Penny-Pinching Tips for a Perfect Project Graduation Party

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The drug- and alcohol-free post-graduation event you and your school plan can be held with very little expense and still be memorable and fun.

‘Tis the season for parent- and school-sponsored Project Graduation parties to start taking place around the country. Not every community is a wealthy one, and the costs for chem-free events can easily spiral out of control if the planning committee isn’t careful.

Follow these tips for a fun and frugal event teens will remember for years.


This is an easy area to not only overspend, but to purchase items graduates will have difficulty putting to use. Miniature photo frames and coffee mugs tend to make their way to the junk drawer quite quickly.

Consider key chain flash drives for party favors that are both functional and frugal. College-bound graduates will be able to use them for assignment storage, while military and vocational students will make use of them for mobile missions and job search efforts. Besides, what teen doesn’t love a new key ring?

Event T-shirts are always a safe bet as well, since graduates will have the entire summer to wear them to their fullest.

If you can’t resist incorporating a bit of fun factor with party hats, napkins and food plates, think about ignoring the pressure to purchase those items in school colors. Online retailers selling those types of products typically have tons of extras left over from New Year’s Eve. Ordering the multicolored paper products instead lets you save loads of cash while still providing a festive atmosphere for the kids.


No Project Graduation event is complete without prize drawings. Approaching local businesses for donations may help alleviate the cost somewhat, as will the planning committee’s choice of giveaways.

Gift baskets packaged in colorful, inexpensive milk crates are perfect for young adults, whether they are bound for a college dorm room, studio apartment or the barracks of a military base. The crates pack easily in the trunks of compact vehicles, and can be filled with items necessary for stocking a first pad. Micro fleece sleeping bags make great guest blankets for sleepovers, hanging toiletry bags make hygiene in shared bathrooms easier, and clamp lamps make great portable lighting options.

Wheeled items are also a great idea. Since young professionals tend to be mobile for several years, anything that makes moving easier is usually appreciated. Wheeled footlockers, duffel bags and even food coolers can be used in a variety of situations. Campus concerts, spring break trips and storing seasonal clothing in an efficient way are all supported by these types of prizes.

Small appliances are a fun and affordable way to go as well. Places like Walgreens and Aldi regularly have sales on sandwich presses, rice cookers, popcorn poppers and more. Anything that young people can use for whipping up healthy and affordable treats with limited kitchen facilities will win major bonus points.


It’s more about feeding the teen machine than worrying about anything too formal, so keep the majority of your Project Graduation snacks simple. Popcorn machines can produce in bulk, and add wow factor to the festivities. Typically, schools have one of these for sports games anyway, so there shouldn’t be any extra expense for a machine rental.

If you want to do one or two fun graduation treats, these candy-based graduation caps from Taste of Home are fun, and cupcakes decorated in school colors are always a hit. Otherwise, let the moms get their baking groove on with basics like rice cereal and marshmallow treats, Chex mix, brownies or classic chocolate chip cookies. Balance things out with a few veggie trays and some sandwich platters.


Since it’s sort of expected that Project Graduation will be an all-night affair, you’ll need to schedule one main evening meal and make a pretty big deal out of breakfast. If the local pizza delivery establishment will give you a deal, dinner could be as easy as scheduling a drop-off.

Otherwise, baked potato topping bars and make-your-own taco buffets are usually a hit with teens. Both are affordable ways to go, and allow for both vegetarian and carnivorous teens to put something together that suits their food choices. A big pancake breakfast is about the cheapest option available to planners, although breakfast burrito bars are fairly cost-effective as well.


Every community has different assets and budgets. If you’re able to rent out a country club or have facility access donated, good for you. Otherwise, erecting a large military surplus tent or two in an empty field at one of the parents’ farms and having a few portable toilets delivered will do the trick. Club lodges, community centers and YMCA buildings are typically cheap to rent as well, for those who have an urban location.

Depending on the venue, some entertainment infrastructure may come with the territory. Swimming pools, bowling lanes and bars for serving unlimited mocktails are just a few of the possible perks you may be able to score.

If not, don’t stress. This is a naturally happy time for teens anyway, so as long as you have a safe place for them to party the night away they’re likely to have a good time.


Bonfires, dancing to a disc jockey, movie marathons, game areas and star gazing can all be planned affordably. Additionally, it might be a good idea to plan something physical for early in the evening before the sun goes down. Frisbee, capture the flag, whatever. You just want them to expend some energy before moving on to the rest of the night’s itinerary.

Project Graduation events don’t have to dip into college funds in order to be fun for the kids. Proper planning and precision purchasing choices will go a long way toward achieving a memorable event on a budget.

Stacy Johnson

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