Hosting a celebratory party for your graduate doesn’t have to be a budget breaker. All it takes is a little planning and creativity to pull off a fantastic (and inexpensive) graduation party—and no one has to know you pinched pennies!
Get colorful. Don’t waste money on overpriced graduation-themed plates, napkins, and tablecloths, as they’ll quickly be covered with food. Instead, buy supplies in school colors or your grad’s favorite color at your local dollar store. You can buy a few decorative Mylar balloons for the main table at the dollar store, too.
Decorate with memories. Throughout the party area, print and tape up photos of your graduate over his or her school years. If it’s a group party, include pictures of your graduate with his or her good friends. You can also have friends and family send you images in advance so you can create a continuously running slideshow of the graduate and pals.
Don’t take the cake. Bakery cakes are lovely, but they also can be expensive. As an alternative, make your own cupcakes—they are easy to make at home and fun to eat. You could also fill jars and bowls with colorful miniature candies like jellybeans, snack-size candy bars and inexpensive suckers.
Save money on your venue. No one expects you to rent an expensive hall for a graduation party. In fact, the more laid-back your location is, the better. Hold the party in your backyard or the yard of a friend who has lots of space.
Alternatively, host the group at a local park. Parks often have covered pavilions or tables available for parties. If you can’t reserve your site ahead of time, enlist a friend to go early in the day and stake out the spot you’d like.
Make your own food, or host a potluck. If you take charge of all the food, cook as much as you can yourself rather than buying deli items. Aim for a pasta-based main dish, like lasagna or baked ziti. Pasta is filling and inexpensive to make for a crowd.
In nice weather, you could also barbecue: Premade hamburger patties, hotdogs, and sausages are inexpensive to buy in bulk at your local warehouse store. Pair the main dish with cheap-but-hearty bean and grain-based salads and in-season fruits and veggies.
If you potluck it, be sure to assign guests to bring a particular category of dish—salad, fruit, dessert, or drinks—so you don’t end up with all desserts or multiple fruit salads.
Keep a lid on drink costs. Liquid refreshments quickly add up when you’re serving a crowd. If you have a few weeks before the party date arrives, slowly stock up on soda. The major brands usually alternate sale weeks, so buy whatever is cheapest.
Another option: Mix up your own bulk beverages like iced tea, lemonade, and coffee, and serve them in pitchers and thermal carafes. These drinks are much cheaper per glass than canned or bottled soda. Be sure to have plenty of water on hand if the weather is warm.
Be entertaining. Graduation parties tend to create their own energy, so you might not even need to plan any diversions in advance. However, good backups include lawn games like badminton, a beanbag toss, or kickball.
Feel like splurging? Rent or borrow a karaoke machine, a slushie machine (it makes those fun, icy-fruity drinks), or a portable photo booth that will allow guests to create fun photo-mementos of your fabulous party.
Teri Cettina is a mom of two daughters and freelance writer who specializes in personal finance and parenting topics. She blogs at Your Family Money. Follow her on Twitter: @TeriCettina