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Posted by on May 13, 2018 in Gift Guides, Seasonal & Events | 2 comments

9 Gifts That Grads Can Actually Use

A well-chosen graduation gift does more than commemorate a milestone. It speaks directly to the new grad: I love you. I’m proud of you! Here’s something to help with your transition.

It’s easy to slip some money into a card – and cash is usually welcome! But cash is easily spent in the mad excitement of graduation and the first few weeks of blissful non-studies.

Instead, why not choose a gift that makes a difference three months – or 30 years – from now? Even if you’re on a tight budget it’s possible to pick a gift that won’t break the bank but will help the young person navigate the post-college world. (Hint: It will likely cost more than he ever imagined.)


Some of the following gifts are specific to situations: a newly minted B.A. who’s living with four roommates and trying to make it on a starter salary, say, or an underemployed grad bunking at home and trying to stay ahead of college loan payments.

All the gifts, however, will have an impact beyond their initial receipt. Maybe far beyond.

Boosting the Budget

1. Transportation. Pay for a transit pass or the bridge-toll sticker for a month (or six months) for a commuting worker. Or pay for a tune-up of her old clunker. Or give $200 worth of gasoline gift cards.

2. Security down payment. For a grad moving into his own digs, offer to pay the security deposit. If you’re really flush, offer to pay the first month’s rent. Huge, huge help to someone who’s shocked at how much it costs to buy professional attire and to outfit that first apartment. On that note…

3. Apartment stuff. Fill a bucket or laundry basket with lots of life-on-your-own basics, including but not limited to sponges, cleanser, dishwasher soap, tea towels, Gladware, aluminum foil, Ziploc bags, potholders, laundry detergent and dryer sheets. Tip: Keep costs reasonable by “shopping” your own stockpile and hitting the dollar store.

4. Drop-in privileges. Give the new grad a certificate inviting him over to do laundry and enjoy a home-cooked meal once or twice a month. And yes, this is a sneaky way of guaranteeing that you’ll see your godson or your granddaughter more often.

5. Freezer fillers. Print up a dozen grocery coupons for the recipient’s favorite dishes. Then make up the lasagna, curry, chili, spaghetti, meatloaf or whatever, and have the grad come pick it up once a month. (Maybe when he or she does the laundry?) You’ll get bonus “Fairy Godparent Points” if you offer to pre-package the stuff for the freezer. Specify that these are “magic” containers – when they’re brought back to you, they magically refill with delicious entrees!

Cash and Cards

6. Student loan help. If you can afford it, offer to cover one month’s payment. If money is no object, make the same offer next year – it’ll be a delightful surprise.

7. Roth IRA match. A new grad with a starter job doesn’t have a whole lot of cash to invest – and right when compound interest is on their side! Setting aside as little as $50 a month could make a huge difference later on, but it probably just sounds too daunting for them. Try this: Tell her you’ll match whatever she can afford, for as long as you are able to do so (or set a one- or two-year limit.) And if all she can afford is $10 a month? With your match that turns into $20, and with time it turns into a much more secure retirement. More to the point, you’ll be getting the grad into the habit of saving for later, and as her salary improves she can ramp up the rate. It’s impossible to understate how big a gift this really is.

8. Useful gift cards. Gasoline. Groceries. Clothing. Discount department store. Pet-food place. Automobile supply shop. Find out what the grad needs most and surprise him or her. Hint: Stretch your giving dollars by being these cards at a discount on the secondary gift-card market.

9. Fun gift cards. A new grad who’s reeling from the impact of student loan repayment might not have much money for entertainment. Treat him or her with gift cards for the movies, Starbucks, arcades and, of course, restaurants. Better yet, buy gift cards to local restaurants and package them with matching Valpak coupons. That way you’ll be teaching the recipient the very useful life skill to “Always look for coupons.”

Donna Freedman writes about smart personal finance tactics at Money Talks News and at her own website, Surviving And Thriving.



  1. Hey, Donna Freedman. There are so great tips I would like to share no my site. Please tell me if I can share! Valpak is good recourse with useful information!

  2. Great idea about the gas cards! Thanks!

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