Graduating on a Budget

graduation, seniorsSo, I graduated from college last weekend. Yes, yes, I know. Hold your applause. Really though, I’m pretty excited about starting a new phase in my life – complete with a B.A. in Journalism (what else?) in tow. Excited as I was to graduate, however, I wasn’t going to let myself get carried away. It’s way too easy to get so swept up in the whirlwind of caps, gowns and shimmering tassels that you lose sight of what’s important…and what isn’t. For example: cap and gown? Important. Gold plated monogrammed graduation invitations? Not important. The memories of my high school graduation, and all the money I spent emblazoning “Seniors 2005” on just about every available surface were still fresh in my mind, and I wasn’t going to let it happen again. Because honestly? I can’t even find that $50 teddy bear that I just had to have, and I have no idea what happened to the army of t-shirts I bought, either. This time, I was going to graduate without sending my bank account into the negative double digits – and here’s how you can do it, too.

Make a list. Check it twice.

Figure out what you think will commemorate your day best, and make sure it’s right for you. The graduation industry makes a killing every year by convincing former-students-to-be (and their teary-eyed parents) that their day just won’t be the same without expensive accessories. Your diploma will still mean the same thing, with or without a $100 frame (I kid you not) or a gold/silver keychain with the year you graduated on it. It’s not like you’re going to forget when you graduated, right? Make a list of what you want, and from that, narrow it down to what you need.

Get creative.

My list was fairly simple – all I wanted a hot new dress, senior pictures, invitations for my grandparents and a party with all my friends. With all that in mind, it was time to figure out how to get it all without going broke in the process. I was already graduating with thousands of dollars of student loan debt (don’t get me started…), the last thing I needed was more. So it was time to put all those critical thinking and problem solving skills that I’d spent the past four years paying for to use. Did I really need to rent out a giant party space, spend $100+ on a dress, buy monogrammed invitations and hire a high end photographer, or could I find a way to do it for less?

Call in favors.

If you’re anything like me, your college journey not only took you new places and taught you new things, but introduced you to new people as well. And if your friends are anything like mine, they’ve got a whole host of different talents up their sleeves. While working at the school newspaper during my sophomore and junior years, I became friends with the staff photographer, who happened to have a budding portfolio that could always use another model. I called her up to see if she would mind comping some senior pictures for me in exchange for my fabulous modeling skills, and before the week was over, I had over a dozen fun shots that not only captured my personality and my love for certain places on campus, but didn’t cost me a dime. Another friend happened to be a burgeoning graphic designer, and whipped me up some of the cutest invitations I’ve ever seen for a fraction of what it would have cost to go anywhere else. After a former classmate tipped me off to a black friday sale at TJ Maxx, I rushed over to score my dream dress for a price that wouldn’t jeopardize my ability to eat for the rest of the week. And when it came time for the party, the combined powers of a facebook invitation, the use of my guy friends’ bachelor house and a fabulous party package from my editors at University Chic (thanks, ladies!) and a simple request to ‘BYOB’ buffered most all of the entertainment costs. You’re a graduating college student – by now, you should be used to doing things on the cheap. Scroll through your contacts and see who your networking skills have put you in contact with over the years. If yours are anything like mine, they’ll be more than happy to help you out.

Don’t stress the little stuff.

Originally, I’d wanted to walk across the stage in a pair of Iron Fist New Young Pony Club heels.  In case you haven’t been exposed to the magic of platform pumps with lightning bolts on the heels – they’re amazing. Especially for a girl who’s spent her entire life idolizing superheroes. I had to have them. Unfortunately, the shoes were only manufactured up to a size nine, and my boat feet only fit into a ten. And even though they were supposed to run a little large, it would have cost me $50 to figure out whether or not that was true – that’s a lot of money to gamble on a pair or shoes that might not fit. So I had to let it go, and borrowed a pair of pumps from my equally big-footed sister to wear instead. The lack of lightning bolts didn’t make that much of a difference – I still got my degree, still had a fabulous time and saved myself $50 in the process. Let the little things go. If you’re okay with the possibility of imperfections, it’ll be that much more of a surprise when things go your way.

Remember – you’re graduating! Be excited about that. The only necessary items required for this day are a cap, gown and a degree. Everything else is just icing on the cake – or bubbles in the champagne bottle, in my case.


Head on over to 1,000 Dreams Fund to learn how to get funding for your dreams!