Gifts to celebrate a landmark like high school or college graduation present a dilemma. You want to give something extra-special but how much to spend? It depends on your budget and your graduate. Spending $50 is plenty for most graduation gifts — and we’ve got you covered with lots of options here. For your child or grandchild or someone extra-special, you might spring for more, and so we’ve also included some splurges, including gift ideas for kids going off to college and others for college grads starting out on their own. But there is good news for all budgets: The price for some of these awesome gifts is, well, free!
1. Netflix subscription
With a basic streaming plan at $8 a month, you can give your grad a half-year of Netflix for $36 or an entire year of entertainment for $72.
2. Event tickets
Few grads can afford to splurge on tickets for theater, sports or symphony performances, making them an especially welcome gift. The cost of sports-event tickets, for example, will vary a good deal from town to town but $50 buys a pair of game tickets in most places. If tickets for a first-tier concert would set you back too much, consider tickets for performances at a nearby college, university or community orchestra or theater.
3. Kindle Unlimited
For $10 a month, your grad can choose an unlimited number of e-books from a million titles with a Kindle Unlimited subscription. Many of these books can be heard as professionally narrated Audible audiobooks. Also, fear not that you’ll give the wrong type of e-book subscription: Books downloaded from KindleUnlimited can be used on any device.
For $15 a month, you can buy a grad access to one recorded book per month at Audible.com. It’s a treat many grads will adore as they can choose from best-sellers and classics, nonfiction and fiction titles.
5. Amazon Prime
At $99 a year, an Amazon Prime subscription provides two-day shipping of eligible purchases and free streaming of designated movies, TV and music. Or, choose a subscription to Prime videos only for $10 per month.
6. Wired magazine
Wired magazine, a popular monthly available in print and electronic editions, focuses on the intersection of new technologies and culture, politics and the economy. Cost: $20.
7. Gift-box treats
Give regular deliveries of craft kits, coffee, gourmet foods, dog toys and treats, beauty products, craft beer and more. Or send a one-time treat. For example: A gift box of 24 traditional French macarons (you select the flavors) costs $49 plus delivery charges at Lette Macarons.
8. Money balloons
Cost: It’s up to you!
Roll up bills, work them into uninflated clear balloons, inflate them with helium and present them in a balloon bouquet. Sugar and Charm recommends using clear, 16-inch balloons for best results:
[H]ave them done at an actual balloon shop, which is what I did for our niece. … I would suggest only putting about 5-6 rolled-up bills in each 16-inch balloon with a handful of confetti.
Tip: Give the money balloons immediately so they’ll stay airborne; the cash adds weight, pulling them down as they lose air.
9. Kitchen supplies
Shop Target, Goodwill or Ikea for the essential implements and equipment for setting up a kitchen. Add a few treats from the grocery store for variety. I spent $100 on an enormous load of pots, pans, dishes, glassware, dish towels and kitchen implements from Ikea recently for a well-received holiday gift. Bundle up your gifts in a dish towel and present the gift in a useful container, like a pot, bowl or basket.
10. Household essentials
In this Money Talks News’ piece, “Happy Graduation! Here’s a Toilet Brush,” Donna Freedman describes scouring dollar stores, discount stores and yard sales to put together kits of life’s essentials — brooms, scrub brushes, dish towels and shelf liners are a few examples. She says:
If you’re going in with a group of people, place the items in 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.
Find or buy a tool box and stock it. Lifehacker has a list of supplies for a basic toolbox and an enhanced toolbox. If you want something ready-made, Home Depot offers many variations of homeowners tool sets ranging in price from about $20 to $60. Or go basic: If you take a tip from Clint Eastwood in the 2008 movie “Gran Torino,” all you really need to tackle most household jobs is a can of WD-40, vice grips and a roll of duct tape.
12. DIY food kits
Food & Wine magazine lists 10 specialty food kits for homemade treats including hot sauce, cocktail bitters, gin, hard cider, ale, kimchi and jerk chicken with coconut spice. But you don’t need to buy kits. Assemble your own ingredients and include a recipe for something you know your grad loves — muffins, cookies, banana bread, toffee or peanut brittle, for example.
13. Container vegetable garden
A number of companies sell reasonably priced vegetable garden kits. I’ve used EarthBox ($33 for the basic kit) with success. The kit includes a 2-cubic-foot, lightweight plastic container, low-tech watering system and instructions. You provide peat-based growing media, plant starts and water. Or, make your own kit for practically nothing. All kinds of containers, including recycled tires and old toy wagons can be adapted to grow vegetables.
14. Organizational tools
In “10 Cheap or Free Graduation Gifts,” Angela Colley writes:
[I]f your grad is headed to a dorm (or out of one), simple, cheap organizational products can make their new life a lot easier. For example, last year I bought a friend’s kid two large shoe organizers, an over-the-door purse rack and a shower caddie to take to the dorm. I spent less than $50, and she used everything.
You can find decent sound on a low budget by reading reviews. A good pair of headphones makes a perfect gift for a young graduate. CNET recommends the Skullcandy Grind, at $25 to $32, or splurge on the Grind Wireless, which can be found for about $62. Check out the wide array of types and prices on this Best Buy page.
16. Portable speakers
CNET’s graduation gift guide has several recommendations for inexpensive portable speakers. One is the water-resistant, colorful little JBL Clip 2, found for around $53.
17. Mobile power bank
Grads are moving fast, making mobile chargers a welcome, inexpensive gift. I use and give the MyCharge Amp Mini 2000 mAh Portable USB Charger (around $20).
18. Google Chromecast
Insert this thumb-sized stick into an HDMI port on a TV to “cast” your streaming subscriptions services like Hulu, Netflix, HBO Go and Pandora from your Android phone, iPhone, tablet, iPad or laptop to the television, mirroring on the TV what’s on your small screen ($35).
19. Transit pass
Get them where they’re going with a yearly or monthly transit pass. Prices vary by city and transit system.
20. Refurbished bicycle
You can pick up a nice refurbished bike for around $50 to $100. Search online for “programs to refurbish old bicycles” to find a bike recycling program near you where might find spiffed up bikes for sale.
21. Frequent-flyer miles
Travel is a much-coveted graduation present. Give your grad miles from your frequent flyer account — enough for a ticket to their favorite destination, or simply enough to help fatten the recipient’s account. See your program’s website for rules on transferring miles.
22. Roadside-assistance insurance
Roadside and towing insurance is another of those benefits that students are likely to skip because of expense. But it makes a nice gift that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. Be sure to check first to find out if your grad already is covered through auto insurance.
TopTenReviews recently compared roadside assistance plans. Good Sam, at $80 a year, got the top nod. In second place was AAA, costing $66 a year for the basic plan and $100 for a plan that includes towing.
23. Make a payment
Help your grad cover a car payment or a month’s worth of auto insurance fees or cover a month’s payment for their student loans.
24. Gas money
It’s so nice to whip out a gift card at the pump. Add the amount you feel comfortable with to a gas gift card and package it in a card or clever wrapping.
25. Personal finance books
Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson’s timeless book “Life or Debt 2010: A New Path to Financial Freedom” ($13.54 at Amazon) helps readers get started on a lifetime of smart, stable finances with chapters on how to save, invest, budget and avoid debt. “The Little Book of Common Sense Investing: The Only Way to Guarantee Your Fair Share of Stock Market Returns” ($17.38 at Barnes & Noble), by John Bogle, is regarded by many as a bible for getting started investing.
26. Budgeting help
One of the best parts of a gift of financial education is the invisible part: Many years of sound sleep with no tossing and turning over money worries. Budgeting is essential to that peace of mind. Here are two recommended budget tools:
- YouNeedaBudget ($50 a year or $5 a month). This budgeting program gets top marks from reviewers. “The best tool out there for assembling a budget and helping you to stick with it,” says U.S. News & World Report.
- Or, give your grad a session of help to become acquainted with a free online service from Money Talks News partner PowerWallet.
27. A classic cookbook
A cookbook? You bet. As U.S. News & World Report says, learning to cook at home is “one of the smartest money skills a person can master.” In “How to Cook Everything--The Basics” (about $20 on Amazon), food writer Mark Bittman explains cooking in an easy-going style with less emphasis on recipes and more on simple how-to. There are many other cooking classics, from Julia Child to Martha Stewart. GoodReads has lists of best cookbooks by type (Italian, Asian, chocolate, soup, and on and on).
28. Electric teakettle
An electric teakettle is the fastest, most convenient way to boil water. No home should be without one. The Sweethome product reviews site calls the Cuisinart CPK-17 PerfecTemp 1.7-Liter Stainless Steel Cordless Electric Kettle ($80-$100) the best of the best.
29. Handheld vacuum
“Solid suction and helpful attachments — including a 4-foot flexible hose to reach spots other handhelds can’t— make this longtime pick the strongest cleaner and the best value in its class.”
Your grad will get a lot of mileage from this useful gift. Price: around $85.
30. Gym bag
The Sweethome product reviewers checked out 100 gym bags and tested 22 of them. Their conclusion:
[W]e think that the Everest Gym Bag is the best bag for anyone who wants to bring fresh clothes to the gym and take sweaty clothes home again without your gear resembling a fragrant swamp.
The bag is roomy and well-organized, with dry pockets and a wet pocket, mesh accessories compartments and a water-bottle holder. Best of all, the price is under $24.
31. Microwave popcorn cooker
No dorm room should be without one, and Uncommon Goods has one for $15.
32. Moving assistance
Lend a hand and a strong back (or savvy organizational skills) to help your grad move out of the dorm and into the real world. This gift is especially welcome if you’ve got a truck and can help load and unload it. If not, offer to bring boxes and help with packing and unpacking.
33. Cold brew coffee maker
Cold brew coffee is the thing right now, especially with 20-somethings. The Sweethome tested nine cold brew coffeemakers before recommending the Filtron Cold Water Coffee Concentrate Brewer (under $50), writing:
… in our tests it made cold coffee with balanced acidity, a stronger aroma, and a cleaner finish. Another plus: The Filtron’s cost per cup was the cheapest of all the methods we tested.
The Sweethome also recommends OXO Good Grips Cold Brew Coffee Maker (around $50).
34. Financial lessons
If you are known for your financial acumen, your guidance can be golden to a new grad. Offer to help your graduate set up a budget, balance accounts, apply for a loan or get started investing. Throw in a budgeting program or finance book (see above) if you wish.
35. Baking or cooking
Buy a cookie jar and stuff it full of homemade cookies. Or make a gift certificate good for several dozen cookies or a couple dozen muffins, deliverable upon request. You can also make and freeze soups, stews or casseroles to stock the graduate’s freezer.
36. Resume assistance
Brainstorm, type, write, edit or rewrite to help get your graduate’s resume ready for prime time.
37. Programmable pressure cooker
People have fallen in love with their Instant Pots.
They may like their blenders, cherish their slow cookers and need their food processors.
But the Instant Pot — a device that combines an electric pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker and yogurt maker in one handy unit — sends even mild-mannered cooks into fits of passion.
Unlike scary stove-top pressure cookers, a programmable stand-alone cooker will shut itself off if the pressure builds too high. They are recommended particularly for roasts and stews. Cooking a pork shoulder took 90 minutes. Lamb shanks cooked in 30 minutes, spareribs in 20 minutes. If your grad is a foodie or loves comfort food, this is the gift. (About $100.)
What’s your go-to graduation gift? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.