We’re veering way off the ranch this week and sharing some budget-friendly ideas for a graduation party as a bonus post.
When I was a full-time stay-at-home-mom, I was able to devote more time and effort to our holiday and birthday family celebrations. We didn’t always have a ‘theme’ per-se, but I found that not only the kids, but also the adults would remember the occasion more when we had one. Some of my favs include (remember I have two boys) Star Wars (of course!), Rescue Heroes, construction party, Harry Potter, and an under-the-sea theme. Alas, now I work a big full-time corporate job and my sons are older. Thus, less time. Less parties. Less fun!
A friend told me last spring that she was budgeting $400 for her son’s graduation party but thought she probably would end up spending $600. This is after she told me that two other families were cohosting the party together since all 3 of the teenagers had pretty much the same friends. Okay, so one group of highschoolers cost $1,200 to $1,800 to feed and entertain? Then I heard about the professional DJ, the catered BBQ food, and the venue fee for renting out a local barn for the event.
Thank goodness my kids don’t have those kind of expectations for birthdays and other events. I mean I do want to do more than order in a few pizzas, but isn’t it possible to have a special and memorable party at home and not blow a huge wad of cash?
How We Landed on a ‘Chinese’ Theme for Graduation
When I asked my son what kind of celebration he wanted this year, he said that he would like to have all his favorite foods and this of course, means that he wants Chinese Food because this kid loves Chinese food!
Chinese food? No problem. I don’t exactly make any Chinese delicacies at home, but it’s very easy to order Chinese food in bulk to feed a crowd. I can have a few stand-by foods for the folks that don’t like Chinese food. Plus, this alleviates Mr. Need2Save from having to man the grill for hours-on-end instead of mingling with our guests. If you wanted to supplement traditional Chinese dishes you order, it would be very easy to try a make-at-home recipe like potstickers or dumplings.
After a few weeks of mulling ideas over, things started to gel in my head. I mean how can you mash together a graduation party with chinese food in a fun and interesting way? What kinds of things come to mind when you think about Chinese food? Well, I know these are so cliche but take-out cartons, fortune cookies, and chopsticks? What kind of concoctions can we come up with those?
The take-out cartons can serve many purposes as you will see and the fortune cookies have double meaning because we are all certainly wishing him the best of fortunes at this very important time in his life, and really you can’t have Chinese food without fortune cookies can you?
3 Ways to Use Take-Out Cartons At Your Next Party
To get started, here are 3 ways we are going to be using those empty take-out cartons at the party:
#1 Make-Your-Own-Sundae Bar. All the toppings can be stored ahead of time in empty boxes and then just open the lids when you are ready for guests to start helping themselves. All you need is a couple of ice cream flavor options for your guests to choose from.
#2 Storing Your Party Utensils. We are serving Chinese food, so of course, we have to have chopsticks available. For the less adventureous, standard utensils are also in easy reach. And yes, those are colored utensils from the dollar store. $3 for three sets of them in the my son’s high-school colors, of course.
#3 Take-Home Cupcake boxes. Empty boxes are also the perfect size for a cupcake to send home with each of your guests! Top it with a fortune cookie for extra measure. If you are a proficient baker, you can make your own cupcakes to keep your costs down considerably and you probably already have cupcake liners and ingredients on hand.
Here are three more ideas.
#4 Table Centerpiece. For the centerpiece of our dessert table, we used a cupcake stand that we already had and filled it with fortune cookies and diplomas. The diplomas are made from Mentos and Rolos candies wrapped in simple white paper and ribbons to look like diplomas. Another idea would be to use ‘smarties’ (also rolled in white paper to look like diplomas and or just keep them plain). I like the mentos and rollos because they are more substantial in size and my nieces and nephews can all take one home with them.
On top, we used an empty take-out carton, overfilled it with more ‘diplomas’ and added a ‘Class of 2017’ sign.
Here are the basic supplies you need plus the cupcake stand. If you don’t have one, you can make a tiered display very easily using containers of different heights on top of or next to each other. The black and white chalk-board signs I had leftover from another party. I ordered the empty chinese take-out cartons and the fortune cookies on Amazon.
#5 Celebrate your graduate with an entryway display. We filled up champagne glasses with jelly-beans (really any candy will work) in his school colors and added his school letter and graduation picture to make a collage. We had the bulletin-board already in our office. The graduation cap was made easily out of colored card-board, a little tape and some colored yarn we already had on hand. You could really go crazy here, but we wanted to keep it simple and to the point.
#6 Fireplace mantel. Our living room has a lot of black and white going on, so we went with a black and white display for this room. Using simple and cheap ‘2017’ ribbon that we found at Michaels, we used black and white gift tags that we already had and filled small, inexpensive treat boxes in black and white, of course. I bought these on clearance at Michaels last year, but you can probably find something similar at the dollar store or make your own out of stiff cardboard in your color of choice. I reused this old wooden frame that I bought at an estate sale a few years ago for $4.
Next to this on the other side of the mantel, we’ll probably put his high school year-book and his diploma on display.
Costs Before Food
- 60-Fortune Cookies $8.49 on Amazon
- 50-Take-Out Chinese Food Containers $11.95 on Amazon
- Bamboo Chopsticks $3.69 on Amazon
- Colored Utensils $3.00 at Dollar Store
- Graduation Napkins and Plates $5.00 from Dollar Store
- Various Gift Tags, Ribbon, Cardboard, Markers, Etc. $0 – all supplies on hand (available at Michaels or other craft stores)
- Special Graduation Themed Ribbon (2 rolls) $5.00 (estimated from Michaels)
TOTAL NON-FOOD PURCHASES: $37.13
I probably spent another $20-$25 or so on jelly beans and other candy for the diplomas and for sundae toppings. If candy is not your thing you could skip this of course.
Ideas If A Graduation Party May Be In Your Future Soon
- If you have a senior, watch for discounted new-year’s eve party supplies in January. They’ll have ‘2017’ or whatever year it is on all sorts of things like plates, napkins, decorations, balloons, funny photo-booth glasses and things like that
- Shop your local dollar store early if you plan to buy anything in your school colors there. All the other parents in your neighborhood are thinking the same thing you are
- Your son or daughter is the star of the show. Display pictures of the graduate growing up throughout the house. You probably have a bunch of framed pictures already tucked away – get them out or create posters with your favorite snap shots. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on professional banners and things like that to make a statement
- Better yet, if all your photos are digital, create a digital slide-show and let it run during your party for guests to enjoy
- Use your high school colors as a guide. However, if your child really doesn’t care for the old school standards, then celebrate their favorite color or how about the colors of their chosen college?
- My sons would not appreciate this, but if you have a daughter, consider buying or making one of those oversized matted picture frames for their graduation picture and leaving markers out for your guests to record their well-wishes on the frame
- Get more cute ideas on Pinterest. There are a lot of clever ways you can weave diplomas, graduation caps, and 2017 into your party theme!
Bring on the Kung-Pao-Chicken. All we need now is that official diploma, our family and friends, and a few trays of my son’s favorite chinese dishes. Let the celebrating begin.
Thanks for indulging me while I shared some of our inexpensive celebration ideas!
P.S. We can’t believe we are done with robo-calls from the school system and PTA forever!!!
cheap budget-friendly ways do you keep your celebration costs down? Have you ever catered a party or ordered food for a crowd to save time (and possibly money on special ingredients)?