for an article about college parties, an illustration of a yellow room with balloons and streamers on the walls, a red couch, and a table with red cups on it
Putting your limited funds into DIY supplies and reusable decorations will save money on your hosting endeavors. (Illustration by Julie Chow, University of California, Berkeley)

How To Throw Entertaining College Parties on a Budget

The amount of food and decorations that gatherings require can seem daunting to thrifty students, but hosting an affordable bash is possible when you spend your money wisely.

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for an article about college parties, an illustration of a yellow room with balloons and streamers on the walls, a red couch, and a table with red cups on it

The amount of food and decorations that gatherings require can seem daunting to thrifty students, but hosting an affordable bash is possible when you spend your money wisely.

Living on a budget is hard, but trying to use limited funds to pay for college parties is even more difficult. It can be overwhelming to stretch your money to host celebrations for dozens of your closest friends. After all, at each event, you have to produce food, decorations and games, and even the little things can add up over time. But who says that a party has to be expensive to be fun? Let’s explore how you can plan college parties without emptying your wallet.

Choose Homemade Over Store-Bought

Nothing says “I love you” like something handmade. When you’re in charge of planning a party on a budget, make all things homemade a priority. Don’t worry that DIY items will look tacky — you’d be surprised at the classy decor and delicious treats you can make yourself.

Not only do homemade items add a personal touch to a party, but they can also save you a pretty penny. From the decorations to the dessert, you can add your own special style without stressing about where to get the funds to host yet another party.

Decorations

Decorations are essential at every party — not only are they a fun addition to your house or backyard, but they also set the mood. For instance, brightly colored streamers and balloons convey a lighthearted, happy ambiance for a birthday, whereas ghosts, fake spider webs and pumpkins give your guests a spooky vibe fit for a Halloween party. There are numerous ways to stick to simple, inexpensive decor for any kind of party.

Stuck on where to start? Try painting your own signs, whether it be for a birthday party, a holiday party or just a special get-together with friends. A handmade sign not only makes for a great backdrop for pictures, but it conveys thoughtfulness and intention. Although you might have to drop some money to buy a roll of paper, some paintbrushes and a few bottles of paint, you’ll find the investment well worth it. If you don’t have the best handwriting, use stencils or ask a friend to write your message out in pencil so you can go over it with the paint.

Want to spice up your average balloons into something more exciting? Consider buying a reusable balloon arch kit, which includes a plastic strip with holes in it for the knotted ends of the balloons. If you don’t want to pay for anything beyond the balloons themselves, thread a needle with fishing line and pull it through the knots of the balloons to string them together. You don’t even have to pay for inflated balloons — Dollar Tree and other bargain stores have balloons you can blow up yourself for the arch. If you aren’t super crafty and need a visual aid, this video explains how to turn a room’s worth of balloons into a grand balloon arch that will wow your guests.

When you do pay for decorations, try to buy items you can reuse for other college parties, like streamers or objects you can decorate your house with afterward, like anything holiday-themed. If you have a cake, you can reuse the candles if you want. Other decor, like fringe wall curtains or hanging swirl decor, can be packed away in a box until it’s time for the next event.

On the flip side, don’t be afraid to use objects you already have in your house or apartment to decorate the area where the party will be held. Empty jars and glasses can be turned into vases for flowers, and books, candles and bowls can all be used as centerpieces. MoneyCrashers has an article with more ideas on how to mix and match cups and plates for both eating and decorating.

Use your favorite speaker or connect to your TV to play music that fits the party’s vibe. If you’re going for a dance-intensive environment, you could ask your friends if anyone has a party rocker speaker you can borrow. If you don’t have a curated playlist, you can find one on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Prime Music or YouTube that matches the mood. Many of these streaming services have either a free first month or a discounted rate for students.

Food

Another great way to save money is to bake a cake rather than buying one. Chances are that you already have most of the ingredients in your fridge or pantry, whether you know it or not. Betty Crocker’s simple recipe on the back of its cake mix box allows for anyone — even non-bakers — to make a cake. So mix the ingredients together in a bowl, bake the batter, slap some icing on the top and smooth it around the edges with a knife. You now have a sweet treat to offer your guests.

If you are more experienced in the kitchen, you can be more creative. Try putting the icing in a Ziploc bag and cutting the corner of the bag off to make your own piping tool that you can use to decorate the cake. You can also experiment with cake layers, homemade icing and various flavors without exceeding your spending budget. There’s an endless supply of ideas on Pinterest, so be as artistic as you want.

An additional way to cut costs is to plan your party after dinner time — that way you won’t have to feed your guests an entire meal. If you want to provide something beyond a cake, add a few snack or appetizer options. You don’t have to be fancy. A bag of potato chips or pretzels poured into a bowl will do the job. Depending on what kind of party it is and what food you want to offer your guests, you can also serve chips and salsa, fruit with dips or a veggie tray. The options are limitless — even when you’re on a limited budget.

Don’t let the idea of your practically non-existent college budget scare you away from hosting parties for your friends. There are plenty of ways to make throwing college parties affordable — from finding decorations at Dollar Tree and around the house to baking a cake instead of buying it at your local grocery store. Don’t be afraid to get creative or go a little DIY-wild.

Writer Profile

Julianna Steen

Auburn University
English Literature, minoring in History

A few of my favorite things include reading romance novels, watching action movies, baking (and consuming) anything chocolate, creating for my business, He is Simply Goodness, and going on adventures with friends and family!

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