Part 1: Set the Stage
Money is tight for many families, and planning a nice bash for your graduate may seem out of the question. Not so. A party that looks professionally planned with good-tasting food can cost less than even middle-of-the-road grocery store platters of cold cuts, veggies and desserts. D-I-Y parties cost a little more energy, but yield big savings.
It may seem like a paradox, but creating a party with a planner-look can be pulled off with items from Walmart and dollar stores. Forget big-box party stores. Nice stuff, premium prices. Create your own look for less.
Color Coordinate for Splash
Use your graduate’s school colors, or one of the colors and white for napkins, plates and cutlery. Using solid colors creates a pulled-together look.
Walmart’s “Best Occasion” solid-color, paper dinner plates (16-count) and dessert plates (24-count) cost $1.50 per package, and cutlery packs for eight guests are 97 cents. (The spoons are a bit flimsy.)
If clear, sturdy cutlery is preferred, get Walmart’s “Great Value” 48-pack for $2.68, in the grocery section. Buy extra spoons if serving coffee and tea and place them “heads up” in a mug. (In comparison, Party City’s colored forks, knives and spoons are sold separately in 48-count packs, and each costs $3.79.)
Dollar store, solid-colored napkins (in the party section) can be layered for an eye-catching effect: blue, yellow, blue, yellow. Or, get Walmart’s “Best Occasions three-ply drink napkins (30-count) and guest napkins (20-count), which cost 97 cents per package. (In comparison, Party City’s graduation napkins cost $7.42 per 100 online, on half-price sale.)
Fan for Pizzazz
Another option for adding pizzazz is fanning napkins where drinks will be served. Watch this video as the bartender demonstrates fanning.
Wrap it Up
Use other napkins to wrap up your cutlery, and tie with color-coordinated ribbon. Pick 3/8-inch ribbon in Walmart’s craft or floral section to contrast the napkin color, such as yellow napkin, blue ribbon. Cut ribbon into six-inch strips with a sharp pair of scissors to avoid frayed edges.
Bundle cutlery by placing the knife on the bottom, fork in the middle and spoon on top. Roll them tightly in the napkin. Tie with a ribbon, hold edges together, and trim them on a slant. Rotate the cutlery so the “upsides” peek out of the napkin. Place them in a basket.
This is an easy way to create visual impact at the beginning of the serving line, and help it move a bit faster.
Do not skimp on cold beverage cups. Do buy the heavier plastic cups. This may not look so party-planner like, but will help prevent a lot of spills. Set out permanent markers so guests may write their names on cups to avoid cup confusion.
Create Inviting Tables
Use plastic tablecloths if you must. Dollar stores and Walmart carry them in different colors.
To create more of a planner look, skip the plastic tablecloths, and create a grouping of candle votives, little vases and small jars on each table. Walmart and dollar stores sell small glass votives and hurricane vases for $1 each. Mix and match them, and place longer-burning votive candles in them. Walmart’s Mainstays 16-pack of votive candles is $4.97.
Create odd-numbered groupings on each table. One candle per table looks lonely. Sprinkle some graduation-cap confetti around the groupings. Walmart’s cap confetti is 88 cents per package, and is found in the party section.
Pick Up the Little Things
This writer's dad had a mantra, and was recognized throughout Nationwide Insurance because of it: "It's the little things that add the polish." So, if shopping at Walmart, pick up these little things that will make a big difference:
- Two Sharpie fine-point markers, $1.87, for marking cups
- Crepe streamers, $1.29 per package—nice, wide streamers
- "Best Occassion" fancy toothpicks, $3 per 1,000
- "Best Occassion" drink umbrellas, $3.44 for 144 pieces
- Wilton 13 by 9 metallic-surfaced cardboard cake platters, 4 for $4
- Wilton dollies, $2 per package.
- A large plastic tub for drinks, $5.97
Make a Guest List
Invitations from the dollar store are money savers compared to stationery section invitations. Remember to factor in 44 cents per invitation to mail them.
A quick, efficient way to invite guests and keep track of responses is by creating an online invitation through evite.com. Evite lets users choose from a variety of graduation invitations. Invitees can respond or send regrets quickly, rather than setting down a mailed invitation, and forgetting to respond because it is buried in a pile.
Remember the Young Ones
If children are coming to the party, invest in sidewalk chalk and bubbles from the dollar store toy section. Children will be occupied, and parents will be able to mingle with other guests a bit. Encourage kids to leave chalk messages or pictures for the graduate. Afterward, have them play hopscotch.
Up next: D-I-Y Grand Graduation Party Planning—Part 2: Classy, Easy, Crowd-Pleasing Food for Less