The last school bell for the year will soon ring, signaling school is finally out for the summer, and the graduation festivities begin. If it’s your turn to honor a graduate this year, you know how bittersweet this season is, which is compounded by the myriad of decisions you’ll need to make about the party.

Planning and organizing the event can be an overwhelming undertaking, not to mention the costs! From the invitations, to the decorations, to the food and the cake, graduation party costs can add up quickly. And with all the expenses that lay ahead for the graduate, whether heading off to college, or into the working world, saving money on the party is important.

Still, the most important consideration of the day is to honor the work and the achievements the graduate has made over the last 12, or four years. By keeping this aim at the forefront, we’ll show you how to plan a party that stays well within your budget, while still creating a festive atmosphere that makes it easy and fun to connect with friends and relatives.

No Place Like Home

Hosting the party in your backyard is one of the smartest ways to save money on your graduation party. In addition to saving rental fees and deposits, you won’t be forced into using the facility’s required caterer. You’ll also have much more flexibility on the date and time.

But, still, having the party at home leaves you shouldering the bulk of the planning, food prep and decorations. The secret is to plan ahead so that everything doesn’t sneak up on you all at once. Here’s a graduation party checklist to help get you started. But for now, let’s go over the graduation party basics:

How Many People Are Coming?

  • While there is a difference between how many people you invite, and how many are coming, you can expect, as a general rule, that 20% of the people you send invitations to will not attend
  • When you’re making your guest list, think about parking and space. However, remember, that with an open house, guests will be coming and going, and not everyone will attend all at once – so you’ll have some lee-way there

Invitations

  • Custom invitations or postcards are a great way to share the graduation photo of the graduate while including the date, place and time of the event.
  • You may also want to consider using an online invitation service, which is free and handles all the RSVP details electronically.
  • Don’t forget social media – make an electronic version of the invitation for kids to share on their favorite platforms to invite their own friends – but make sure you check in with the graduate to get a headcount!

Tents, tables, and chairs

  • Renting a tent is a nice insurance plan. If it rains, your food and guests will stay dry. If the weather is perfect – a tent provides a nice shelter from the sun.
  • When ordering tables and chairs, don’t forget to order extra tables for the food, and one to display the graduate’s achievements

Spruce Up Your Yard

You know that landscaping project you’ve been putting off? Now’s the time to do it. At a minimum, you’ll want to ensure:

  • Leaves and dead branches are picked up and raked
  • Flowerbeds are mulched
  • Any cracked or peeling paint is scarped and re-painted
  • The lawn is fertilized and ready for summer
  • Bushes and hedges are trimmed
  • Outdoor flower pots are filled with bright-colored annuals

Food

  • Food trucks: From tacos to hot dogs and fair food, food trucks are becoming increasingly popular at graduation parties – probably because they require no set-up or clean-up
  • Consider catering or picking up food from a local restaurant to save money (many prepare large orders)
  • If you decide to make the food yourself, keep it simple with casseroles that you can make ahead, and freeze.
  • Buy snacks, picnic supplies, and napkins in bulk to save on costs
  • Will you need staff to help so that you’ll have plenty of time to talk to your guests? You might be able to find younger classmates to help you out with this one.
  • If friends, neighbors or relatives ask what they can do to help – ask them to bring appetizers or a favorite casserole
  • Some graduation parties include a “bar theme” around the graduate’s favorite treat – popcorn, root beer floats, and ice cream sundae bars are just a few sources of inspiration

Drinks

If your guests are over age 21, you can serve alcohol. But there are laws that can hold you accountable for legal liabilities. Check with a Cole Harrison agent to find out if you need additional insurance.

Sweets

Mini-cupcakes make the perfect bite-sized treats. Iced with the school colors, the display makes a nice decoration on the sweets table.

Decorations

Make the graduate the theme, with photos of friends, school achievements, and milestones, trophies and photos through the years.

  • Find decorations at dollar stores to match the school colors, in balloons, streamers, banners. Fill clear glass jars with candy in the school’s colors, and use them as centerpieces. Fresh flower bouquets from the grocery store add a nice splash of color and freshness.
  • You may be able to find a younger classmate to help you decorate the night before or the day of the party. Sometimes, someone else has just the right amount of perspective and creativity to ensure everything looks great.

Entertainment

  • Let the graduate create a playlist on his iPhone or iPod. All you need is an outdoor Bluetooth speaker, and you’re ready to go
  • If you do decide to order a band, try to do this at least 4 months before the event
  • Do you have a karaoke crowd? Borrow a machine and let your guests become the stars they’ve always wanted to be
  • Corn hole is one of the most popular backyard games, probably because almost any age can join in the fun. If you have room, put up a temporary volleyball net – but make sure your players have plenty of space to keep stray balls from hitting your guests
  • In case of rain, pull out the board games and make a stack for guests to reach for if the inspiration hits them

Make It Memorable

Create a place for guests to not only sign their name but also offer a piece of advice. Get creative with the medium:

  • Have guests use a sharpie to sign their messages on wooden Jenga blocks and toss them into a large keepsake vase
  • A picture frame with a wide matte that lets guests sign and jot down their words of wisdom to the graduate.
  • Pick up a copy of the graduate’s favorite book, and let guests go crazy signing little notes and words of wisdom throughout the pages
  • Create a “photo booth” complete with a photo-friendly backdrop so that guests can take selfies with the graduate

Remember, planning ahead will help make everything run smoothly. Keeping the graduate the theme of the day, and following these guidelines, you’ll have plenty of time to reminisce with your graduate and savor all the sweet moments of the day.

It’s always a good idea to check to see if you have enough liability coverage whenever you are hosting a large crowd at your home. Contact a Cole Harrison agent to review your policy to discuss whether you have the right coverage at the right price.

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