How to Throw a Graduation Party at Home (The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly of My First Experience)

How to Throw a Graduation Party at Home (The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly of My First Experience)



Last weekend we hosted my son's high school graduation party, and goodness, I learned so. much. 


Because we moved just prior to my son's freshmen year of high school we haven't attended many (any?) grad parties prior to this year, so I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I signed up for this one. 


A few weeks before graduation though we sent out invitations, and then started to heading everyone else's grad parties first.




We saw super fancy parties. Super simple parties. And super fun parties.


I got recommendations and some help from a few amazing friends, and then ready or not this party was on it's way.


We're guessing we had somewhere between 125-175 people attend (yikes!) and after we done I realized I basically had hosted a wedding reception in our home on an incredibly rainy afternoon. (It rained from about noon until 4:45 on the day of the party ~ the party started at 5. You can imagine the mud pit left in our backyard!)


We survived, but there were so many things I wanted to write down and remember for next time. 


Here we go (in super simple list form, because this list might take a year if I don't go that way!)



The Good 


Hosting with another family ~ Jackson wanted to host with a friend, and that helped so  much!

Costco Mac & Cheese – BEST. MONEY. EVER. SPENT. We went through nine.

Costco Cakes – 2 cakes. Ended up with just a wee bit left over.

Barbecue – Jackson's friend Luke's family made the pork barbecue ~ they smoked 4 butt roasts and we almost went completely through it.

Centerpieces – long story (keep scrolling) but I ended up at Walmart the morning of the grad party desperately needing something to fill plain mason jars with! I ended up filling them with candy in the colors of the party (silver, navy and yellow)

Renting a tent – it definitely would have been easier (and cheaper!) to have the party at a pavilion, but once it was said and done my son was so glad we'd had it at home. If we had a clean garage we probably could have skipped the tent, but since it rained all afternoon prior to the party I was so glad we'd splurged on that one!

Veggie tray

Pasta salad

Buns from GFS

Borrowing “grad trunk show” from a friend – a friend of mine offered her “trunk show” of supplies that she's used for grad parties in the past, including the cute metallic “grad” letters and large jars for lemonade and tea. They were perfect, and I just tied some ribbon and simple tags to make them look fancy!

Not buying a new rub by the back door ~ We almost bought a new rug to put underneath our dining table by the back door right before the party (ours is in kind of pitiful shape, but I did thorough spot cleaning and called it good!) After 150 pairs of muddy shoes through my house, I'm sooooo glad I didn't get a new rug!

Not buying new carpet period. 🙂  good gravy. I almost bought carpet IN OUR ENTIRE HOUSE . Thankfully the same grad-trunk-show friend advised me to skip this one ~ I would have been crushed if I bought new carpet before this because it would never have survived!

Huge glass jars from Walmart – these were awesome for putting chips in (and kept bugs out too!)

Buckeyes, peppermint patties, chocolate

Simple ribbon with mason jars

Tons of white dishes/plates ~ I've slowly pieced together all white dishes for events over the last ten or so years, and I love how easy it is to make everything match using all white! TJMaxx, Home Goods and Target are my favorite places to stock up on these ~ and they make party planning so simple.

Brown craft paper from Walmart this stuff is great to make regular plastic tablecloths a wee bit fancier

Trifold board and senior banners from school

Chalkboard sign – my son's girlfriend drew the sign on it for us!

Edible Arrangements Fruit Tray – this was a big splurge. HUGE. But it was one of those things that everyone talked about, and if I had one thing to splurge on again this would be it ~ they delivered it to our door, it tasted fantastic, and it was a beautiful centerpiece. NOT PENNY PINCHED ~ but so worth it!


The Bad


Too many chips

Too much candy – at least we can keep the chips and candy for parties this summer?

Too much chicken/pork – because I was so afraid of not having enough, I ordered 15 lb of Chicken Breast and 10 lb of pulled pork from a local barbecue restaurant. It was wayyy  too much, but we froze the leftovers and can use it all summer long at least!

Tent in grassy area due to rain – if I could do this again I think I would have put the tent in the driveway possibly (although our driveway is sloped, so this would be tough to do!) Because they set the tent up a few days before the party we had no idea that it would rain, but if you have a concrete area to cover, that's probably best.

Not having the courage to ask a few people to completely man food – I wish I'd had someone completely handle the food all night so I didn't have to worry over it, however, honestly I loved having a purpose and just getting to chit chat with a few folks throughout the night! This wasn't a major issue, but if someone offers to man the food for you, take them up on it!

Not asking someone to be completely in charge of taking pics – I wish we had more pictures. The ones in the post were taken during the quieter times of the party, and I don't have pics of most of the people who came. I hate that!

Not inviting everyone ~ especially neighbors. UGH. I messed this one up, so there's that. My feeling was that if people didn't really know Jackson I didn't want them to feel like they needed to give him a gift, but I would hate for anyone not to feel included. Next time everyone's getting an invite!

Balloons? I spent $39 on big cute balloons that 2018. I passed them on to another friend who's having a party this weekend ~ but totally could have skipped those!

Not keeping a count of how many people – I wish I had some idea of how many folks we had, just so I'd know what to buy the next time around!


The Ugly


These are the sad areas I literally just through money away in. I HATE THIS!

Flowers – I ordered what I thought were all white flowers from a website that I usually adore (and spent way too much on them!), but when they came they were pink, and definitely didn't work to use in the mason jars as centerpieces. I ended up putting a few bouquets around our house, but they were a complete waste of money. I hate that!

Buying extra cookies – I was so afraid we wouldn't have enough that I bought a bunch of extra cookies from GFS that were frozen (figuring we could pull them out and bake if we needed to.) They were really way too much, and now we have a ton of cookie dough in the freezer which is way too much temptation for me. Lesson learned!

Not having family there – I can boss them around confidently. THIS ONE IS HUGE. SO. HUGE. Even if a friend had offered to serve all the food, there aren't many people that I feel like can just come in and really manage my home the way Id' like them to. If I host a party like this again, I will definitely beg a few favorite family members to come and just help me keep up!

Getting carpet cleaned – Even though we didn't get new carpet prior to the party, I did get the carpet cleaned which was a total waste of money by the time the mud had tromped through! But, our carpet was pretty disgusting, and if the weather had been nice I would have been glad it was cleaned (because it really was bad before the cleaning!) So… you win some you lose some I guess!

Not mentioning an RSVP on the invitation – my son basically invited everyone he knew on Instagram, so I'm not sure an RSVP would have helped. But at least I would have had some idea of what to expect (I truly had no clue!)

What I'll do next time: 

Consider a shelter (possibly?)

Talk to a few other parents also hosting parties the same year and see what we can “double up” on (things like balloons, centerpieces, etc)

Limit decor – senior posters with kids pics, banners, plain table cloths and brown paper and simple centerpieces


Now, the truth for my real PPP readers who've hung out with me since way back in 2009.


(not the folks who hopped on here unknowingly from Google when searching “How to Throw a Graduation Party at Home”. Although I'm awfully glad you're here too!) 🙂


Our finances have drastically changed in the last nine years as the success of PPP has grown.


(Read more about how I make a full time income as a stay-at-home mom right over HERE.) 


Back then, we might have thrown a similar party I think, but would have skipped some of the “extras”~ things like the fancy-but-way-too-expensive fruit, the tent (we would have made due with our garage), the store bought cookies, and most likely I would have made everything from scratch at home.


Now that we have more financial freedom, I wanted to not stress over the money ~ to enjoy where our hard work has landed us and just let people come and feel like there truly was oodles of room at the table for them too. (Remember, for about 8 years I worked 50-60 hours every single week on top of being a stay at home with no outside childcare other than school when my kids were old enough to attend. I'm plum worn out most days!) 🙂


When we first hosted birthday parties for our kids, or even had friends over for dinner, we always had just enough.


If we were hosting 8 people, we bought 8 hamburger buns and I prayed we didn't run out.


If friends were coming and we wanted a meal, I stuck with things like spaghetti or tacos because they required less meat with all the extra “stuff” which helped pinch pennies even more.


But this time, I wanted to know that we'd have more than enough ~ in fact, I wanted to feel beyond a shadow of a doubt that we had plenty.


And being in a place financially that allowed that was just incredibly lovely.


But I'll be honest.


Looking and seeing that there was still some money squandered on things that we didn't truly need at all still really does hurt. (Even if I have $100 “extra” in my bank account for those splurges, I feel like wasting money is exactly the same as taking a match to that money and lighting it on fire, and that hurts me more than just a wee bit!)


In the end though my son and his friends had a great time I think, we enjoyed getting to meet a bunch of his friends as well as other folks who've cared for him over the last few years, and I think overall we felt like it was definitely a success. Next time I'll focus my spending on the things that really mattered though, and skip the things that just didn't!

So, have YOU hosted a graduation party or another large event at home? I'd love to hear what was worth it and what wasn't for your bunch. I love hearing from you ~ leave a comment to share!


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  1. Oh My!!!!! We have hosted 2 graduation parties so far & we mostly just invited family & a few close friends. I can’t even imagine having that many people we did have people RSVP & its a huge help. We kept everything really simple & only used pictures for decor & both were hosted outside which was helpful. Most of the grad parties we have ever been too have been simple so that probably helped me keep it that way. The last one next year will be simple also. Usually the kids don’t remember all the extras they just remember the good time that they have, and the food. Thanks for sharing

  2. It’s funny – I don’t remember grad parties being this big a deal in other areas, but where we live they are a huge deal! My husband just said to me after reading the post that he can’t believe we did all that (honestly, looking back I can’t believe we did all that!), and don’t know that we’ll do all that again (WHEW!) Thanks so much for sharing Karen – I loved hearing from you!

  3. Oh wow! I know what you mean when you speak of these elaborate graduation parties. I’m in the process of planning my daughters party and am literally losing sleep over it! I’ve been to 11 other parties in the past few weeks of which everyone is trying to out do the next! I’m completely stressing out over things like “will everyone come”?…”are my centerpieces to basic”?…”how much is this going to cost”?…”should I do cakes or cupcakes”?…”linens or no linens”?…”how many picture displays is enough”?…etc
    The list goes on an on. Thank you for this article…it truly put things into perspective and came at just the right time

    • So glad Chelly – your party will be so fun! Yes, focus on the stuff that’s important ~ I know it will be amazing (don’t stress over keeping up with anyone ~ once your daughter’s friends are there she truly won’t care!

  4. Beautiful pictures! We hosted 2 grad parties in our home when we lived in Atlanta. Then we moved out of state into a smaller house, so for the 3rd kid we hosted it at our n’hood clubhouse b/c I knew a lot of people would be coming—too many for our house. I wouldn’t even worry about fresh flowers for a grad party. Just things like the “GRAD” letters you used, and certain foods can double as a center piece like your Edible Fruit, & also fill a large clear jar with decorated cookies—looks super cute and they serve as dessert. I did always request an RSVP and it helped. Kids never rsvp and even some adults don’t seem to. But at least I did have a definite “yes” or “no” from most adults–and that helped especially if it was a large family that I knew to plan for or knew they weren’t coming. You can count on extra teens that didn’t rsvp and you can even count on some teens that your kid did not even invite—b/c that kid was party hopping with a group of mutual friends and they said, We gotta stop by the Smiths house, just come with.” My son was invited to so many grad parties that I helped him with a flow chart to figure out how to get to all of the depending on the times & locations. (And can we just get a post on how to do affordable grad gifts for party your kid is invited to?) Balloons from the Dollar Tree are great if you just want some for the day of the party–I found them useful for signs outside the party so people would know they were arriving at the right place. They don’t last a week or 2 like more expensive ones, but I’ve had great luck buying them the day before. We had a Guest Book at every grad party, and it was on a table (with photos of the graduate) just inside the door. Whoever opened the door welcomed the guests & asked them to please write a note to the graduate in the Guest Book. And I was very intentional in saying, “Great to see you, thanks for coming–can I take a quick picture of you?” I think I got a photo of almost everyone who came. Your home is beautiful and your back yard is huge. Maybe next time you will have gorgeous weather and you can have all your tables outside 🙂

  5. We had our first graduation party last year with our oldest. Tried to keep it simple as well. Our church has a gym, so we used that to keep the worry of weather out of the equation. Decorations were a bare minimum since it was our son and he definitely did not care about decor! We had a picture display, along with some of his basketball awards (we homeschool so he didn’t have “school awards” to display). We made a pennant banner that said “Congratulations Jacob” as a backdrop for the food table. Our splurge was for bottled water. Had iced tea as the only other drink option. Jacob’s favorite food is his grandpa’s fried fish / tenderloin so we cooked that ahead of time & kept warm in roasters. I had chips, applesauce & pretzels to go with it. Cupcakes (4 varieties that we made ourselves) were on display using a large, tiered cupcake stand. Invites were given to family, but an open invite was extended to our church family. Need to rethink that for our next child who graduates next May. We had no idea how many might be there- our church runs about 230- so planning food was tricky. Lots of leftovers, but we shared with family so we didn’t end up taking it all back home.

  6. I didn’t host at home but forgot to put rsvp on the invites. I had enough food ordered (I thought). But my son’s friends (who didnt get official invites, just a mention from my son)came in droves early and wiped out the chicken. We had two kinds and the boys took each kind. Yikes. I didn’t spend a lot on decorations and just used my son’s pictures displayed in various ways. I bought way too much candy for the candy buffet. I would get a smaller cake and more cupcakes next time. Made a huge jug of koolaid. Threw 90% out.

  7. We hosted a grad party for our two oldest (not twins but close enough in age that they were in the same grade) this year. We were on a pretty tight budget. I spent about $100 in decorations which included picture frames to put their pictures in and place on our mantel, string lights for outdoor arrangements and rolls of burlap and ribbon to decorate the tables. We did a simple cookout and hosted about 50 people. Hamburgers, hotdogs, salads, mac and cheese, chips, fruit, etc. Cake from the grocery store which was on clearance because the top icing had gotten a bit messed up. I fixed the icing so no one even knew it was messed up. My sister helped with the set up and helped me manage the food and drinks. All said and done, I spent about $300 on the whole thing. I have decorations that can be used again with my other child in a few years. One thing I did was to buy each a box and set them out with pens and little index sized cards and asked people to write down words of wisdom or encouragement for the grads and put them in their box. Those who brought cards could also put them in their box. This box can be now used as a storage box for keepsakes from graduation. They love their boxes.

  8. We have hired a waitress for our grad parties and other really big parties – it’s a splurge but if you get a good one they man the food, drinks, put out the desserts and clean up as they go – what I learned was not to have them come until just before you plan to eat so she can stay 4 hours and keep everything stocked and almost all cleaned up – so well worth it!

  9. We hosted our 1st grad party this year. We cleaned up the garage, borowed decorations and used pictures and projects my son had worked on this past year. We had a mac and cheese bar with several toppings, hawiian hammies (biggest expense) fruit and veg trays and cookies and cupcakes. All his favorites. We had about 80 people in and out. Close fiends and family helped make sure the food was taken care of and took pictures. They had everything cleaned up in the kitchen when it was over.

  10. Teresa M Schafhauser says

    One thing I did, was I bought poster frames. 2 2×3 foot and 2 20 inch by 30 inch. We needed red, so I bought red wrapping paper at the Dollar tree and wrapped the cardboard . I taped the pictures and then put the plexiglass and frame back on. It kept the pictures nice in the weather and kept off the finger prints. At first, the $40..00 seemed like a splurge, but we not only used them for our 2 boys graduations, just by changing pictures, we have also let our friends borrow them . Storing them in the basement, we changed the paper and used them for weddings, retirement parties, anniversaries and “Celebration of Life” events. We also had sub sandwiches for the meal, and because we live in the country. , we roasted marshmallows over a fire. We mentioned “no gifts” to neighbors so they would not feel obligated. They still brought them. Most of the decorations I used were the kids items, awards through the years, and pictures and candles. I think we spent more money on Off than anything.

  11. We had our second graduation open house about a month ago. We learned much from the first one 4 years ago. For both we did an ice cream sundae bar. We bought tubs of vanilla ice cream from Aldi and had about 15 different toppings such as fruit, peanuts, candy, whipped topping, etc. We had water in a dispenser and also root beer and Coke for ice cream floats. We had around 100 people, and it seemed to be a hit both times. It was easy prep, and my mother in law was a great help filling empty bowls of toppings and pulling out more tubs of ice cream. I kept the decor simple from the dollar store too – balloons, banner, table toppers. Fun. Yummy. Simple. Low stress. My kind of party!

  12. Our oldest (son) just graduated as well. We had such a great day honoring and celebrating him. He will attend a local university here in the Fall studying aviation. I loved reading about all of your do’s/don’ts regarding your son’s graduation party. Thank you for the helpful tips. My son doesn’t like cake so we had cookies/bars instead. Several ladies from our church volunteered to help make a batch or 2. When my mom was visiting at Christmastime we went to a local Goodwill and purchased everything we needed to make our own cake plates to display the cookies/bars on. We made 6 of them in various sizes and had another metal stand that held 2 plates as well. The cost for everything was a little under $50. I was extremely happy with how beautiful they turned out and people from church asked to borrow them for a baby shower a couple weeks later. My husband is the sr. pastor (I totally understand how sad your kids were when you moved, as we have moved several times ourselves) at our church and we had the party there. A couple of ladies from church also asked if they could help out in the kitchen so I could visit with guests and didn’t have to worry about making sure all of the food was stocked throughout the night. So thankful for them! I was so honored with all the help making cookies/bars and help with decorating and serving that we decided to have a “thank you” bbq. We had my son’s party at church and while it was a lot of work to bring all the food/supplies there I’m thankful we didn’t have to worry about parking, etc. We had LOTS of food left over, which we froze. I will definitely know for next time that we don’t need as much. We had a poster board as well filled with lots of sweet pictures. As we were putting the pictures on the board I couldn’t help but think I blinked and here he was getting ready to graduate. We also put all of his senior pictures and a few other pictures into a photo book we had made at Costco ($19.99 ea). It was so fun to see how much fun our son was having at his party. It was such a great day! Laurie, I’m very thankful for you and your tender heart. I feel like we have a lot in common and would have fun visiting over a cup of coffee. Thanks for sharing your heart here and for passing on great deals to us too.

    • I also made sure I bought decorations that didn’t have the year on them so I could reuse them again.

    • I love what you all did Traela – thank you so much for sharing! It sounds like you had an amazing time and I know your son loved it. Thank you for taking the time to comment! 🙂

  13. Such a great job on the party! Where do you order your flowers? They are beautiful!

  14. Get a guestbook to use for all parties. My friend would title the page for the event. Then she would have memories of everyone who attended different events. Plus, addresses and phone numbers. Thank you notes made easier.
    The last edible arrangement we had was bad. Get flowers from Costco or Sams. They also have bulk orders available. Plastic wear that looks like real silverware.

  15. Just reading the first paragraph made me laugh. I remember our 1st party hosted at home and it seemed like a complete disaster. Lesson learned. I’ve had 2 graduation parties since and a quinceanera and we definately rented a venue. Nothing extravagant. Best money spent. And Congratulations on your son’s graduation.

  16. Our son graduated in 2017 and we had a soft serve ice cream bar. He was active in the FFA chapter and we had access to their machine so we made fresh homemade ice cream. My sister helped me cut up all the candy toppings the day before so all we had to do was set them out in bowls. All in all I think we spent about $150 for all of the ingredients and toppings. We thankfully had great weather and were able to have it in or back yard (house and garage are backup) My son has an old truck he bought when he was 14 and has been restoring it, plus a 4 wheeler he races so that is what he wanted to have as “decorations”. I sat out pictures and old papers he had done from K-senior year and people loved looking at his scrapbooks I had made. Not one time did I feel bad for not spending a ton of money on his party, he and all of the guests told me how nice it was and how much they LOVED the ice cream. This allowed us to give all of his friends a little more for their gifts! Plus I was able to enjoy the company of everyone who came out to help us celebrate. Our daughter graduates in May and we will be doing the same thing as requested by so many family and friends!

  17. Kristine says

    I needed this post in my life! My daughter is finishing up her junio year, but I am such a worry wart and a planner that I already made her start Pinterest boards! I also am the most uncreative person, but have warned all my creative friends that they are being employed a year from now thanks to your post! I never would’ve thought to ask for the extra help, and as a single parent, I should know better! I am so grateful for all of your comments and ideas too!

    • Enjoy the rest of her junior and senior year, and YES ask for help (I didn’t think of it either!) Best of luck to you this next year as you get ready Kristine! 🙂

  18. We hosted my son’s graduation party last year and my youngest will graduate in 2020. At the end of graduation season prior to my son graduating, I had my sisters in law keep their eyes out for clearance graduation decorations, without the year, for me. We got pretty many decorations on clearance. I also ordered some things from Oriental Trading. They had graduation themed beach balls which I thought would be fun for the kiddos. Our biggest expense was buying a trailered smoker so that we could smoke our own meat for the party. Honestly though, we’ve more than gotten out money back out of it as it’s been used quite a few times in less than a year. So at least it wasn’t used once and stored away. Our family will have graduations for the next four years so that was put in perspective as well when we purchased it. I just tried to get all the essentials for my son’s party really early and stored them and then started getting meat on sale and freezing that. That way we weren’t spending huge amounts of money at once and me hyperventilating.

  19. Lisa Sprous says

    Hi Laurie,
    We hosted our daughters graduation ‍ parties at our church in the fellowship hall. We probably had about 75 – 100 guests and we shared with 3 other grads. I made the food homemade for the entire group. I had help with decorating. We had a video with one graduation party and my daughter put it together. Believe me, we penny pinched! With six children and one income, my husband and I had to be frugal. I am still amazed we ever made it through the way we did! God always provided. Your party looked really nice and really fun!

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