“You said how much for those flowers?”
After four (maybe even five) years of college costs, the last thing you want to think about is the cost of graduation. But graduation expenses are often overlooked, surprising both students and parents when the time comes.
Like so many others attending graduations this year, my sister’s college graduation this weekend looked awfully different. The graduates wore festive masks in their school colors, the socially distant ceremony was scheduled at hour long intervals, and the walk across stage ended with a wave (no diploma or handshake, just a good old fashion photo op).
However, there were some things that were predictably the same; students threw their caps in the air; graduates lined up to pose for photos in front of campus landmarks, and I forgot to buy the flowers. Whoops.
Thankfully, I was able to quell the situation by hurrying over to one of the pop-up school store tents and buying a limp bouquet of six wilted pink roses for the bargain price of just $50! Turns out colleges take the same approach to graduation flowers as they do to hotdogs at the homecoming game.
The Expected (and Unexpected) Costs of College Graduation
Some schools even charge registration fees for the actual ceremony ranging from $25 – $200 dollars just to participate. Below is a brief breakdown of potential graduation expenses and the range of costs:
Prioritize What Matters to You
Before thinking about how to reduce some of these costs, it is important to decide what matters most to your family about graduation, celebrating, as well as logistics.
Will you be traveling? How far? Will other extended family members such as grandparents be attending? Will you be responsible for them?
How do you and your graduate want to celebrate this milestone? A family dinner? A party? Are there other family members who expect and/or desire to be part of it? What is going to make you and your graduate feel good about the weekend? Will you include your graduate’s roommates? Friends? Does your graduate have their own plans for the weekend?
Narrowing in on both what is logistically possible for your family as well as how you would like to celebrate this milestone will help dial in the costs which are mostly dependent upon two big categories: travel and a graduation dinner/celebration.
How to Save on College Graduation Costs
The biggest way to reduce your travel costs if flying or staying at a hotel for graduation weekend is to book as early as possible. Meaning months, not weeks. Not only will other families be booking for these dates, but so will the other schools in the area with similar graduation dates.
Thankfully, the graduation date will likely be set way in advance by most schools, so even if you aren’t 100% sure of your plans it may be worth booking refundable flights or using a price-tracking app like “Hopper” to track your dates. Also consider staying with friends or family in the area instead of a hotel or looking into Airbnb or VRBO rental.
If throwing a grad party is the way you want to go, it goes without saying that the earlier you start planning the better. Whether hosting at home or at a restaurant/venue, the more time you give yourself the more likely you will be able to reduce costs.
If you are on the fence about a party, consider a more low-key approach like hosting it at a local public park or beach/lake. If there is one thing COVID has taught me, it’s that you shouldn’t underestimate an outdoor gathering that involves pizza, beer, and Spikeball.
When it comes to graduation day, take your own photos! The photos that the school will try and sell you from the ceremony will be way overpriced. The same goes for the diploma frame and graduation announcements or thank you cards, it is much cheaper to buy (or make) these yourself.
Lastly, take time to enjoy the moment and your graduate’s accomplishments. No matter how you decide to celebrate, the joy, relief, excitement, and anticipation of one chapter closing and another beginning is a gift unto itself. Congratulations!
The Summer Series is our spin on financial planning for parents. Some other school posts so far in the series: