The Fun (And Frugal) Graduation Party

We had a party for our son’s graduation (combined with his birthday this month) last weekend for more than 30 people. I’m asked a lot how to host a party for bigger groups without breaking the budget, so I thought I’d use this party to tell you about some of the tips I’ve learned over the years.
Last summer I wrote about feeding a crowd on a budget while on vacation, and some of these same principles work for home parties as well. Namely, planning. I planned what we were going to eat about two to three weeks before the party. I thought about a couple things when planning the menu:
  • Ease of preparation
  • What I had in the freezer and/or pantry
  • What could be made ahead
  • Cost (I keep within my normal monthly food budget)
Then I made the menu and a list of what I needed to buy and shopped about five days before the party.
I decided on cupcake for ease of preparation (no fancy decorating needed) and serving. I did make two kinds, though, so people could have a choice.
These were Lemon-Honey cupcakes. It was a new recipe that I was excited about because the batter was sweetened almost completely with honey. But they were really dry, although the frosting was excellent.
The decorations are simply dollar-store confetti that we stuck in the frosting.

This is my tried-and-true chocolate cupcake recipe topped with a peanut butter frosting. Guess which cupcakes were the most popular? Everyone loves their chocolate.
It cost around $4.00 for each batch of 24 cupcakes, and most of the ingredients (flour, baking powder, etc.) are things we already buy in our normal budget.

For decorations, I aimed for simple, yet still festive. I bought this Happy Birthday banner when my son had his third birthday, believe it or not. I just keep it in storage and hang it up for any birthday we celebrate. I added a little “congrats grad” star to the bottom as we were celebrating both for him.

From the Dollar Tree we decorated with streamers, confetti, hanging lanterns, a table decoration and a yard sign, for a total of $8.00. Brian’s folks contributed the balloons- at a dollar each, they are a fun and easy way to add to the decor.
I also decorated with the programs from his graduation and the locker picture board I had done for the senior hallway decorations (free is a very good price).

I chose a black bean and corn salad because beans are cheap and I have corn in the freezer to use up. I added a red pepper and an onion plus a spicy cumin dressing (a Rachael Ray recipe) and made it the day before for the flavors to blend.
This huge bowl of salad came in under $4.00 for the whole bowl. Egads. Puts those little deli-container salads to shame, doesn’t it?

Pasta or grain salads are another cost-effective way to serve a large group. This Barley Pesto salad was a new recipe (another Rachael Ray recipe) which I chose because it used pesto which I already had in the freezer from last fall (yes, it’s still good!).
This was quite tasty, though it did come in little higher than the bean salad because of the cheese and tomatoes (not in season here- that’s a splurge!) at $7.00. But again that’s for the whole bowl, of which I had about 1/3 leftover!

This recipe for Spinach-Artichoke Dip was terrific paired with bread or vegetables. I liked that it was rich-tasting, but not greasy like some of these dips can be. I estimate this dish to cost about $5.50. And there was only a spoonful left.

I did make another dip, a fresh onion dip with caramelized onions, sour cream, garlic and salt and pepper to serve with the cut-up vegetables.

As I mentioned previously, the Easy Artisan Bread was the item most people raved about. What an great way to make an impression- cheap and easy!

And I think this was one of my best decisions, though maybe not the most frugal. I loved having Brian in charge of grilling the Italian sausages- one less thing for me to think about.
I paid about $20.00 for 45 uncooked, nitrate free sausages, and at less than .50 per sausage, it was sure worth it. I served them with some canned Addictive Tomato Chutney and jalapeno jelly to add some home-grown flavor.
I don’t buy plastic flatware anymore as it always broke, so that was an expense I didn’t have. A few years ago I started accumulating .10 and .25 cent forks and spoons at thrift stores and now I keep them in a silverware caddy that I bring out for large gatherings. Saves money, there’s less to throw away and no broken forks. It’s a win, win, win situation.
In the end, only about $30.00 (which did include nice paper plates, & napkins) outside of our food budget was spent on this party. But the memories were…you guessed it- priceless.


This is linked to Frugal Fridays at Life as Mom





  1. says

    Great tips….Thanks for posting the photos too. I always love learning new ways to save money…and the photos of all that yummy food! Now I’m hungry :) My favorite was the grill!!

    Love, hugs and greetings from Southern Oregon, Heather :)

  2. says

    We’re having my DD’s grad party next week, and I like the tips. I’m guessing that we’ll have between 75 to 130 people traipse though the house during the 4 hours. People are making food for the party and I’m supplying hot dogs and hamburgers. I may ask someone to make one of your salads however!

  3. Anonymous says

    $30 for a Graduation Party! Amazing! But, then again, how many people did you have?

    We always have about 125-150 people and I could never feed them for $30!


  4. says

    I see I am not the only one who really likes your silverware idea:) Have to keep my eyes out for that!

    Bummed to miss the garden party this week, but I am getting ready for in-laws. I did spend a little time between hail and showers… saw that you got all the beans and corn in… same here, what a relief!

  5. Kim says

    Perfect timing! Our son’s graduation party is in a little over a week and I was needing some inspiration! Thank you for sharing!

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