of hidden costs to watch out for.

These can be related to cleaning, transportation services, excursions, and any surcharges that might be added to your bill automatically or under certain circumstances.

4. Travel Costs Related To Scouting Locations

Anna: Even if you’re working with good partners, your contracts are clear, and nothing unexpected unfolds, it’s always a good idea to scout your locations and activities before you bring your guests along for the ride. Places don’t always look as good as they do online, reviews can be misleading, and some off-site excursions can turn out to be a disaster.

My travel costs for this scouting need to be covered, and also, I never like to arrive or depart at the same time as my guests. I think the energy isn’t as good – I like to get there, get a feel for the area, map out where we’re going to eat and hold workshops, and hang out.

In the past, I’ve been able to negotiate an early check-in, sometimes with a fee, sometimes not. And in my budget, I add an extra night’s accommodation, either at the beginning or the end of my stay, or both.

Free Retreat Budget Spreadsheet

Jen: That’s helpful to keep in mind, especially at the moment, when there may be more room for negotiation with your accommodation partners.

Anna: For sure, we probably have the upper hand in negotiating at the moment. But I also feel terrible for everyone in the travel industry right now! As always, I try to build relationships that are symbiotic, where both sides benefit.

This year, I had to cancel most of my plans. But because of the really great relationships I’d established from the beginning, it didn’t turn out to be a huge financial loss.

The more that you care about and communicate with the people you work with, the better off you’re going to be in situations that nobody can plan for.

5. Fees and Commissions For Payments and Receipts

Jen: Absolutely. This year has taught us that it’s not about squeezing the last dollar out of an agreement but finding partners who have your back, and vice versa, in a tough situation.

On that note, let’s take a broader view of the financial picture overall. When people are setting up their budgets, there’s a ton that goes into the cost side.

That’s firstly the “obvious” things like travel, accommodations, food. But what about the less tangible items that are perhaps easier to overlook?

Anna: Credit card fees are one – they’re easy to estimate but can get lost in the shuffle. I normally add 3% to all of my prices, so I’m not losing money on any financial transactions that involve a card payment.

If you’re working with advertising platforms, you may also incur a 10%-15% commission fee on bookings through them, so make sure this is accounted for as well.

And if you’re doing Facebook ads or other traditional advertising, figure it in upfront as well. It can get really expensive, especially if you hire someone to do it, so set a budget and stick to it.

Creating Retreat Budget

Jen: All good thoughts! One thing I’d highlight: on the transaction side of things, there are potentially two layers of costs – those that come with accepting payments from your participants and those that come with paying your vendors and partners.

With WeTravel, you can take credit card payments for 2.9% or bank transfer payments free of this surcharge. In the case of card payments, the 2.9% fee can be added at checkout to the participant’s bill if they opt-out of the free transfer option, or be absorbed by the organizer.

So, at the beginning of the retreat cycle, there are those costs. But, toward the middle and end, there are the costs related to paying your service providers – especially if you’re hosting an international retreat.

Working with WeTravel, you’re going to generally get access to the best exchange rates and have options to pay vendors within our system either by virtual credit card or hassle-free, affordable wire transfers. Otherwise, exchange rates and wire fees can really add up across all of the partners you may need to pay.

Expert Tip: An Extra Nugget Of Wisdom From Anna

Jen: One more question before we wrap up. Looking back to your early days as a retreat leader, what do you think are the biggest financial lessons you’ve learned in this role?

Anna: I think money is a hang up for a lot of people – it can be overwhelming, anxiety-provoking, and no one really likes to talk about it.

I mentioned earlier some lessons I’d learned about unexpected hidden costs and underestimating the time certain tasks may take. We also touched on working with solid retreat centers and other contractors, and having clear contracts.

Always being willing to be a student and learning to do better next time is so important. If you’re new to running retreats, find mentors or communities where you can ask for advice.

Start with a local destination and smaller groups. Be flexible, and don’t panic if something doesn’t go as planned – you’re probably the only one who’s noticed!

Final Thoughts

When planning a retreat, there are so many things to keep track of. If you aren’t budgeting correctly or are accidentally overlooking or underestimating certain costs, it can end up being frustrating. You put your all into organizing and hosting an amazing experience, yet your bottom line figure doesn’t quite reflect the effort and energy you put in.

Anticipating the hidden costs that we speak about above can help you avoid this. You can walk away feeling motivated and ready to plan your next amazing adventure.