It’s hard to believe the end of the school year is fast approaching and the 2018 graduating class will soon be walking down the aisle in their caps and gowns. And, as if you don’t have enough on your plate amidst all the crazy busy end-of-year events and happenings, it’s also time to begin thinking about commemorating your grad and all their accomplishments with a fun grad party celebration.
From the invitations and invite list to the food and decorations, planning a grad party can be overwhelming. But, it doesn’t have to be! With a little planning and organization, you can throw a great grad party that isn’t off-the-charts stressful, doesn’t break the bank and packs in all the celebratory fun you’re hoping for.
As a mom who’s hosted two grad parties, I’ve learned a lesson or two about what to do and what not do – tips that can help make your grad party awesome, memorable and stress-free.
Here are a few tips and ideas to plan a great party your grad will absolutely love!
Before you even begin planning the party, there are a few things you can do to stay organized and keep your stress in check.
Create a File: From day one create a “grad party file” so you can keep everything in one place. As you begin to dive into your research and make decisions about the invitations, venue, food, decorations, etc., having everything in one place will make life so much easier. Plus, it’s also a great idea to keep a master list in the file highlighting all the important details, shopping list, and a running “to-do” list so you don’t forget anything.
Pace Yourself: Depending on the number of people attending and the type of party you’re planning, the details of planning a party can become overwhelming. Manage your stress by pacing yourself and checking a few things off your list every day leading up to the party. Whatever you do, don’t wait until the last minute.
Have Fun: It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in the crazy busy months and weeks leading up to graduation. Keep one thing in mind, though. This is your special time with your son or daughter before they venture off to college. Don’t lose sight of why you’re throwing the party or who you’re throwing it for.
If everything isn’t perfect on the day of the party, trust me, no one really cares. It’s all about the graduate.
Set the Budget
The first decision you’ll need to make, and one that will dictate just about every decision going forward, is how much money you’re willing to put into the party. Grad parties come in all shapes and sizes. Some are extravagant with hundreds of guests that cost thousands of dollars; others are more intimate costing far less. Three things to keep in mind when establishing a budget is the invite list, venue, and the food. Depending on how many people you plan to invite, where you host the party and the type of food you serve, the cost of the party can vary greatly.
The good news is that there are ways to cut costs. By hosting the party in your home you can save a lot on the cost of a venue and if you’re a “do-it-yourselfer” who’s willing to cook the food yourself, you can also save a bundle on food costs.
Here are a few line items to keep in mind when establishing a budget for your party:
Invitations/thank you notes/postage, rental fee for party room, caterer/food, hiring a server/bartender, beverages (keep in mind that the cost of alcohol can add up quickly), decorations/flowers/balloons, tent rental, table/linen rental, DVD production or scrapbook assembly, banner or signage, home improvement (if the party is to be held in your home), items you need to purchase for the party (serveware, plates, utensils, drink dispensers, etc.), cleaning fee.
Choose the Type & Theme of the Party
Whether your grad wants a big bash hosted with two or three of his or her closest friends or a quiet family gathering with just relatives and close friends, kick-off the planning process by deciding exactly what type of party your grad wants. Now is also a great time to nail down a theme which is a key ingredient to set the tone for the party. Oftentimes, people will choose a theme based on the college the graduate will be attending, however, when several kids are hosting the party, you may have to get a bit creative. You can choose a dual or even a triple theme highlighting the colleges each of the grads will attend, or base the theme around specific colors, sports, or a favorite memory. Regardless of what direction you take, choose a theme that shows the unique character of the grad(s).
My daughter hosted a grad party with three of her close friends. They chose a spring theme with fun colors of peach, mango, touches of salmon, and natural colors (with burlap) tossed into the mix. The party was held at my home where we opened the party up to the main floor, basement and the outdoors. BBQ pulled pork & chicken and all the sides were catered. All desserts (with the exception of the cake) were homemade and most of the decorations were handmade. (pictures in post).
Choose the Date & Time
When choosing a date for your grad party there are a few things to consider that may impact not only attendance at your party, but also the length of time people will be able to linger. If you choose a day and time that’s popular, chances are your guests will only be able to drop in for a few minutes before they have to dart out the door to the next gathering. To avoid heavy competition with other grad parties, remember that the weekends prior to and directly after graduation are typically packed with grad parties. Another thing to keep in mind is that quite often grad parties are considered “drop-ins” where guests are given a 3-4 hour window to drop by. When choosing the perfect date and time for your gathering, it’s all about what works for you, your grad and your immediate family members. With so many grad parties being held around the same time, I’ve found it can be challenging to map out a time that’s perfect for everyone.
The Right Venue for Your Crowd
Whether you decide to rent a party room at a country club or restaurant or choose to host the party in your home, the right venue can make the difference between a good party and a great party. When deciding on a venue one of the more important factors to consider is space, especially if you’re planning on inviting a lot of guests.
Choose a venue that has ample space for all your guests, as well as adequate space for the food and beverage areas. If you decide to host the party in your home, remember that you’ll be responsible for taking care of the food (or having it catered), seating, tables, decorations etc., which can be more work. When thinking about the “flow” of the party, you may also want to consider opening up your home to the outdoors (weather permitting) which will offer guests more room to mingle and enjoy themselves without feeling too overcrowded.
If hosting the party at your home sounds a bit too stressful, think about choosing an outside venue such as a restaurant, neighborhood clubhouse or a room at a country club. If you rent out the neighborhood clubhouse you’ll still be responsible for providing the food, beverages, and decorations, but you’ll have the comfort of knowing you won’t have to get your house “company ready,” which can be stressful, especially during such a hectic time of year. If you choose to go with a restaurant or rent a room at a country club, most of the stressful work will be managed for you, but convenience always comes with a price. It will be more expensive, however, it’s definitely the most stress-free route to take. Remember to choose a venue that’s centrally located and, if possible, choose one that has a deck or patio to give you more space and allow guests the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors.
Guest List & Invitations
Once you’ve worked out the bigger details including the venue, date of the event and the budget, it’s time to begin nailing down the invite list and the invitations. There are tons of sights on the Internet to buy beautiful invitations – all varying in price from super expensive to down and dirty cheap, but don’t overlook even less expensive routes like Costco, Walgreens or Wal-Mart that offer a big variety of invitation options with great pricing. If you find yourself stumped on the wording for the invitation (like I was), here’s a few ideas. As far as the invite list, if you’re hosting the party with several kids be sure to choose an invitation that all graduates agree on and include a picture of all the grads on the invite. Dare to be different and creative here! After all, this is an exciting and fun time for your grads. For a few fun graduation photo ideas click here! And, lastly, when sending out the invites make sure that the grads take the time to cross-reference their lists to make sure there aren’t any duplicates on the list.
Create a Memorable Gift Table
The gift table is typically one of the first things guests see when they enter the party. Remember, the gift table is not only a place for guests to drop off their gift, it should also offer a way for guests to give a few pieces of advice to the grad(s), write a congratulatory message or share a note about a special memory. Baskets, decorated boxes, buckets or fun bins all make great gift holders. For added fun, create a photo wall showing your grad’s personal journey through high school as a backdrop to the table or position the table near a television where guests can watch a custom-created video highlighting the important moments in the grad’s life. Having a scrapbook on the table that offers space for guests to write in is also a great idea. Decorate the table with flowers, balloons, pictures or a meaningful quote in a frame to give the table even more character and flair.
Grub for the Grads
A great place to start when planning the food is to think about your grad’s favorite foods. Pizza? BBQ? Pasta? Mexican? Maybe it’s a combination of two or three. Perhaps they’re more interested in a fancy dessert table, a sundae or s’mores bar, a colorful candy buffet or even a fun popcorn & snack bar.
Another clever idea is to hire a food truck from a local restaurant which totally takes the stress out of the party with no cleanup. One grad party I went to offered a selection of pasta and a variety of different fancy salads which was a huge hit. Whatever you decide to do, make it fun and keep it simple. One of the biggest regrets I’ve heard from parents who have thrown grad parties is they wish they didn’t offer as wide a variety of food and that they felt they served far too much food. Remember, guests will be hopping to different grad parties, so it isn’t necessary to serve a tremendous amount of food.
If you decide to offer a full menu, take the pressure off by choosing a couple of main menu items such as two different kinds of pasta and a couple of sides or perhaps chicken and beef with all the sides for a taco bar, for example. It certainly takes the pressure off if you can cater the event, however, I’ve known plenty of people who have successfully cooked the food on their own. Another option is to cater the main menu items and make the sides yourself which will cut down on cost considerably. The options here are endless!
Cake & Dessert Table
Here’s where you can really have fun. I’m a big fan of variety when it comes to desserts. Although it’s perfectly acceptable and festive to have one big graduation cake (which frankly, is what most people opt for), I love the idea of sprucing up the dessert table with a few different options. After all, a good portion of the guests will be teenagers and teenagers love sweets!
Consider a festive cake along with decorated cupcakes, chocolate-dipped oreo cookies in theme colors (a huge hit at my daughter’s party), mini fresh fruit parfaits, color-themed chocolate covered strawberries or any variety of other desserts that are make-ahead easy. If you’re looking for a few dessert ideas, here’s some inspiration for you! To pull your theme colors together, consider choosing plates and napkins in coordinating colors and add a few fresh flowers to the table in simple vases or decorated mason jars, which is cheap and easy. (For my daughter’s party we bought burlap and lace and hot glued it onto mason jars – easy and festive!)
Beverage Station(s) Made Easy
With kids in attendance, many families choose to steer clear of alcoholic beverages at their grad party. However, I’ve found that it’s easy to serve both providing you set up separate beverage stations for alcoholic beverages and non-alcoholic beverages. That way it makes it far easier to monitor the alcoholic drinks to ensure a few clever teens don’t try to sneak a sip.
As far as the non-alcoholic beverages, lemonade and iced tea served in large beverage dispensers (you can pick them up at any home store relatively inexpensively) and soft drinks are great options along with plenty of cold water bottles that are easily accessible to guests. Alcoholic options such as beer (a keg or half a keg are great if you’re having a crowd), wine, or wine coolers are fairly standard options. But, don’t be afraid to get creative. I’ve seen margaritas served in keeping with a Mexican theme, homemade summer Sangria, and spiked pink lemonade, which are all fun and festive ideas. Regardless of what you’re serving, be sure to have plenty of cups and napkins and be sure to label all drinks in dispensers so guests know exactly what their options are.
Decorations are what will give your party the stand-out flair that people remember. You’re only limited by your creativity here! A few fun options include tissue poms, balloons, streamers, flowers, banners, sign and posters, a photo wall highlighting the grads high school years, a trophy table, festive lights, and so much more. For a few fun ideas check out this site. To keep costs down, make your own posters, banners, and signs. You can even make your own tissue poms, tissue wheels and tissue tassel garland in fun colors. (We did!) Here’s a how-to for the poms. And a how-to for the tassel garland. Don’t worry, it’s all very easy and inexpensive to make and they make a big statement to help pull all your theme colors together!
It’s the Details that Matter
As with any party, it’s the customized details and special added effort that makes the party stand out. Things like offering a few fun games in the backyard like badminton or cornhole, having music or entertainment or having a fun photo booth with props are all great ways to spice up the party. Send the guests home with a special souvenir, make a few stand-out graduation-themed desserts, include specialty straws for drinks, top your cupcakes with themed cupcake toppers – it’s all about the little things. Get creative and have fun! If you’re on the hunt for a few fun ideas, here’s a little inspiration! For a few added touches that won’t cost you a dime, (except the paper to print them), download these fun FREE 2018 Graduation Printables from lilsproutgreetings.com here!
I know watching your little one fly the coop can be both exciting and emotional, so do your best to keep things in perspective during this hectic season. Have fun, keep it light and don’t stress. Let’s face it, teenagers are probably the least observant people on the planet, so even if you miss a few steps in your party, they won’t notice or even care as long as there’s plenty of food. Just remember to breathe and enjoy this wonderful, fleeting season in your life and your grad’s life!