Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Hidden Cost of Graduation

Brittany, Class of 2012
My oldest child will be graduating from high school in just a few weeks.  There are certain costs that I expected during the Senior year and many that surprised me.  I thought you might find it interesting to see what we have spent to get our little girl to walk across the stage.  Keep in mind two things:  1) This is only graduation costs...not prom or college visits; and 2)  Some of these expenses are optional.  Time will tell whether I improve our graduation budget for our younger three children.  It's very hard for me to say "No" during moments like this with our kids!

  • $100 for announcements.  I ordered too many.  The next time I will order about half this amount!
  • $65 for the Cap and Gown.
  • $100 for the Senior portrait.  We had these made at a local photography studio.  It was significantly less expensive than using the option provided by the school.
  • $65 for the Grad night party hosted by the school PTA.  It is a lock-in at a local laser tag/bowling alley facility.  It should be lots of safe fun for Brittany and her friends.
  • $50 for a new dress for Brittany to wear under the cap and gown.  Ok...this is a girl thing.  My younger three are boys so they will probably lobby for shorts and a tshirt.
  • $20 for a yard sign to announce her graduation.  This is a mom thing.
  • $200 estimated cost for the family and friends party at our home.
  • $40 invitations to the family and friends party.
  • $50 for stamps for the announcements and invitations.
  • $25 requested donation to attend the Baccalaureate service.

Total cost:  $715

These expenses have been spread out over the past school year but it definitely makes a difference to see the final total.  Oh yeah...I should add at least $15 for extra Kleenexes and waterproof mascara for me!

Do you see some room for improvement?  I have to do this again in three years...and again in three more years...and again three years after that.  Share some tips with me!


  1. It certainly is startling to see it all lined up like that. "Hidden costs" that only come along once in a lifetime. It's not quite as expensive as some other life events - getting married, moving out on your own, having a baby - but still, graduation is a lot more than just the day!

    For our high school graduations, we did have the cap/gown, dress, party, lock-in grad night, and senior portraits. It looks like you saved a lot on the senior portraits by going with another photo studio than the school suggests. We try to cut costs there as much as possible, but it's tough! That is a huge expense.

    1. Definitely not as big as getting married or having a child! It probably will be easier with the boys because I will know what to expect and can be more prepared.

  2. Wow - its eye opening to see the costs for a kid to graduate from public school!

  3. Pam,
    It sure adds up! One tip I'd suggest is asking your photography friends to help with the portraits. You'll still have to pay for prints, but a friend shouldn't charge as much as a studio.

    You're right, the boys' outfits don't need to be new. Also, consider getting a yard sign you'll be able to use for the next decade.

    -Christian L.

  4. Yeowch. That's a big chunk of change. I'm glad you found a less expensive photo option! Sometimes you can also find a local photography student or family friend to shoot casual photos of the graduate as well as the formal studio shots. I've seen pics that incorporate a sport, musical instrument, or family pet -- very personalized!

    Since you've got a few more tries, I'd suggest using VistaPrint (with awesome discounts and maybe a Groupon voucher) for announcements. Sending invitations online (whether through email, Facebook, or a web service like Evite) eliminates postage costs and ecowaste. If there are older family members who don't spend a lot of time online, that's a great excuse for the graduate to make a phone call to invite them.

    Depending on the style of gown and whether the school uses the same type every year, you may be able to purchase or borrow someone's used gown to walk in the ceremony. They don't need much in the way of sizing, after all. Heck, I still have a white one (HS) and black one (undergrad) and matching mortarboards in my costume bin 10+ years down the line! Maybe I'll put them up on Craigslist.

    1. I definitely think your suggestions about the announcements and invitations could save a significant amount of money. Now that I know what to expect, I can be more proactive in finding my own deals the next time around.

      With three boys, I hope that I can use the same cap and gown for all three!

  5. You didn't mention where you ordered the invitations from. Local? Online? If you order fewer, the cost per unit might be higher.

    At the end of the day, personal preference seems to have weighed in on your total out of pocket.

    1. The invitations were through an online photo site. I messed up by procrastinating and then rushing to order them on time. I need to plan ahead and look for coupon deals or use an online invitation resource the next time.

      And, you're right. A lot of the expenses were personal choices. I think that going forward, I will know what to expect ahead of time and will be able to better choices. Because this is new for me (and a little emotional!), I reacted to the situations as they occurred instead of taking charge of my own plan. A good financial lesson...even for a 43 year old Mom!

  6. It's interesting that things that seem "free" really aren't. I'm sure it's worth it though. Hope you have some great parties.

  7. I never thought it would so expensive. Thankfully we still have about 9 more years to go. :-)