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Graduation season: tips for managing the party calendar and gift buying

As the school year comes to a close, you may find your weekends filling up with graduation parties for family members, friends and neighbors who are moving up the ranks from anywhere between preschool through college. Here are some tips on how to handle the party schedule and what to bring as a gift for the grad. Prioritize your parties While it's important to celebrate accomplishments, it's also important to stay sane and make sure that you focus on the parties for those who are truly close to you. In other words: family comes first. If three graduation parties are scheduled for the same day and one of them is for your nephew or niece, go to that one first, then drop by one of the other two (not both) on the way home.

RSVP - your host will thank you If you can't make a party - any party - RSVP. Don't just leave the invitation on the fridge and keep your "maybe I'll stop by, but probably not" to yourself. Between phone, email, text messages and social networks, you have plenty of ways to send a quick message. Chances are, the host will totally understand if you can't come - he or she'll have the same pile of invitations as you. If you're close with the grad, send a card with a gift card, Edible Arrangement, flowers, or take the extra effort to swing by at a later date to congratulate them.

Gift ideas

...for your child When buying for your own child, you have so much to choose from since you know what he or she needs, wants and likes. Even though it may be tempting to buy something totally practical if they're heading off to college, be sure to celebrate with something fun, too. They may hide it, but they're a ball of anxiety, especially with all of the news about college debt and the job market bombarding them. Trust me - having graduated college a few years ago, I can report that I was very happy to get a new TV as a graduation and housewarming (I had just moved) gift even though I was tight on cash and could have used some new clothes instead. Here are some fun places to start for inspiration:

  • 29 unique graduation gifts by Real Simple
  • Uncommongoods.com - Be sure to wander away from the Graduation Gifts section - there's so much neat stuff on this site...like these pancake plates, perfect for the foodie in a new apartment.
  • Pinterest - Search "Graduation gifts" and you can find all sorts of neat ideas. I searched by "Boards," and there were hundreds of pins to explore.

And of course, you can always throw one of the more practical gifts in as a bonus. Check out this list, "Gifts for the frugal graduate" by Frugal Dad. These are relatively inexpensive - and great suggestions for anyone who asks "what gift can I get?" The best part about many of these gifts is that they don't take up space - which is a huge concern for high school grads.

...for family Ask other family members what they are planning. Coordinate gifts so everyone doesn't show up with "Oh, the Places You'll Go" by Dr. Seuss. Pro tip: If your family's big, you can even create a Google Doc or another sharable spreadsheet to keep track of who's getting what for whom (keep this trick handy for the holidays...).

...for a friend or neighbor A thoughtful card with a small gift can go a long way. How about a gift card to the grad's favorite restaurant, book store or coffee shop? Or, if they're driving to college, a gift card to a gas station may be the most appreciated of all. If you'd prefer not to give gift cards, try something they can use and won't have a problem packing. While decorative candles or inspirational books are on display at every card store, steer clear of them. Instead, try a fancy version of the grad's favorite snack or treat (it probably won't even make it to the suitcase!).

...for an acquaintance If you don't know the grad very well, don't feel obligated to bring a gift. Instead, bring a couple of bottles of soda, a bottle of wine (if appropriate), or a snack or dessert to share. These can be inexpensive, and help the host out - you may save them a last-minute trip to the grocery store!

How's your graduation season shaping up? Have any tips for graduation gifts for the little ones? We gave the guest point of view - but what about hosting? Any pro tips for throwing a graduation party?

How does your garden grow? (Planting the seeds for a great garden...)

Lord Stanley and his cup