Graduation season is upon us, and with it, the expectation of gifts for every graduate that sends you an announcement or BBQ invite. According to a National Retail Survey, Americans will on average spend nearly $100 this month on grad gifts – which is super generous, but maybe not the wisest move, especially for those of us dealing with debt (potentially from our own school!).
We’re firm believers that giving out of obligation is the worst kind of giving, and while money can be super helpful, it’s rarely the most meaningful gift. Not to mention, giving money you don’t really have is not sending the right message to a new graduate. Remember you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you can help those around you? The same goes with financial assistance.
We’ve collected some alternatives to graduation checks that will still communicate “congrats!” without leaving you regretting it. Besides, anyone can sign a check, but not everyone takes the time and thought to really share something meaningful. Let us help you.
1. Personal finance book. College students are notorious for over-spending. The earlier you get them thinking about managing their money, the less likely they’ll find themselves in that kind of trouble. So why not give the grad in your life gifts that keeps on giving (a lot more than you can write a check for): the gift of financial know-how? We highly recommend books by Michael Lewis, Dave Ramsey, Charles Wheelan, and Stacy Johnson. Buy them used on Amazon or at your favorite second-hand bookstore.
2. Hanging inspiration. Take a quote like Dr. Seuss’s “Today is your day. You’re off to great places! You’re off and away!” print it on a 8×10 (or as big as you’d like) as dorm room decor. They’ll think of you and your thoughtfulness everyday!
3. Graduation t-shirt quilt. Got a bit of time on your hands? Collect the graduate’s old t-shirts from sport teams, events, volunteer activities, etc. and create a super-cute memory quilt they’ll be able to take with them wherever they go next.
4. Resume help. College grads are going to need all the help they can get to land a job, so why not offer your free expertise? If you’re a good writer or just have a lot of business experience, offer to write the grad’s resume for free. Bonus points if you print copies too.
5. Help with the move. How about a “Good for one move” homemade coupon? It may not seem like a gift, but the grad in your life will appreciate your offer when he’s lugging heavy boxes up three flights of stairs to his new apartment.
6. “I need…” gift certificates. Give a series of “I need…” gift certificates that are redeemable upon demand and especially meaningful to someone starting college or life post school. Some ideas are I need cookies, I need $5, I need a hug, I need advice, I need to borrow a car, etc.
7. Book of your best advice. A homemade book of practical life advice is a great personal gift to give to a grad. If you love to write, come up with your own ideas. And if you don’t, borrow some from great thinkers you respect. You can make the book with word processing software or write it by hand for a more personal touch.
8. A memory scrapbook. Whether digital or paper, a memory scrapbook is something your graduate will carry with him or her forever—like a very personal yearbook that spans decades instead of months. Some ideas: class photos, memorabilia (sports ribbons, concert tickets, etc.), journal-style with handwritten notes, printed Instagram photos, etc.
9. Toolkit basket: Every new grad needs to know how to hang art, unclog toilets, measure spaces, and other common household “fix it” tasks. Shop around for deals on single tools or starter toolkits, then add in some nails, screws, gloves, and a measuring tape, and you’ll be good to go.