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5 emerging trends for 2013 graduation parties

Brian O'Connell
by Brian O'Connell, MainStreet contributor

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The coming of May means, among other things, high school and college graduation season.

According to the Institute of Education Sciences, about 3.8 million college students, graduate and undergraduate, are expected to earn diplomas in the next month or so, and roughly 5 million to 6 million are expected to graduate from high school.

READ: How to avoid the most common post-grad money mistakes

That means a lot of backyard parties or graduation celebrations at local restaurants and banquet halls. In fact, GraduationParty.com claims 600,000 visitors annually, presumably searching for help hosting their party.

The Eden Prairie, Minn., graduation-party-planning service has a lot to say about party planning this diploma season, and it’s worth checking out if you’re planning a gala for your son or daughter’s graduation.

Let’s focus on five of the most revealing and helpful facts about graduation parties and how they can help shape your party when those caps go flying in the spring air:

  • Expect to pay more than $500. GraduationParty.com says the average amount spent on parties was $578. Families can cut those costs by inviting fewer guests; the company says the average number of party guests is 67.
  • Choose paper invites over social media invites. GraduateParty.com says 88 percent of parents use social media to invite guests to a graduate party, with “lackluster” results. “Facebook may be all the rage for teenagers communicating, but don’t rely on it to invite people to your graduation party,” says Ginger Venable, a managing partner at the website. She points to one party planner for verification: “The people I gave paper invitations to attended the party. Of the people invited over Facebook, only about 20 percent showed up.”
  • Don’t “rush” the party. Another common mistake with high school and college graduation parties is to hold the party the day after the actual commencement exercise. The highest dissatisfaction rate among party planners is weak turnout, “but 65 percent of party planners held their party on the Saturday afternoon after the graduation ceremony, creating a competition of sorts,” Venable says.
  • Don’t spend too much on food. Party planners, especially parents, tend to have too much food on hand, mostly because they’re unsure how many guests will arrive. That can be a big mistake. “Not knowing how many guests to plan for is very frustrating,” Venable says. “It creates a huge challenge for the host in figuring out how much food to purchase. The No. 1 response for ‘What would I do differently?’ among our survey respondents was ‘order less food!’”
  • Spread the fun. GraduateParty.com says one good idea to save cash and share the experience is to co-host the bash with other graduates. Ask your son or daughter about including their best friend’s family as party hosts. It can cut costs and provide an experience the grads will never forget.

Brian O’Connell has 15 years of experience covering business news and trends, particularly in the financial, health care and career management sectors. He has written 14 books and appeared on CNN, Fox News, CNBC, C-Span, Bloomberg, CBS Radio and other media outlets and in such publications as The Wall Street Journal and The Street.com. He is a former Wall Street bond trader.