+ Gift Guide

Gift Guide: Graduation Gifts 2012

From Left, Kindle Fire ($199), Keurig Mini Coffee Maker ($125), Lodis Laptop Bag ($318), Kors Ritz Chronograph ($225)

Graduation: n. The act of kicking the baby birds out of the nest and watching them fall to the ground hoping that they’ll fly.  See also: Welcome to reality, bitches.

While that might sound harsh, at least graduation affords the opportunity to collect some premium swag.  After all, even death row inmates get a last meal.

Sorry.  I’m being mean. The workforce is great, way better than school, you’ll love it.  I’ll stop twirling my mustache now.

All joking aside, here are the top eight gifts to buy for a new graduate:

1) A Tablet or E-Reader is on a lot of wish lists this graduation season.  If you decide to go for a more expensive model (iPad, Galaxy Tab, etc.), I would suggest buying it at a store which offers a buy back program so that in two or three years, the grad can exchange it for credit towards a newer model.  Best Buy and Apple both offer such programs.

2) Pricey housewares like a K-cup coffee maker, a television, pots and pans or a set of dishes also make good gifts.  Your grad will likely be setting up house in an apartment and upgrading their bedding, linens and kitchen appliances is always a huge expense. 

3) Airline Tickets or Frequent Flier Miles.  When my friend R graduated from college, his parents gifted him 100,000 frequent flier miles.  They combine mileage they already had, paid the transfer fee, and gave him the opportunity to take several trips over the course of a year.  Especially if your graduate is planning to move away from home, this would be a nice gift. 

4) A good quality laptop bag is a necessity in many professions.  But even if your grad doesn’t need to haul a laptop, a simple, gorgeous bag like this one from Lodis will make a great work and travel bag. 

5) Watches are a good gift because, if you buy a nicer one, the graduate can keep the watch forever.  So even if it falls out of fashion or the grad doesn’t wear it every day, they’ll always have the memento.  It’s also a nice gesture to engrave a short message on the back.

6) Every graduate need a nice business suit, and by nice, I mean not made of poly-blend.  In my opinion, J.Crew makes the nicest introductory level, well-made suit on the market.  If you buy their highest end, full-priced women’s suit in year-round wool, you’re looking at $375 for the blazer and $195 for the trouser.  But there are less expensive options.

My favorite suit is the 120s, which costs a bit less ($230 for the blazer and $120 for the skirt).  And if you can hit the sale rack the prices on the suits can go much lower.  I recommend buying navy or black for a first suit. 

7) Gift cards are perhaps the greatest give for a new graduate after cash.  This is because while cash is great, it will likely be spent on essentials like food and shelter and alcohol.  A gift card will at least be spent on something tangible.  Clothes for work, furnishings for the home, etc. 

If you want something utilitarian, most grocery stores have gift cards.  An ex-boyfriend received $250 in groceries for his graduation.  I thought it was a bad gift, until he got sick and needed $180 in prescriptions.  This was far more than he or I had in our checking accounts at the time.  Luckily, grocery stores also have pharmacies. 

8) An I.O.U. sounds like a cop out, but in this case, it’s not.  One of my great uncles sent me a card for my graduation and wrote his email address inside.  He told me to wait a couple of months until I had a better sense of what I needed, and then let him know.  Almost a year later, I moved to D.C. and really needed better shoes, so I requested a Nordstrom gift card. A college roommate received the same gift from her grandmother and used it five months later to pay for a U-Haul to move from our college town to a nearby city where she’d found work.

So what are you giving your grad this year?  Or what was the best graduation gift you received?

For me it was without a doubt 800 thread count sheets.  That is the gift that keeps on giving. 



  1. Meredith says:

    The best graduation gift that I received was a large tote bag from Restoration Hardware. It is like a duck cloth tote. Extremely durable. It has lasted for 5 years, and looks like new. I have used it for travel, I have used it as a beach bag, I have used it as a bag to carry things to and from work. It was the most practical gift I have received, and would probably not have bought on my own.

    May 2, 2012/Reply
  2. HL says:

    My parents found a beautiful art photograph about memories and reflection that encapsulated a lot about the moment, but also me and my journey through college (science major to art history buff), and had it framed for me. It's in my apt to this day, and made me feel like a grownup compared to my old college-style Ikea “art” and posters. My dad also gave me a pearl “interview necklace” that I still wear to every major career occasion (interviews, first day of work, presentations, etc). And my best friend gave me a $4.99 “kick-ass” necklace (a little cowboy boot on a chain) that I wear to every single grad school exam. It's my lucky charm.

    May 2, 2012/Reply
  3. MKal says:

    A family friend gave me a high-end printer/scanner. As a teacher it has made my life a thousand times better!

    May 2, 2012/Reply
  4. Amanda says:

    I'll be graduating in a few weeks and I would LOVE to receive frequent flier miles. Even if you aren't moving far away from home this would be a great way to get to take a fun trip or two before you have enough money saved up to pay for vacations yourself!

    May 2, 2012/Reply
  5. Rakhi says:

    I have received my graduation gift as wrist watch in 1999, till now I hav..

    May 3, 2012/Reply
  6. D says:

    my graduation gift from my parents was an IOU for a new bedframe/mattress when i eventually got my own place. i'm moving in this week and let me tell you, i would have had to put it off for even longer had i not been able to cash in on that IOU – mattresses are expensive!

    the majority of the rest of my graduation presents were just money – which was also incredibly useful, as i was studying for the bar exam and wasn't working at all.

    May 3, 2012/Reply
  7. L says:

    I definitely think the grocery gift card is a great idea! Giving a grocery gift card with some fancy snacks that a poor grad would never buy for himself/herself would be even better. I made a pittance while interning and working part-time after graduation, and even things like the $0.30 difference between regular and store brands would stress me out. Foods I really enjoyed were out of the question.

    May 3, 2012/Reply
  8. tulch says:

    You mention gift cards and IOUs… May I suggest something along the same lines? I volunteer for an organization called Community Ladders that helps people get affordable financial advice, and we see a LOT of younger people make bad money choices soon after graduation, which then follow them for years to come. The problem is that most people don't think they need help until it's too late…

    Perhaps a parent can help their new graduate by paying for financial advice for the first six months to a year. A year-long membership will cost them anywhere from $180-300, depending on the new grad's salary, and will make an enormous difference for the grad's financial future. If anyone's interested, here's our site: https://communityladders.com/

    And even if that gift's not appealing, here are some personal finance tips we recommend all parents share with their new grads:
    1. Make sure you get a free copy of your credit report at annualcreditreport.com. Fix any errors on your report and contest negatives, as employers, lenders, and some apartment rental places will check your credit scores.
    2. Make a budget BEFORE you get your first salary. We find that psychologically, it’s easier to portion out money before than after you have money in the bank account.
    3. Find out when you have to start repaying your student loans and realize there are MULTIPLE options, not just the default your lender gives you.
    4. Your rent shouldn’t be more than a third of your take-home pay–choose a new place wisely, especially in DC.
    5. Get a Roth IRA NOW, it’s the most awesome thing you can do for retirement, and remember that an employer match starts your “retirement fire” 🙂
    6. And, remember, salary can be NEGOTIATED, so be savvy about your first job offer.

    May 3, 2012/Reply
  9. CynthiaW says:

    Best gift I gave – we gave my nephew a laptop for college. We told him that's what he was getting and then worked with him and the school to see what he needed and customized from there. He's going to go to med school, some I'm guessing we'll get him a doctor bag or good briefcase when he graduates from there.

    Best thing that my sister got – my dad paid off her credit card (she wanted an iPod).

    Best thing that I got – luggage.

    May 3, 2012/Reply
  10. Kate says:

    My parents gave me an IOU for my undergrad gift because I couldn't think of anything just then. Four years later, I was starting grad school and my laptop had died, so they replaced it for me. It was perfect!

    May 4, 2012/Reply
  11. Em says:

    I'm graduating college and about to start a summer internship in DC. I know there's no point in asking for housewares, furniture, etc because I have no set plans for my future, much less for the things I need along the way.

    I can appreciate the advice from tulch written above, I have less than a hundred to my name, and I'm supposed to make it HOW LONG until my first paycheck? Maybe some financial counseling would be a good idea. Once I had money to be worried about…So cash is always a good idea. It's the “jump start on life” that tides college grads over until that first pay stub.

    Other than that, there are a couple of things that I'm excited to receive from family/friends:
    -The classic, wear-until-it's-full-of-holes Alumni sweatshirt from my college.
    -A portable hammock. I'm pumped. It's not a gift for everyone, but I have to say I've yet to meet someone who didn't want one after trying it out. My ex lent me his for a couple semesters and when things turned sour for us, I think I miss the hammock more than I miss him! So I'm asking for my own for graduation. I'll stow it in my trunk and it will be around no matter where life takes me!
    -One of my siblings has offered to pay for my first month's rent. I appreciate that to no end because I won't be worried right off the bat when I get to DC about how to get a roof over my head!

    Just a few ideas. 🙂

    May 6, 2012/Reply