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Michelle Fern Michelle Fern
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Graduation party on a budget

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My oldest is graduating high school this year. Along with the realization that my kid who just yesterday was a little baby is now grown up and I've grown older along with him comes the fact that there has to be a celebration.

And yes, between him and his friends there will be party after party. And with the economy still in a slump, you'd think that people would be scaling back on their graduation parties. However, according to GraduationParty.com Americans will spend an average of $983 on cap-and-gown parties this year.

Here are some tips on having a great grad party without breaking the bank.

Invitations

  • Computer printed - You don't need engraved or photo invitations. It is fine to put something together on your own computer and have the student hand it out to friends, or even just email it. Either way you save on postage.
  • Electronic invitation To save paper, postage costs and time, and help the environment, use a free online service like Evites.com or create a colorful flyer send via a word document or html text and email to guests. Ten years ago, sending an electronic invitation might have been considered tacky, but today it is practically common practice.
  • Social Media Create an 'event' to invite your guests to via Facebook.
  • Discount Services You can buy invitations at deep discounts through sites such as Vistaprints.com

Food

  • Cupcakes They're much easier to store than big cakes. Only place out a few at a time.
  • Potluck If the whole family is coming, ask each member to bring a dish.
  • Hold a "Desserts" Party There will be tons of parties and the kids will be running from house to house after graduation. Consider holding the party later in the afternoon and serving desserts only.
  • Food bars Go for a taco bar or baked potato bar with all the fixings. Top it off with a nice big Caesar salad for your guests to help themselves
  • No alcohol It's best to keep the party 'dry,' as no alcohol means less trouble. This is the time of the year when soda goes on sale so stock up kids love cola, root beer, lemon lime and just about everything else.

Decorations/Entertainment

  • Don't underestimate the dollar store. They have some great decorations including lawn signs, banners, plates, and napkins among others.
  • If you want spend a lot of money, hire a band or DJ. Better yet, put the surround sound speakers in the yard with your multi CD player playing the KIDS favorite tunes.
  • Fireworks Depending on your state, have some classic fireworks to set off to celebrate the event if your party goes into the evening.
  • Bonfire Teens love to sit around a bonfire and tell high school stories, roast marshmallows and make s'mores.
  • Backyard BBQ It's great if you have all ages at your graduation. Serve classic BBQ fare with badminton, volleyball and horseshoes to boot.
  • Theme party Think Hawaiian/tropical, sports or some other idea.

Another great way to save on a graduation party is to share the event with another family. However, define everyone's financial and labor responsibilities clearly before you begin. For example, outlining whether you use paper products, what kind, how many guests you invite and who will be responsible for cleanup will make for less headaches in the end.

Now that you have your frugal graduation party ideas, remember to relax when it comes time for the party. No one little thing will make or break a celebration it's the spirit of the occasion and the people that truly make it an event. Your frugal graduation party may be inexpensive and save you money, but it will be plentiful at the same time. It's all about the labor of love and good intentions in celebrating the milestone of graduation.

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