Graduation on the cheap

graduation on the cheapIf you aren't completely broke by the time you finish your four-year degree, just wait. The cost of graduating can take any money you have left. According to a recent post on the University of Georgia's newspaper Web site Redandblack.com, the costs of college graduation and all the accouterments can add up to $1,996. Things like class rings, diploma framing, and alumni associations add up fast. But there is no reason you have to spend so much. Use these ideas to save some cash for your graduation celebration.

Skimp on:
You don't have to pay $150 -- $205 to frame your diploma. Cut the price in half or more by doing it yourself. Get a custom frame made especially in your school colors with mat and framing instructions for as little as $88 from Framingsuccess.com. It will look like you had it framed by a professional. Alternately, get a very inexpensive, but still attractive, diploma frame and mat from a hobby store for an average of $20.

You can get a great class ring for $425 -- $1,370 but why buy the ring on campus when there are less expensive online sources? For less than $200 at Dunham Manufacturing or Limoges Jewelry, you can get a class ring with your school's name and insignia.

Don't pay $96 -- $213 for your graduation announcements. Instead of sending cold impersonal announcements in hopes of getting gifts, why not send heartfelt letters on attractive stationary to everyone who supported you financially, or emotionally through your college years. You will be much more likely to get a little extra "support" this way.

Yearbooks, who needs a yearbook? More and more college students are foregoing the $20 -- $120 charge for them. There's no need to purchase yearbooks in the electronic age when you can actually stay in touch instead of looking at old pictures. If you want pictures of your college friends create a scrapbook on your own. Compile all of the digital and online photos you have collected during your college years through a photo site such as Kodak.com, and have them printed in a bound book.

Pay for:
One cost you can't avoid, nor will you want to: Cap and gown. These typically cost less than $50, depending on your college and whether you buy or rent.

Many students are also being hit with unexpected bills for commencement fees. For example, students at Norfold State University were surprised to find their student accounts debited for $160. Students were told the fees were for the processing of graduation applications, and to offset the costs of graduation. Many other colleges charge commencement fees too. Some include cap and gown in the price and some include announcements, but others include nothing tangible at all. Keep your eyes open for these surprise graduation fees.

Skip or postpone:
Some colleges offer the opportunity to have your name inscribed on a wall, or perhaps have a brick paver permanently engraved with their name. This can cost anywhere from $35 at UGA to $120 at St. Marks College. As nice at it would be to go back and see proof that you were there, your diploma should be proof enough.

Alumni associations are relatively cheap at about $20 year, and come with many benefits and discounts. Still, there's no reason for a struggling student or recent grad to fork over money to join. You can always join the association later, or not at all. I graduated from two colleges (with an Associate's and Bachelor of Art's degrees) and receive a letter each month from both colleges. I have never paid a dollar to any alumni associations.

Essential expenses:
If you are going to blow money on college graduation, it might as well be on the party ... or should it? You can throw a big party and keep your money in your pocket too by renting a large venue, arranging for food, beverages, and even entertainment, then charging a reasonable admission fee at the door. Be sure to check rules and regulations, to make sure your party is legal.

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