Graduation Party On A Budget

Sometimes things just fall into place… I received the following email from a HBHW reader a few days ago…

Hi Susanne,
Have you any ideas for good food for a graduation party with limited funds to spend?  My daughter graduates this Sunday with her party next Sunday.  We are strapped for cash…..any suggestions?

Sharon T

Literally 15 minutes later my friends over at Living On A Dime sent me to following article to publish on this blog. What a wonderful coincidence. Enjoy!

Tips for Inexpensive Graduation Parties
By Jill Cooper

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

First of all, 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, it’s really more about the presentation than the food. Even the most inexpensive food looks expensive when served on a silver plater 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 (pasteurized)
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.

Jill Cooper and Tawra Kellam are frugal living experts and the editors of  Living On A They have helped thousands save money and get out of debt by starting with just their grocery bill.  To get their free mini e-course on Grocery Savings visit .

2 Responses to “Graduation Party On A Budget”

  1. Lisa Todd Says:

    For my son’s graduation cookout, I went to the beach and collected shells and sand (FREE). I poured the sand and arranged the shells in the center of the tables and placed one of my (hurricane) candles in the center. I bought the beach theme table covers, plates, utensils from the dollar store (LOW COST). I set out boogie boards, beach chairs and beach towels for decoration (FREE). Everyone loved the beach theme!

  2. Studentskiva Says:

    Great way to have a graduation party on a budget, and i liked what you did too Lisa Todd, really creative.

    Im going to try this on my daughters graduation party, thanks for the tip! =)

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