How To Have A Cheap Graduation Party

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Bobbi asks:

Our daughter graduates this spring and wants to have a graduation party afterwards for family and friends. We have very little money for that. Do you have any ideas for finger foods, salads, and decorating ideas that would fit our budget? Thank you, Bobbi



How To Have A Cheap Graduation Party

How To Have A Nice But Cheap Graduation Party

Jill: The first thing to keep in mind when hosting a cheap graduation party is to keep it simple.

Decorate using anything that your daughter has collected over the years that has her high school colors or mascot on it. For a tablecloth, go to the dollar store and get a plastic tablecloth in her school colors or go to Wal-Mart and get an inexpensive twin sheet (for about $3) in her colors. Hang school pictures or scrapbook items around the room or lay them on the table. Also, balloons and streamers from the dollar store can add a lot to the decorations for a small price. For my daughters graduation I didn’t decorate much, but I did lay out a very nice food table.

As far as food goes, having a nice but cheap graduation party is really more about the presentation than the food. Even the most inexpensive food looks expensive when served on a silver platter or glass tray. Do things like cut the sandwiches into triangles and cut off the crusts. Use foods like egg salad, ground up chicken or ham sandwiches. When you grind your meat, it can go much farther.

Punch can be a less expensive alternative to trying to serve pop. I make punch all the time by mixing 3-4 different flavors of Kool-Aid and then freezing it long enough to make it slushy. Use less water than what the directions indicate. If the package calls for 2 quarts of water, I use 1 and 3/4 quarts. People frequently ask me for my recipe and are often surprised to learn that it is just plain old Kool-Aid.

Look through your cookbooks and find salads that call for less expensive ingredients. For example, adding a few veggies to a pasta salad is less expensive then making a veggie salad with lots of cauliflower and broccoli in it. Here’s a strawberry salad that I used at my daughter’s graduation that is great because it freezes well, allowing me to make it long before the party. If you have a cake, too, this dessert can be used as a fruit salad instead.


Strawberry Dessert

This is probably one of my favorite desserts, partly because it is not too rich. It is a very light dessert. It is an especially good one to keep made up in the freezer for when unexpected company comes by.

I like to use it not only for graduation parties, but also for baby showers or any other get-together because I can make it a week ahead of time and that means one less thing to have to deal with the day of the special event!


1 cup flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup nuts
1/2 cup butter, softened

Mix and slightly press or crumble into a 9×13 pan. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes. Stir occasionally while baking to make crumbly. When cooled, remove 1/3 of it to save to sprinkle on top of the dessert. Evenly spread out the remaining portion in the pan.


2 egg whites
2/3 cup sugar
1 10oz. package of strawberries
2 Tbsp. lemon juice (must use)
1 small container whipped topping

Place first 4 ingredients in a large mixing bowl and beat at high speed for 10 minutes or until it forms stiff peaks. Be sure to use a large mixing bowl because this really increases in volume. Fold in whipped topping and spread over crust, Sprinkle with the 1/3 cup of crumbs you saved back. Freeze for 3-6 hours or overnight.

Enjoy! Jill



  1. says

    Thanks for posting this article! My son will be graduating at the end of May and we would like to have a graduation party for him as well but do not have a big budget. Your ideas are great!

  2. Bea says

    Jill, Can you explain the punch recipe a little more? Do you use 3-4 small envelopes of Kool-Aid, add less water and freeze it all, or only freeze some? Thanks.

    • says

      When ever I make up kool aid for any thing I always use 1 1/2 – 1 3/4 quarts of water per package of kool aid instead of the usual 2 quarts it calls for. I like my things very sweet so for each package of kool aid I use 3/4 cup sugar.

      For the punch I would make up 3 – 4 packages like I said above and the put all or part of it in the freezer. You can take it out when it is only partially frozen or pour part of it into a ring or containers for “ice” to keep the rest of it cold.This way it doesn’t get watered down with regular ice.

      The whole secret though to this punch is mixing the different flavors. It makes it seem richer and more expensive tasting then it really is. I would grab some thing like a raspberry, strawberry and tropical punch. You could mix cherry, strawberry and tropical punch. I don’t think I have any that have not worked together but if you are having a very special party you might experiment ahead of time for your own taste.

  3. Bea says

    Thanks Jill. Lately I’ve been using Kool-Aid for so many things, like dying Easter eggs, making lip gloss, drinking instead of juice or other flavored drinks, etc. so this punch idea interested me very much. Sounds so good and probably very refreshing in the summer especially when it’s so hot. Come to think of it I think you have a slushy recipe in your cookbook using Kool-Aid that I’m going to check out.

  4. Cindy says

    Depending on the number of guests you expect, a nacho bar can be fairly inexpensive. Pasta salad would go well with it, also. A pack of inexpensive graduation cards at Dollar General make good decorations with their bright graphics. I’ve used them as table decorations.

  5. donnab says

    I like the idea of decorating with pictures of your son/daughter as they were growing up. we use dollar store frames for this, also frames from garage and yards ales.


  6. Tina says

    Does anyone have ideas for a dessert to serve with a Pasta-bar themed graduation party? Don’t want the same old brownies – they’re good, just too predicatable.


    Aunt of “Noodle Boy”
    (this 6 ft. plus bean-pole will choose mac n cheese over a burger & fries every time!)

    • says

      This strawberry dessert is one I love because it doesn’t take much for expensive ingredients but even better I can make it 3-4 weeks ahead of time and have in the freezer ready and waiting. It is a very light dessert so it goes with anything and is a great summer dessert. Maybe our readers have some other ideas for you.

  7. donnab says

    I like ice cream cake in the summer, you can make it yourself inexpensively. take a large spring form pan, I spray VERY lightly with spray, make an oreo, graham cracker, or whatever crust you like. then take softened ice cream and layer two or more flavors, I’ve done chocolate, butter pecan, and then vanilla on top, drizzle caramel sauce and then freeze til the day of your party, it’s a good do ahead. I’ve also seem them done with sorbets, sherbet, frozen yogurt, etc. it’s easy to make it a lighter desert with frozen yogurt, or other low fat ice creams, it’s your choice. it can be really inexpensive depending on what ice cream is on sale.

    donna b.

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