Graduation from high school is an accomplishment worthy of the most amazing party your child can imagine. After all the hard work, your family deserves to celebrate in style, no matter your budget. While you may think you need to rent a fancy event hall or splash out the money for a caterer, the truth is that you can put together an incredible, and unforgettable, graduation party in your own home. We've got tips on everything from how to decide who to invite to where you should put that photo booth, so grab a pen and paper — or your preferred note-taking app — and let’s get started with how to plan a graduation party that will be truly legendary.
1. Plan Your Budget
One of the first things you need to know is how much you can spend on the party. Your budget will affect a lot of other decisions you'll have to make. According to some experts, the "average" cost to host a graduation party is about $1,000, though some parents spend far more, and others spend considerably less. According to Finance Buzz, the "average" budget for a backyard cookout-type party is $18.81 per person. If those figures sound a little pricey, don’t fret — there are plenty of ways to cut costs while still hosting an amazing graduation blowout.
6 Money-Saving Tips That Don't Feel Low Budget
- Hold your party at home. You can use your deck and backyard, as well as indoor spaces. If you live in an apartment or condo, check into the policies for using their event space. Many allow residents to use their event room for free, or a nominal charge.
- Co-host a party with one or more other families. Sharing costs is a great strategy to stretch your budget and afford features that are out of reach for individual families.
- Potluck it. You can cut food costs by asking friends and family to bring side dishes, drinks, and chips to share. Besides, everyone knows it wouldn't be a real celebration without a few famous family recipes.
- DIY decorations and decor items. Build that photo booth, and blow up your own balloons. You can also head to your local dollar store and get creative with the options there.
- Borrow from neighbors and friends. You don't have to buy a badminton set if your next-door neighbor is willing to lend it.
- Go digital. Take advantage of e-vites. Websites like Paperless Post make it easy to design your own graduation announcements and invitations, send them via email, and track RSVPs and responses — and they're a lot more budget-friendly than printed invitations and postage. If you really want to send out paper invites, consider designing your own at Canva.
2. Pick a Party Date
The Saturday after graduation is one of the most common dates for graduation parties, but there are other options. For many — especially if you have family traveling to watch you walk across the stage — it makes more sense to hold your party the same afternoon or evening. If you're a social butterfly who wants to attend lots of other parties, too, check in with friends to see when they're hosting parties so you're not conflicting too much.
3. Decide Who to Invite
When deciding who to invite, there are a few things you'll need to keep in mind:
- How much space do you have? (Remember, there are ways to make more space!)
- What's your per-person budget?
- Who absolutely, positively needs to be there to make your day complete? While budget is important, it should never get in the way of including the people you most want at your celebration — be sure to involve the grad in this part of the planning! There are lots of ways to cut costs without cutting guests.
4. Style Your Graduation Party
You can have a graduation party without decorations, but why would you want to? Try these tips for creating a welcoming and festive party space for the grad and all the guests.
1. Pick a Theme
A theme will help unify all the colors and styles from balloons and buntings to paper plates and tablecloths. If you're not sure, school colors are always a safe choice.
2. Hit the Dollar Store
It’s the best place to source tablecloths, serving ware, and other party supplies on a budget. While you're there, check out their selection of graduation banners, buntings, and other themed decorations. The dollar store is also a good place to buy balloons. Many locations will even rent you a helium tank so you can blow them up yourself.
3. Create More Space at Home
Figure out where you might need more space and make it happen. Want a dance floor? Spend a day clearing clutter and items from the garage into a storage unit, add some lights, and set up your sound stage for an instant dance club vibe. Move extra living room furniture to storage for the day to set up extra seating and table space, if needed.
4. Set Up a “Tribute Table”
Graduating from high school is a huge milestone your child will want to remember. Set up a "tribute table" near the party entrance with senior pictures, team trophies, and other high school memorabilia. Include a guest book for people to write a message to the grad, and a basket for envelopes and gift cards.
5. Plan Your Menu
Potluck parties are a lot of fun, and they're kind to your budget, but if you want more control over your menu — while still saving money — consider a themed party menu. Some ideas for fun party food include:
- A make-your-own taco station — you supply the fixings while the guests do the work.
- Order trays of finger sandwiches from your local supermarket.
- Check GrubHub or DoorDash for local restaurants that do catering trays. They're almost always less expensive than full catering, and you'll be supporting a local vendor.
- Check around to see if any markets in your town put together family meat packages. For about $100, you can buy a variety that includes hot dogs, burgers, ribs, and wings. Then borrow a couple of extra grills, and assign a couple of dads to keep the production lines humming.
- Order a photo sheet cake or a cupcake display from your favorite supermarket.
- Set up a scoop bar for ice cream so people can make their own sundaes.
- As for beverages, stock up a cooler with water, seltzer, and soda, and let adult guests bring their own favorite beverage.
6. Brainstorm Graduation Party Activities
The kids aren't kids anymore, so there's really no need to set up a set schedule of activities, especially if you're hosting an open house-style party. Instead, set up some activity stations — inside and out — that guests can enjoy in their own time. Some activity ideas include:
- Lawn games, like badminton, volleyball, croquet, or bocce.
- A selfie booth with frames and fun props. Here's some simple instructions on making a DIY photo booth from HGTV.
- Music! Put together a curated playlist for the day, or let people take turns playing DJ.
- Put together a slideshow of school photos, and project it onto an outdoor screen after the sun goes down.
With some planning, careful shopping, and cooperation, you can throw a killer graduation party on little more than a shoestring. Enjoy making memories, especially if your grad will be heading off to college or a new job in another city. This graduation party marks the end of one chapter, and the beginning of a new chapter in the lives of both the grad and the parents. SmartStop can help you prepare for that new chapter, with smart storage space for school memorabilia and extra furniture, making way for that craft room or guest room you've been dreaming about.