A graduation party is a great way to celebrate a new degree – but it doesn’t have to cost as much as one.
Here are some helpful tips to help you throw an awesome graduation party on a dime:
What will I learn?
1. Set a budget.
Know what you’re willing to spend, and set a limit you’re comfortable with.
Not having a budget is an open invitation to overspending, and the costs can add up quickly.
Parties can range anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand – but the average cost is somewhere just under $1,000.
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No idea where to start?
Consider potential costs:
- Food & beverages
- Plates, silverware & napkins
- Invitations & postage
- “Thank you” cards & postage
- Location & equipment rental
- Entertainment (music, games, etc.)
- Photography & Videography
- Party favors
- Trash bags & cleaning
Try putting these things in order from what’s absolutely necessary to what the party wouldn’t necessarily miss – and consider cutting from the bottom.
Any costs you can spare will allow you to pocket more money when all is said and done, or reallocate funds to priority party needs.
2. Consider co-hosting.
If the graduate has friends or family members who are celebrating the same milestone, consider blending parties!
It’s not only more fun to party together, but it’s also easier on the pocketbook when you split the cost burden with other hosts.
3. Make it an intimate affair.
The guest list can dictate everything from invitations to locations, food, drink, and more.
If that list is smaller, you’ll be able to save significantly and you’ll have more flexibility in your budget.
Designating a graduation celebration as a family-only event is one way to trim guests without offending others.
On the other hand, if your family alone could fill a civic center – like mine – and you can’t imagine celebrating your daughter’s graduation without Uncle Joe, this option might not be for you.
4. Opt for a mid-day open house.
If an intimate party isn’t in the cards, consider making your graduation celebration an open house event.
An open house is a great way to entertain a large number of guests on a budget.
By nature, open houses are more casual. There’s no need for RSVPs – people just pop in when it’s convenient and come and go as they please.
Even better – schedule your open house in the afternoon, between 2 and 5 p.m.
Since the timing is before lunch but after dinner, guests won’t expect anything more than a few appetizers.
5. Pick the right venue.
Room rental fees can put a dent in your budget if you’re not careful.
In fact, the food and venue alone can together make up half your budget or more.
Avoid that by getting creative with your options.
Host the party at home
If you are able to, hosting the party at your home immediately eliminates room rental fees, which can set you back a pretty penny.
If you can’t host, see if a friend or relative would mind hosting for you.
You can offer to clean up or owe them a favor afterward if you feel it’s necessary.
Look at lower cost rental spaces
If you absolutely must rent a private or public space, there are some lower cost options you can look into, depending on where you live.
They may include:
- Local VFW posts
- Public parks
- Town halls
- Bowling alleys
6. Send digital/DIY/discounted invitations.
A party isn’t a party without at least a few guests. Invitations are typically an easy place to cut costs early in the planning process.
As long as your graduation party isn’t formal, digital invitations are often the most affordable option.
Many evite options are completely free.
Even when they’re not, you can avoid spending money on printing, envelopes, and postage right off the back
Check out the following evite options:
Facebook event invitations
A Facebook event is a completely free and super informal way to invite guests and track invitations to a graduation party.
You can even post updates and other details about the party throughout the planning process, and guests can opt to receive those updates and interact with the event.
This is a great way to build excitement for an event, and help the guests feel like they’re more involved.
The only problem is, guests really need to have a Facebook page in order to receive these types of invitations.
If a lot of your guests aren’t on Facebook, maybe there’s a better option for you.
When digital invitations just won’t do, consider some options for saving on printed invites.
One of these options is to make them yourself. DIY invitations not only give the party a personal touch, but they can make good keepsakes for family and friends, and they leave an impact on the receiver’s memory.
Get your hands dirty
These handmade cap-and-gown DIY invitations are simple and too cute to resist. All you need to assemble them is:
- Black cardstock
- A white/silver/gold paint pen
- Black buttons
- Colored string (to make the tassel, it’s best to go with the appropriate school colors)
If you’re the creative type, feel free to put your own spin on them, and make them as simple or as fancy as you please. Just remember, if your guest list is huge, it might be best to keep the handmade invitations simple or ask a friend or family member for help.
Not so creative? No worries, check out our Pinterest board devoted to cheap but clever party ideas!
Print them yourself
Another option is to design and print the invitations yourself from a computer.
No graphic design skills?
Websites like greetingsisland.com offer free downloadable and printable templates.
A personal favorite of mine is canva.com. It’s free and easy to design your invitation right on the site. It has tons of amazing designs you can personalize. It’s easy to use. It auto-saves as you go.
You can even upload photos and download digital files to print or share via email.
Make them from memories
Sometimes photos make the best invitations.
You can make and print photo-based graduation invitations from most photo kiosks like Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, or online at sites like vistaprint.com and shutterfly.com.
Look for invitation designs and prints to go on clearance in store or online.
Not sure where to look?
Some websites have a clearance section in their menu.
For those that don’t, you can sometimes find coupon codes online. I use the Retailmenot Genie browser extension to identify websites that have current promotions running. Sometimes, I go directly to Retailmenot.com and search vendors to find coupon codes that might save me money.
Check out some of these current promos:
- 15% off everything sitewide at BasicInvite.com – use code: 15FF1
- 25% off invitations and announcements at VistaPrint.com – use code: INVITE25
- 20% off entire order at VistaPrint.com – use code: VPEXTRA20
- 40% off for new customers at Shutterfly.com – one-time use code: X9WW-AC79-WZFU-Y3RTYT
- 25% off purchase at Shutterfly.com – use code: 25OFF2018
If you’re not worried about a custom design, you can also find discounted packs of standard invitations at certain retail stores, including Target, Walmart, etc.
7. Skip the caterer.
Nothing draws guests to a party quite like a spread.
It can also be one of the most expensive aspects of a party, especially if you’re hiring a caterer.
Do it yourself cooking
If you’re up to it, you can cater your own party (or appoint a friend or family member who is willing to do the job).
Think crockpots and grills to cook affordable food for lots of people. Big pans of pasta are easy to throw together, and can feed a ton of people on the cheap!
When you’re planning to cook for a group, consider stocking up on food and supplies when they go on sale at your local grocer.
Another option is to buy in bulk at places like Costco or Sam’s Club.
If you must, hire a caterer offseason
If you absolutely must hire a caterer, try hosting your party in May – maybe even before graduation.
These services may cost less outside of the end of May or June, which is a busy season for many companies.
8. Serve a buffet lunch or appetizers only.
Who says every party has to include an expensive meal?
Let’s do lunch
If you have the party earlier in the day, serving lunch is often cheaper than dinner.
You can even get creative and have fun with your menu.
Consider a backyard BBQ, for instance, and treat your guests to burgers, brats, hotdogs, chips, slaw, and fruit.
This type of fare is easy to make at the grill while you’re entertaining, and it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to feed a lot of people.
Want to do something different?
Go off book and have a taco bar at your graduation party. Not only is the idea easy and affordable – it’s also unique and interactive for guests who won’t soon forget it.
Appetizers everyone will love
If you opt to have your party between mealtimes, you can often get away with serving just appetizers, which is also an option that can save you a significant amount of money.
Spend any time on Pinterest and come away with a plethora of easy and affordable appetizers that your guests will remember, like finger sandwiches and slices of cheese shaped like tiny diplomas or even tiny graduation caps!
9. Go with cake alternatives.
Sure, you can try to make your own graduation cake, or just go with a sheet cake from your local grocery store or bakery.
These options are often cheaper than the trendy, artisan cakes straight off “Cake Boss,” and can feed a decent number of guests.
The best way to cut cake costs, though, is to cut the cake.
Try cake alternatives instead, like cupcakes, cookies, or even fun themed desserts like these:
- You can unwrap Little Debbie Swiss Rolls and tie ribbons around them to make them look like diplomas!
- An inverted Reese’s mini peanut butter cup with a square of Hershey’s chocolate on top can be made into a cute little graduation cap. Use that and some icing to make super cute edible cupcake toppers for your grad.
- Make graduation-themed cake pops by putting Oreos on sticks, dipping them in white chocolate or almond bark and rolling them around in colored sprinkles to match your graduate’s school colors.
You can even opt for a dessert bar that will keep guests coming back for more.
Ice cream can get a little messy, especially outdoors – but I loved this DIY ice cream sundae bar idea.
For best results, keep the ice cream on ice (either in bulk or individually packaged in tiny mason jars or containers for your guests).
The bar itself can feature a spread of all the different toppings guests can add to their dessert – from fruit to candies. It will be an experience your guests won’t soon forget.
10. Skip the alcohol, or choose a signature drink.
Tea, lemonade, and soft drinks can typically be purchased in bulk cheaply, but alcohol can be expensive!
Consider BYOB (Bring your own booze)
Consider providing basic drink options, but making the party either alcohol-free or encourage guests to BYOB to save on supplies.
Create a signature cocktail
If you can’t imagine having a party without the option of alcohol, consider creating a signature cocktail for the event. That way, you only have to stock up on one kind of liquor or spirit.
Choose a simpler cocktail with fewer ingredients to keep costs down, or get creative and choose a drink that matches your grad’s school colors.
Either way, if you have alcohol, be sure to mark it as such and keep the underaged kids away.
11. DIY your decorations.
Decorations don’t have to be over the top to be impressive or memorable.
Photos and personal memorabilia
Memorabilia and photos from your graduate’s years in school add a special and personal touch to any graduation party.
- Photos themselves can make great decorations, especially when they’re free. Take advantage of unlimited free 4×6 photo prints with the Shutterfly app, available for Android or IOS.
- Show your graduate’s progression from kindergarten to now in photos, clipped to a clothesline or string of lights to create a graduation banner or a memory wreath.
- Bust out the yearbooks for a guestbook table or centerpieces – they also double as conversation pieces!
- School spirit memorabilia can be used to create a theme or color scheme for the party, or simply as table decorations.
One of the easiest ways to keep costs down is to either use items that can already be found around your home, or purchase items that you will continue to use around the home after the party is over.
- Last year’s Christmas lights make a wonderful lighting option for a backyard soiree.
- Use old wrapping paper (don’t have any? These are the best places to get wrapping paper.) and your art skills to create amazing photo backdrops for your guests to take selfies in front of.
- Those old books? They can be made into great themed centerpieces.
- Old mason jars and wildflowers make nice centerpieces as well. Personalize them by adding your graduate’s photo to the outside of the jar.
- Old picture frames can be used for party signage, either as is, or after painted with a little bit of chalkboard paint.
- An old game of “Jenga” can even be turned into a unique guestbook for your grad.
Visit the thrift shops and dollar stores
Thrift shops and dollar stores are often treasure troves for great party supplies.
- Balloons are a great affordable buy, often available in bulk at your local dollar store. Too boring for your tastes? You can take them to the next level by filling them with confetti, adding paint or even covering them with a light layer of tulle.
- You can also often find platters, plates, napkins, glasses, cups, disposable silverware and anything else you might need for a steal at the nearest dollar store or thrift shop.
12. Crowdsource your photography/videography.
Nothing against professional photographers (I am one, after all), but not every event requires a large deposit on professional grade photography or videography – especially if you want or need to save a lot of money.
These days, everyone carries a camera in their pocket – in the form of a smartphone. Many phones also take HD and even 4K quality video!
If you’re not the photographer type, or you suspect you might be busy doing other things during the party, designate a friend or family member to document the event for you.
After the party, ask them to upload the photos to a cloud sharing site like Flickr.com or Shutterfly.com and send them to you for printing or saving.
Crowdsourcing is another way to get great photos. Designate a social media hashtag for your graduation party – like #MikeyGrad2018 or #sarahsgradparty – then put signs on the tables asking guests to tag their photos on social media.
You can also search the hashtag on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and more.
13. Be your own DJ.
You don’t need to hire a band or DJ to play your graduation party.
All you need is a computer or mobile device with access to your music library, Spotify or Pandora account, and a decent wired or Bluetooth speaker, and you’re good to go.
14. Scrap the party favors.
Although party favors have become commonplace and are a nice way to thank guests for coming, they are by no means necessary.
In many cases, they’re an unnecessary cost.
A handwritten thank you note after the party goes a long way in saying the same thing.
15. Ask for help.
The old African proverb says “it takes a village to raise a child.” So, why are you stressing yourself out trying to throw a graduation party all by yourself?
Getting other family members involved in the planning and execution of a successful graduation party is half the fun. They’ll be glad you asked, and so will you.
Having a graduation party on a dime is possible. You just have to be a little creative and think outside the box.
Hopefully, these tips and hacks will help you throw an awesome graduation party on a budget without giving up t0o much.
I would love to hear your thoughts.
Have you hosted a successful graduation party on a budget?
Tell us how you did it and what you would recommend in the comments below.