The end of the academic year is a time for celebration for those moving on to the next phase of their lives. Whether it be from middle school, high school, or college, graduating is a momentous occasion in the life of any student — one that more than justifies a party.
As summer approaches, people across the country will celebrate the graduates in their lives by hosting parties. When thinking about grad party season, our team here at FinanceBuzz got to wondering, where in America is it most and least affordable to throw this kind of a shindig?
To find out, our team assembled a list of 60 items necessary for throwing a cookout-style graduation party, including food, drink, tables, plates and other serving items, and decorations. We based all quantities and costs for this analysis on a party size of 60 people.
All price data was collected by looking up each party item on Walmart’s website, in the grocery pickup and delivery section. Pricing information was gathered from multiple cities in each state and then averaged together to find each state’s average cost per item. All costs shown represent pre-sales tax pricing.
- Cost of a graduation party in every state
- Per person graduation party costs in every state
- How much people give for graduation gifts across the country
- States where people spend the most on graduation gifts
- States where people spend the least on graduation gifts
- Money tips for graduation party hosts
- Money tips for new grads
Cost of a graduation party in every state
|State||Total Costs||Per Person Costs|
|District of Columbia||$1,118.55||$18.64|
Across the country, we found that it costs an average of $1,128.51 to purchase the supplies needed to throw a graduation party for 60 guests. This includes food costs relating to snacks and appetizers, entrees, sides, desserts, and drinks. It also covers the costs for decorations, tables, paper and plastic serving ware, and a party-size Bluetooth speaker for entertainment purposes.
The least expensive state to throw a graduation party? That's Illinois, the only state coming in under $1,100, at $1,087.56.
And the states where party planners are shilling out the most money? That honor belongs to Hawaii ($1,374.66) and Alaska ($1,292.67), who came in well above the other states. In fact, no other state's total was over $1,150. Nearly every item on our party list costs more in these two states, likely due to the increased costs of getting inventory to them.
Per person graduation party costs in every state
If you're planning a graduation party and wondering what it will cost you, we've also broken down the costs per person in each state. This should allow you to make a decent estimate of the costs for parties of different sizes.
We found that the average per-person cost for a graduation party is $18.81. At that rate, a small, 10-person soiree would cost the average host around $190.
How much people give for graduation gifts across the country
So far, we have focused our analysis on how much it costs to host a graduation party, but hosts are not the only ones who spend money celebrating grads. Guests often give gifts to the new graduate, frequently in the form of cash or checks. Our team surveyed nearly 1,600 people from across the country to find which states are most and least generous when it comes to graduation gift spending.
We had survey respondents select the range that best reflects the amount they typically spend on a graduation gift, giving them options of below $50 and above $100, as well as all the $10 increments in between. We only included states with more than 20 responses for this section of our evaluation.
States where people spend the most on graduation gifts
|Ranking||State||Percentage of people who typically spend more than $100 on graduation gifts|
|6||District of Columbia||34.29%|
In terms of the most generous states when it comes to gifts given to new graduates, California easily takes the top spot. In the Golden State, nearly 57% of people typically give graduates over $100, a rate of giving over 10 points higher than the next most generous state, Colorado (45%).
After California and Colorado, there are only three states, plus the District of Columbia, where at least one-third of people give graduation gifts in excess of $100. Those states are Georgia, Massachusetts, and Arizona. According to our survey, rounding out the list of the top ten most generous states are Kansas, Florida, Michigan, and Alabama. All of these states give gifts in excess of $100 at a rate at least seven points higher than the national average of 18.5%.
States where people spend the least on graduation gifts
On the other side of the coin, we also found the states where the highest percentages of people indicated that they spend less than $50 on a typical graduation gift. For reference, we found that across the entire country around 53% of people fall into this category when it comes to graduation gift spending.
|Ranking||State||Percentage of people who typically spend less than $50 on graduation gifts|
Minnesota has the highest percentage of frugal gift-givers, as nearly three-quarters of people in that state indicate they spend less than $50 on these kinds of gifts. The neighboring state of South Dakota is second-cheapest in this regard, with 70% of respondents also spending less than $50.
Following those are four more states clustered in the same part of the country, as Nebraska, North Dakota, Iowa, and Montana take the three through six spots on the list. Interestingly, three more states in the top ten are also located relatively near to one another geographically, in the southeastern states of Virginia, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
Money tips for graduation party hosts
If you're hosting a graduation party this year, here are a few tips to help you cut down on costs:
- Use the right credit card when buying party supplies: A lot of the costs associated with a graduation party come from buying food for your guests. Many credit cards offer rewards and cashback on groceries. If you don’t yet have one of these cards, check out our list of the best credit cards for groceries to ensure you get the most value out of your shopping.
- Earn even more cash back on your party purchases: Ibotta is an app that allows users to earn cash back on purchases at all kinds of stores, including most major grocery and department stores. Check out our Ibotta review for more details, and be sure to see what kinds of cashback offers are available on the items you will need for your party.
- Earn cash back while shopping at Walmart: We based our analysis on standard Walmart pricing. For party hosts who choose to follow our lead and shop at the retail giant, we have some tips for earning major cash back at Walmart.
Money tips for new grads
Finally, we wanted to congratulate all the new graduates out there and wish them the best in the future! No matter what the next step is in your life, graduating is a tremendous accomplishment and one you should be proud of.
For those looking for a little extra help deciding on what comes next, we have a few resources that may be able to help:
- Explore your loan options: For many high school graduates, college is the next step in life. This often means taking out student loans to pay for higher education, and that can be a complicated process. Be sure to read our guide to the different types of student loans to figure out which are right for you.
- Research your career options: Some people know what kind of career they want to pursue from the time they are young, while others figure that out as they get older. For any grads still trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives, we’ve compiled a list of jobs with high pay and low stress that may include the perfect career for you.
- Start investing young: Take full advantage of the magic of compound interest to start building a nest egg early. Responsibly investing from a young age means you can learn from both successes and failures to become a more savvy investor throughout your life.
For this study, FinanceBuzz collected price data on 60 different items from Walmart stores located in multiple zip codes in every state and then averaged those costs to find the average price for each item by state. Data was collected through the grocery pickup and delivery section of Walmart’s website. Data was collected between May 10 and May 14, 2021.
Price data was collected on the following items in each zip code via Walmart:
Freshness Guaranteed 1/2 Sheet White Cake with Buttercreme Icing Cake, 9 oz. (x2); Vegetable Tray with Meat and Cheese, 38 oz. (x6); Frito-Lay Classic Mix Snacks Variety Pack, 28 count (x3); Freshness Guaranteed Fruit Tray, 48 oz. (x6); Marketside Caesar Salad Kit, 11.55 oz. (x20); Stouffer's Party Size Macaroni & Cheese Frozen Meal 76 oz. (x6); Marketside Tri-Color Cole Slaw, 16 oz. (x12); Bush's Original Baked Beans Seasoned with Bacon & Brown Sugar, Canned Beans, 28 oz. (x9); Great Value Hamburger Buns, 11 oz., 8 count (x8); BUBBA burger® Original Burger, 6 ct, 2 lb. (x8); Heinz Tomato Ketchup, 20 oz. (x2); French's Classic Yellow Mustard, 14 oz.; Heinz Sweet Relish, 26 fl. oz.; Kraft Singles American Cheese Slices Twin Pack, 32 ct. (x2); green leaf lettuce (x4); beefsteak slicing tomato (x5); BOCA All-American Veggie Burgers, 4 ct. (x3); Great Value Hot Dog Buns, 11 oz., 8 count (x6); Ball Park Classic Hot Dogs, 16 count (x3); one 12-pack each of Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, and Orange Fanta; Country Time Lemonade Naturally Flavored Powdered Drink Mix, 63 oz.; Great Value Sweet Brewed Iced Tea, 128 fl. oz. (x3); Great Value Purified Drinking Water Value Pack, 16.9 fl. oz., 40 count (x2); Mainstays 48 in. Fold-in-Half Table, Rich Black (x7); White Plastic Party Tablecloths, 108 x 54 in., 3 ct. (x3); Way To Celebrate Decor Kit (x 6); Great Value Ultra Paper Plates, 10 1/16 in., 50 count (x2); Great Value Premium Assorted Clear Cutlery, 192 count; Great Value Plastic Party Cups, 18 oz., 50 count (x2); Great Value Family Napkins, White, 250 count; Anker Soundcore Rave Neo Portable Bluetooth Party Speaker.
Additionally, we collected data on the price of a 24-pack of domestic beer, either Miller Lite or Bud Light (x4) via Simple.Thrifty.Living. Article last updated January 2021. Data retrieved May 2021.
Survey responses were collected via Google Surveys between April 29, 2021, and May 12, 2021.