Seven Graduation Presents That Won’t Clobber the College Fund

Seven Graduation Presents That Won't Clobber the College Fund

As my 17-year-old son approaches his high school graduation, all sorts of expenses are aiming for my wallet. But I’m deflecting one commonly overlooked graduation expense: Gifts for the half dozen or so graduates who will invite us to their open houses. Cash is the standard graduation gift these days, but face it, cash is crass. And it’s expensive! So instead of a card filled with cash, consider one of these seven alternatives if you’re faced with a slew of graduation open houses:

1. A framed copy of the graduation announcement

I’m guessing that all of my son’s classmates are buying the standard-issue graduation announcement, which is approximately 4 x 6 inches. I’ll buy some decent mattes and frames for that size item, carefully lay in each kid’s announcement, add a line of calligraphy at the bottom congratulating the student, and voila! I have perfectly acceptable gift to give.

And, unlike a $50 gift card, the graduate will keep this gift and probably display it on his nightstand in college (at least until he moves and it gets shoved into some cardboard box).

2. A school memory book

Many photo developers, such as Shutterfly and Walgreens, offer remarkably inexpensive photo books. If you know the graduating senior well, dig out a handful of photos of him or her, add a bunch of generic ones from the school, and create one of these books. A guaranteed winner. If you don’t know the kid all that well, still make the book but focus on the generic photos from the school, together with any that you can find of your child together with the graduate.

Yes, official school yearbooks are basically fancy photo books, but nothing beats a semi-custom book — and you don’t need to limit yourself to one year when making your own books.

3. A cool t-shirt

Our town, and probably your town, has a custom apparel shop (if you can’t find one, go to any independent sporting goods store that makes uniforms for local teams — or buy a custom t-shirt online). These places are clever, and can make a cool t-shirt out of about any image or collection of images.

Bring in a favorite photo, your school logo, a favorite saying, an image of your school mascot, whatever, and they can put it on a shirt. This is one of those gifts the graduate will not be getting from anyone else. And since multiple copies of the same shirt cost much less than the first, make a batch of them to cover all the grads on your list.

4. An engraved mug

A mug is an exceedingly useful item for someone starting out on her own. She can drink out of it, store pens or change it, use it to keep a window open, or make it into a candle holder. And if the mug says “Smithville High School Class of 2012… The best ever!” or something like that, it’s a seriously cool gift.

If you have a set of these made, either online or from some bricks-and-mortar business, you’ll have enough gifts to go around without spending mugful of moolah.

5. A box of stationery and stamps

OK, this one will label you old-fashioned, but… If you don’t mind that, this is a gift that will be appreciated long after most graduation gifts are consumed. Who writes letters anymore? Kids who need to thank all the people who gave them graduation gifts, that’s who. And kids with grandparents who remember when mail was the primary way to communicate. And kids who will eventually be going on job interviews and will need to thank their interviewers.

6. A small, strong box

For the first time in their lives, graduates who leave home will have to keep track of all sorts of small items, from Social Security cards to passports to student loan papers. And they’ll want these things to be safe.

A steel box, which you can pick up at any office supply store, will seem like an odd gift at first, but soon the graduate will be delighted to have somewhere to store the growing pile of important items. And that box will follow them throughout their lives.

7. A blank book

True, most books have been obviated by the Kindle and its ilk, but there’s still something enchanting about a book full of blank pages waiting to be sketched on, written on, filled with scrap-book items, etc. The next decade of the graduate’s life is going to be jam-packed with memory making moments, and having somewhere to note some of these will be a joy. Rediscovering this book many decades later could be a truly moving experience.

One thing is for sure about all of these gifts — it’s unlikely the graduate you care about will get anything similar from someone else. And these gifts will long outlast the usual claptrap, cash, and gift cards. Congratulations!

4 Responses to “Seven Graduation Presents That Won’t Clobber the College Fund”

  1. Anonymous

    Ramen noodles is a pretty great idea – I’ll have to remember that.

    When my younger cousin was graduating from HS and getting ready to leave for college, I got her one of those shower caddies, some bath gel, lotion, bath puff, etc., since I knew she was going to be staying in a dorm with a communal bathroom. She really appreciated it.

    Otherwise, if you don’t want to just give money (though it comes in awfully handy, especially when you’re shelling out for textbooks at the beginning of the semester) if you can figure out what the campus hangouts/decent restaurants are, you can get a gift card or certificate to one of them. I once called up a restaurant near some friends and bought a gift certificate and had it sent to them. They loved it.

  2. Anonymous

    Sorry, but that list really is pretty lame. I remember that when I graduated and people gave me presents like those, my response was along the lines of “Gee, thanks.”

    Seriously, you would be better off giving them the $5-$15 cash that you would have spent on those items. I don’t know anybody that ever kept any of those types of gifts. They just end up being thrown away.

    You said that those gifts would “long outlast the usual … cash, and gift cards.” I would definitely disagree. Sure, they may go out and spend the cash/card shortly after receiving, but how long do the other gifts “last” if they are either thrown away or placed in a box for goodwill?

    I know several people who like to give more practical gifts (which can still end up being a frugal option), like laundry detergent/baskets, non-perishable food baskets, etc.

    With a little creativity you could give something that they might actually appreciate, AND it could be the most memorable because of it’s originality. Like, you could give a month’s supply of Ramen noodles for less than $5.

  3. Anonymous

    We have about 8 H.S. grad parties to go to next month. I went with the blank book/journal. I won a bunch of them in a raffle and will give them to each grad with some cash or a gift card, especially for those going away to college where they will have to buy their own things.

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