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Graduation Party Planning Ideas For Adults on a Student Budget

After barely poking her head out of the books for the last two years, my best friend is graduating from nursing school. Of course, I brilliantly offered to throw her a party. But a party for a thirty-something and her adult friends contrasts the cake and burgers expectation of a high school graduation party. By involving friends and some old school etiquette, I plan to deliver a quality celebration at an inexpensive cost. Here’s how:

1. Casual Venue, Casual Expectations
I found a relative of the grad to offer up their home. A nice house offers a casual atmosphere with indoor and outdoor spaces, and in this case, even darts and a pool table for entertainment. As long as you don’t rent the banquette room at the Radisson, your guests won’t expect a white glove event.

The time of day also sets a tone. Earlier events are typically more casual and don’t require a formal menu. By selecting a time between or after major meals, guests know not to bring their appetites. However, if the timing or the venue leave room for doubt, include the details in your invitation.

2. Green Invites are Cheap Invites

While I’ve excused my email invites and Facebook event page as the greenest option, they were also the cheapest. Custom invites are so easy to order online, I had to hold myself back from designing or purchasing printed invites. With the help of a friend, I sent HTML email invites to a majority of the guests. Online invite services like Anyvite or Evite are another option that eliminate paper and ink costs and more easily organize your RSVP list.

3. Share the Love (and the Burden)
Let friends and family of the grad chip in. I took up multiple offers of help. Involving a committee adds lengthy phone calls and lunch meetings, so I make sure to stay diplomatic and remind myself how much I’m saving. By spreading the food prep out between three people including one overachiever who’s anxious to show off her culinary skills, I’ve put together a simple menu for 60 guests that’s slightly more sophisticated than the usual cocktail appetizers. My share of the food works out to under $40, less than $1 per head. That’s pretty impressive but still good food!

4. And of Course, The Bar
Yes, everyone remembers (or attempts to remember) an open bar. Stocking a full bar from scratch is pricey and even risky. You’re increasing the risk of having to wrestle your friend’s drunk uncle for his keys. As I’m officially the host, I’m assuming a majority of the liquor expense. Thank you, Trader Joe’s, for Two Buck Chuck. A half case each of white and red wine, plus a cooler of beer and we’re set with a safe selection of delicious drinks.

Another unique option is to incorporate one signature drink. Try a drink that dilutes the alcohol (to spread your dollar), like a mojito or sangria. Assign a charismatic spouse to man the cocktail shaker, which is a perfect setting for them to deliver all of their “great” one-liners.

It’s a curse and a blessing that my girlfriend is so well liked. Yes, after the liquor, I’m still covering a majority of the expense of entertaining 60 guests. However, I made sure before I sent the first invite that I knew how much help I had and how to infer what the guests could expect. Hopefully I won’t be blind-sided by disappointed guests. I’d love to hear examples of invites that you felt overpromised or under-delivered or were just right!  Leave a comment here with your graduation party planning experiences.

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