Happy Graduation! Here’s a Toilet Brush

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Know a college senior who’s moving into his own place post-diploma? Want to give a gift even though you’re on a budget? Forget the $20 bill or the iTunes card. Instead, buy some dish towels, a laundry basket, or a johnny mop.

Your preparing-to-launch student may have saved up the first and last month’s security on an apartment. But does he have a can opener?

People who’ve never lived on their own might not think about the necessities of daily living – that is, until they need to do laundry, clean the bathroom, or take a frozen pizza out of the oven. (Potholders? Who thinks about those?)

Best-case scenario: You go in with some other friends or family members, each one providing one or two (or more) items. This can be done as a series of frugal hacks. Here’s how.

Hit the discount shops

Stores like Target, Rite Aid, and Walgreens frequently put basics like salt, baking soda (as good as Ajax), spices, dish soap, sponges, and rubber gloves on sale as cheaply as two for $1. Watch for specials: When I moved into my apartment in 2005, I got a toilet brush free after rebate from Walgreens. Still using it.

Dollar stores have their critics, and sometimes the disdain is justified. (Tainted toothpaste, anyone?) But really: How much do you want to pay for a mop bucket? Dollar emporia can yield brooms, scrub brushes, dish towels, shelf liners, and tons of kitchen tools.

Of course, I’ve also found such items at yard sales. The first place to start is the “free” box, if there is one. Among the gratis goodies I’ve obtained: a small saucepan, Tupperware, a spoon rest, an apron, spatulas, utensils, and my beloved cast-iron frying pan.

Rummage sales and thrift stores are good places to shop too. I bought silverware (a couple dozen pieces for 50 cents) and cloth napkins (six for a quarter) at a church sale, and paid 35 cents for a toothbrush holder at a charity thrift shop.

Hot coffee and laundry money

I think a slow cooker is a terrific thing to have. And Target and Walgreens, among others, put small appliances on sale fairly regularly. Unless your young grad is a java snob – and can he really afford to be, with student loans looming? – then a $6.99 coffeemaker will work just fine.

A toaster oven beats a toaster because you can use it to roast or broil a couple of chops or a chicken breast. Since counter space is usually tight in starter apartments, pass on the electric can opener in favor of a good-quality manual variety.

Other possibilities:

  • Aluminum foil, plastic wrap, plastic bags. (Reusable containers save money over the long haul, though.)
  • Paper towels, toilet paper.
  • A flashlight and some batteries, preferably rechargeable.
  • Ibuprofen or acetaminophen, some bandages, antiseptic ointment. Watch for rebates.
  • If you’re really flush, a roll of quarters for laundry. If not: a piggy bank (or jar) with a few bucks’ worth of seed money.
  • Basic foodstuffs like canned tomatoes, spaghetti, rice, baking mix, pasta sauce, canned or dried fruit, crackers, beans, tuna, soups, and peanut butter.

Presentation is all

If you’re going in with a group of people, place the items into a big laundry basket. You could put cleaning supplies in a bucket, group kitchen items inside a large pot, or fill a reusable shopping bag with pantry staples.

Oh, and before you go shopping? Check your own cupboards. You might be able to put together an apartment starter kit from things you already have. Sunk cost rules, baby.

Don’t worry about not spending “enough.” Nobody will know what it cost unless you choose to tell them – and why would you?

Getting the best deal can mean that you’re able to give more than you thought. If you’re on a super-tight budget, it could mean being able to give anything at all.

Here’s a tip, though: Don’t give ramen. Really. That’s just cruel.

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