Navigating how to throw a graduation party at home can be hard. Here are some tips I learned along the way after throwing two graduation parties at home!
How to Throw a Graduation Party at Home (The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly Now That I've Thrown Two at Home!)
Several years ago, we hosted my son's high school graduation party (my first EVER), and goodness, I learned so. much.
Welp, this year when we threw my daughter's graduation party and it was definitely easier, so I figured I'd give you a quick update on what we did that made this time around a wee bit less stressful.
(The biggest easier thing this time around? The weather cooperated which meant we had a beautiful sunny day ~ woohooo!)
Here were the four things I did right this time (and probably what I'll do next time when Reagan graduations in four more years!)
1 – Limit food to fewer choices (following the “keep it simple stupid” method!)
2 – Have family at the party to serve food (that way we could chat with guests and not be running around worrying about food.
Tip: we didn't do this for our last party and it was so overwhelming to do on my own. This time my mom and sister-in-laws came in and helped, and having help with prepping and serving made the party so much easier to manage this time around!
3 – Keep decorations to a few minimal ideas (and using what we already had at home!)
4 – Hosting her grad party in the morning ~ this made food a wee bit easier, and she loved being able to attend other parties in the evening!
Those tricks made the party so much easier ~ so if you have a graduation party coming soon, definitely add those in!
Graduation Party Food
In case you're curious what we served as graduation party food this time around, here's a peek. I would 100% serve this menu again, and feel like we finally figured out how to make serving a bunch pretty easy. Determining quantities was hard as we had no idea how many folks would show up, but most of what we got was easy to re-freeze, so we'll have plenty of food all summer long. Here's what we served . . .
Chick-Fil-A Chicken Minis, catered – we went through about 320 (yikes!)
Chick-Fil-A delivered these to us about an hour before the party, and left their warming bags with them (so everything stayed toasty warm throughout the party ~ it was amazing!) We ended up with a lot leftover but gave some to a friend, some to Jackson to take to college, and we'll freeze the rest. They taste pretty good re-heated, so I'm thrilled to have leftover Chicken-Minis for quick summertime meals! 🙂
We also had the coffee delivered but I ordered way too much. Caroline originally wanted a coffee bar so for some reason I assumed more kids would drink coffee, but they really didn't drink all that much.
Tip: remember if you use you Chick-Fil-A One App you'll earn extra Chick-Fil-A rewards. I hit red status after our party, meaning I've got a whole lot of free Chick-Fil-A in my future!
Chicken Salad Chick Mini Croissant Sandwiches
The day before the party I started to get a little worried that adults wouldn't love only Chicken Minis, so I called Chicken Salad Chick to see if we could pick up Chicken Salad. We were able to pick up enough Chicken Salad for 96 mini croissants (they sent the croissants sliced so that we could make them fresh Saturday morning), and it cost around $98. These were so worth it and I would totally do it again ~ we only had about 3 small sandwiches leftover after the party!
Tip: the Chicken Salad Chick platters allow you to pick three flavors of Chicken Salad. We got the Sassy Scotty, Fancy Nancy and Fruity Fran. I could eat my weight in Fruity Fran (that one is so so good), but my hubby and son love the Sassy Scotty!
This was a big splurge that a friend recommended before Jackson's grad party, and it was a huge hit. It's a beautiful centerpiece and everyone gobbled it down – we didn't have a single piece of fruit left after the party (and ordered their XL party bouquet!)
These were the best idea ever! Since Cheryl's Cookies cooperate office is located near us, we were able to pick up 200 cookies in the store. This was way too many ~ but goodness we enjoyed the yummiest cookies ever! We probably would do 120 and have plenty if we were doing it again.
Tip: my favorite Cheryl's Cookies after eating one of each 🙂 so far have been the Salted Caramel and Peanut Butter Buckeye. My sister-in-law's LOVED the wedding cake, but they weren't nearly as good as the Salted Caramel! 🙂
Otis Spunkmeyer Muffins
We bought 64 Frozen Muffins at GFS which was way too many. I ended up sending 16 home with Jackson who's living at college this summer, and froze another 16 to use this summer. But, since they won't go bad I'm okay with that expense!
We got two big boxes of 48 at Costco and barely went through one. We sent the rest with Jackson to his college buddies (because we don't need a whole lot of Cheetos around here!)
I'll update with more of what we did for decorations later this week, but other than a crazy balloon garland we kept it pretty simple. Most importantly after a kind of crazy year my Sweet Caroline had a pretty great day, and I couldn't be more thrilled to have this one done.
Here are a few more tips on what we learned the last time around ~ watch for more updates in four more years when we do a graduation party one more time!
Jackson's Graduation Party 2018
Because we moved just prior to my son's freshmen year of high school we hadn'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 are some tips for how to throw a graduation party at home:
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!
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 rug 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!
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!
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 family 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 I'd 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 few 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 mom 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!