Graduation parties on a college student budget


As if paying for four or five years of college wasn’t expensive enough, next weekends’ graduation ceremonies are traditionally capped off with a party to celebrate your accomplishments. From the location rental to food for your entire family and all your friends to decorations, graduation parties can add up quickly.

To avoid breaking the bank before you have an opportunity to deposit your first big kid paycheck, check out these alternative ideas.

Depending on the size of your gathering, your apartment or house may do just fine. If you need a bigger place, hall rental can reach into the hundreds, especially on a busy weekend. Besides, if you are still looking now, many of the best spots will already be taken.

Instead, look to take advantage of free or inexpensive options. Call on friends or family in Manhattan with larger houses or apartments; make sure you agree to the terms and timing of setting up and cleaning up. While May weather in Kansas can be finicky, a house or apartment with a yard can be a life saver if your entire family needs a place to spill over to.

The K-State and Manhattan communities both provide free or low-cost places to gather after a graduation ceremony, too. The K-State Alumni Center and K-State Student Union both offer free rooms for student parties. If your post-ceremony party is small, you can sign up for a free booth at Varsity Donuts in Aggieville. They’ll save a place for you and help you celebrate your achievement in sugary, retro style.
Money saved: $200

When it comes to food, expense and time often are often the two biggest barriers. Doing a meal for cheaper isn’t always fast, and fast isn’t always cheap. Instead, a little planning ahead will help you reach the best balance between the two positives extremes.

The timing of your graduation ceremony will determine what food you offer, but there are some good keys to making the food service as seamless as possible. Opt to “do it ahead” as much as possible – from the main dish to dessert. Crock pots are fantastic to reheat or keep food warm for an extended period of time. BBQ pulled pork, hotdogs, hamburgers, taco meat and more will stay warm in a crockpot. If you don’t already have one, it could be worth investing in now.

Most sides can also be made in advance, cutting down on day-of time and stress without straining your wallet. Skip the pre-made veggie or fruit platters; they will drain your budget more than what they add to your party. Instead, opt for custom fruit or vegetable choices and arrange your own platter. It may take a bit more work, but it will save money. For an individual touch, fill small clear plastic cups with your arrangement of vegetables in a base of ranch dressing (cue Pinterest project).

Dessert is another opportunity to save money. A custom made cake from a grocery store can be expensive and cookie-cutter. Instead, bypass the bakery and head for the baking aisle to pick up a variety of cake mixes. Cupcakes, in purple liners, offer an array of different options for guests without the overpriced layers of sugar that weigh down most store-bought cakes.
Money saved: $100

Streamers, purple table clothes and balloons are perfectly acceptable for college graduation parties. Anything purple, especially in mass, is good. Hit up discount or dollar stores for inexpensive decorations, although watch out for the less-material-for-less-product trap. Compare the streamers you get for a dollar to the streamers you get for $1.99 at another store. Which will go further for your dollar and be the better deal?

Custom banners can add a punch of color, and help express your major or personality. At a craft store, you can find scrap paper for just about every interest or major. For pennies a page, you can find music-note dotted paper, puppy covered paper or art palette designed paper to express your passion. Form an inexpensive button by cutting the paper into triangles or squares, and stringing it from ribbon. Bonus points for the power of repetition if you make several.
Money saved: $50

Be resourceful
Everything you buy for graduation weekend has to be either be thrown away or packed up and taken with you when you move. Neither is the best idea. Instead, crowd source. Remember that all-important crock pot? If you don’t have one, ask your mom, aunts, cousins and friends to pull a few together. Beg, borrow or (don’t) steal extra tables and chairs from friends or family. Use that wire basket you have hanging around for hamburger buns and that tub in your pantry for chips (just wash them first). Remember, many of these people probably haven’t been to your house so it’s all new to them.
Money saved: $40

Having a great graduation doesn’t have to break the bank. With a little prior planning and elbow grease, you can celebrate your accomplishments

Total money saved: $390

Jena Sauber is a senior in journalism. Please send all comments to