There are plenty of gifts you can give to new grads to celebrate their achievement -- but giving gifts that are truly useful and appreciated is an art. Here are nine gifts that are great for new graduates -- and two classics that should be avoided.
Gifts Grads Will Love
1. Cash. Yes, cash can seem impersonal. But of all the times in life when you can give cash, this is one of the best. Whether they're heading to college or the working world, grads are stepping into a new era of independence, and having cash can be a huge help. Grads can use the money to buy furniture, save for a car or whatever else they feel like they need to start the next chapter of their lives.
2. A shopping trip. If you don't want to just give cash, give a shopping trip instead. Tell the new grad that you're giving her a certain dollar amount to spend at a certain store, and then go with her to pick out the items. Not only does the grad in your life get things she wants and needs, but you get to have a fun shopping experience together. Some ideas for places to do this include a bed and bath store or a store where your grad could buy a professional interview outfit.
3. Gift cards -- for things they have to buy. When you first live on your own, it's no fun to use your own money to buy necessities (well, it's not really fun at any age). So if you do go the gift card route, get cards for things grads will need to buy, like groceries or gas. When they get their first few paychecks (whether from a "real" job or a work-study position at college), they'll appreciate being able to splurge on a dinner with friends because gas money was taken care of.
4. Experience gifts. Research shows that life experiences make us happier than material items. Travel is always great for grads, and even if you can't give a full trip, you can contribute. Websites like shareagift.com make it easy for people to share the cost of one large gift. Or think of trips and other experiences that are cheaper and closer to home -- everything from skydiving to a day at the beach to dinner at a special restaurant could be a fun experience.
5. Student loan contributions. If you're thinking of a gift for a college grad, a payment that goes toward his student loans can be a great choice -- many new grads are daunted by the thought of finding work in a difficult job market and paying down sizeable loans. Your payment helps take the pressure off, and every little bit helps!
6. A bike. It doesn't quite have the same sparkle as a car -- but then again, it doesn't have the price tag either. If your grad is off to college, a bike can be a great way to get to class and around town without the hassle or cost of a car.
7. Noise-canceling headphones. This is another one that works for any grad, but will be especially appreciated by a grad going off to college. Noise-canceling headphones are a great way to drown out roommates and (hopefully) get some work done.
8. Good luggage. Grads might not see the magic in a good set of luggage right away, but as it lasts them through countless trips (and they realize how much luggage costs), they'll appreciate this gift more and more.
9. A monthly subscription service. Everyone loves getting things in the mail -- so buy your grad a subscription to something he or she loves. It could be a monthly beauty sample kit like Birchbox, the Bowtie of the Month Club for stylish guys or even just a magazine subscription.
... And a Couple Gifts to Be Wary Of
1. Advice books. There are a lot of great books out there that might be helpful for new grads. But unless you know the graduate well, giving a book of unsolicited advice could be considered unwelcome rather than a helpful gesture.
2. Jewelry and watches. Again, unless you feel like you really know the grad well, stay away. Nice jewelry is a lovely gesture, but it won't ever be worn if you don't have a good sense of your graduate's personal style.
Meg Favreau is the senior editor for the personal finance blog Wise Bread, which covers rewards credit card mistakes and other personal finance tips.
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