What to expect for graduation costs and how to save money!

Graduation is ahead and it’s not cheap for parents and students. It helps to have a guideline of what expenses to expect, so you and your teen can decide if they’re worth it or not and how to prepare and budget for them.

Graduation Photographs

We paid $40 for a photographer and I developed at Sam's Club for $20 + $17 for Graduation announcements
Graduation Photo

Let’s start with Senior pictures. These are taken the summer before your student becomes a senior. The school contracts with a local photographer that will provide them with all the senior pictures for the yearbook. You may choose to use these if you so desire. The benefit is that they are convenient as you have to take your student in for yearbook pictures anyways and they are professionals who usually do a very nice job. If you can afford it you will probably be looking at $250 upwards for photos through the schools provided studio.

An alternative is to post on Facebook to see if any photography students are needing practice or local photographers that work out of their home or on location will run specials often as low as $50  an onsight session. Make sure with this you are purchasing the rights to the photos in which they will hand you a digital copy of your photos when they are done editing them. With these, you will have to convince your student to dress up again and go out for more photos. After you will need to upload your photos to a photo developing places such as Walmart, Sam’s Club, Costco or your local photo department.

I have had three children graduate and have never spent more than $80 on photos and invites combined compared to the $250 in the studio plus additional costs for graduation invites.

Besides the usual high school yearbook photos, there will be a professional photographer on site to take graduation photographs too. There may be some proof photos that are free, but there will be additional expenses in purchasing the full set. I believe in situations like this to have natural photos. I enjoy taking them with my phone and asking friends or other family members to take some that I would like to be in.

Be prepared there may be many people in the family who want copies of the grad photos, including your children, parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, and also friends. There may also be a video record of the ceremony that you can purchase from the official photographer.

Hint: Nowadays our phone cameras are can take high-quality photos. To save by not hiring a photographer just take your child to a destination and have fun shooting some pictures to use for their graduation invitations. This invite I did with my phone and uploaded it to Sams Club to order our invites. I don’t think it turned out to bad.

Graduation Announcement I did at Sam’s Club for $17 for 50 invites

Graduation ceremony invitations or announcements can be expensive and boring if you order them through the school, but you have choices. You can choose to pick your own invitations from a store such as Walmart, Sam’s Club or Costco rather than opting for the expensive ones from the school.

Graduation Day Expenses

Your son or daughter will need to pay the rental fee for the graduation cap and gown. This fee covers cleaning costs so you won’t have to worry about that. There may be fees if they choose to keep the cap. Some schools there is no rental and only an option to buy. Here is where I was so frustrated. It was going to be $95 for cap, gown, and tassel. I decided to ask around to seniors of prior years to borrow a cap and gown. I found a gown to borrow so I was going to order the cap and tassel that was going to be $85. Then I found a cap to borrow and the tassel was going to be $75. Plus they were going to charge a $25 venue fee and the yearbook was $95. I was horrified that no matter what I did I was going to be looking at $100. I finally ordered the yearbook and said I would pay the venue fee later and I ordered the tassel from another company for $14. It may not be an exact match but who is really going to pay attention? If someone says something then they have way to much time on their hands. 🙂

We are super simple and I just can’t justify the expense so we do not do these but you may like to get your student

  • Class ring, shirt or other odds and ends
  • Boutonnieres and floral bouquets (if I were to do this I would just order from our local grocer.
  • After the ceremony, the entire family may wish to head out for a special dinner or celebration.
  • Graduation gifts  to take to graduation
  • Graduation Party


Grad Trips & Travel


After graduation, your son or daughter may choose to go on their first trip alone, or with friends (no parents allowed). Whether they’ve earned the cash for a big trip from their weekend job, or the parents have provided funds as a graduation gift, travel is more expensive than you think. Not only must you consider airfare, but hotel costs, meals, admission fees to events and attractions, and also medical insurance.

Decide whether you will do something as a family, or if your student is going with friends will you be helping pay. Set up a budget to help you plan for your child’s graduation expenses. It’s going to be an expensive month ahead, but it will be worth it to have the memories for a lifetime.


Our total cost for graduation

Senior Pictures: I hired a photographer $50

Uploaded photos and ordered invites through Sams Club $17 for 25

Year Book: $85 plus they wanted $6.99 for a yearbook protection plan. What the heck is that? I did not even research what that was. I refuse to get it. I ordered a yearbook for $85. All I can say is I better get one at that cost, whether I buy protection for it or not. 🙂

Tassel: I found for $16.21

Dinner the night of graduation: Family of 4 at Chic-Fil-A (we got off lucky he likes cheap) $27

Graduation Party: $75 we went to a neighbors swimming pool and had hotdogs, chips, sodas, fruit tray, vegie tray, brownies, and ice cream

About The Author

Karie Babbitt

Karie Babbitt is a Lifestyle and Family Travel Writer. Mother of three boys and one girl. She has raised a family of six on a single income for over twenty-five years. She will share how she budgets so she can travel to show her kids all fifty states before they leave her home. Her parenting fails and successes, budgeting tips, food and living life in bliss.

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