What should you give that special graduate? Finding a gift is easy. There are lots products marketed as great graduation gifts. Finding the right gift for that special grad is more challenging. What seems perfect for one might not fit the goals, preferences or needs of another.
Many grads are following the new trend of setting up graduation gift registries, like bridal and baby registries, says Amy Sewell, founder of ShopWithStyle.com. Find out if your grad is registered and browse through the selected items to see what he or she wants.
Or simply “ask the grad if there is anything they need,” suggests Karen Hoxmeier, founder of MyBargainBuddy.com. After all, she says, “a gift doesn’t have to be a surprise. Something that fills a need will be used and appreciated.”
Need more inspiration? These nine ideas from gift experts can help you make a great grad gift choice.
“It’s hard to go wrong with technology,” says Hoxmeier. “Whether a grad is moving from high school to college or from college to the workforce, a reliable laptop, tablet, cell phone or prepaid MiFi device would make a great gift.”
“Of course, not every gift giver can afford the latest iPhone or Mac,” Hoxmeier adds, but “a gift need not have a high price tag to be appreciated.”
Look for Lenovo, Microsoft, Dell and many more top electronic brand names at NEA Discount Marketplace. You can save with member pricing and also earn cash back when you shop.
Give gifts that support or enhance the graduate’s passion, such as a cooking class for the grad who loves food or concert tickets for the music lover, Fest suggests. “Experiences often trump ‘things’ as a gift.”
Just make sure the experience you give is the grad’s passion, not yours, Fest adds. Your gift should help him or her go further in exploring what excites them.
If you have more time than money, look for free things he’d enjoy that you could do together. If he’s a motorcycle buff, would he enjoy spending the day window shopping at motorcycle shops or talking to fellow fans at motorcycle clubs? If she loves music, could you take her to a free concert in the park that she might not see otherwise?
At this stage of their lives, most grads need practical gifts to help them make the transition to a dorm room, their own apartment or a new job, says Sewell. “When I graduated from high school, the big gift everyone got was luggage.” Although it was a thoughtful and generous gift, what she really needed was a little carry-on or duffel bag. The lovely gift luggage stayed at her parents’ house, unused.
Dorm furnishings may be great for that high school grad headed for college, but remember space is limited. There won’t be room for extraneous stuff, Sewell says. Give useful items you know the grad needs or gift cards they can use to choose what they want.
Take advantage of your NEA member discounts: You’ll find a great selection of useful and practical gifts for grads who are heading to a dorm or new apartment. Search the NEA Discount Marketplace for deals from popular retailers such as Macy's, Kohl's and Pottery Barn.
For an all-around useful service gift, consider an Amazon Prime membership, suggests Hoxmeier. It’s a gift that keeps giving all year long, she adds. “Members get unlimited streaming of movies and TV episodes, unlimited access to millions of songs, secure photo storage and more.” They also get free 2-day shipping on millions of products and free same-day delivery in select cities.
If your grad would love to have Netflix or Apple News+ (formerly Texture), a digital magazine subscription app, choose a term longer than just one month, says Sewell. She recommends making paying for a full year or at least a long enough time to allow the grad explore and enjoy it before it comes up for renewal.
A resume makeover
“Unlike a watch or a gift card,” she says, giving “a gift certificate for a resume package can mean an even brighter future for a recent grad,” says Joni Holderman, a professional resume writer and founder of Thrive! Resumes.
Hoxmeier agrees. In the past, she says grads needed a great resume to land the job they wanted but now recruiters often turn to LinkedIn to find candidates. “Your gift of a professionally written LinkedIn resume could give that new grad a leg up on his or her career.” She suggests “sites like LinkedIn Profile Services and LinkedIn Makeover [that] employ professional resume writers to create stand out profiles that will attract recruiters.”
If your grad would love a new or used car, get a great deal through the NEA Auto Buying Program, where NEA members can save on both new and used vehicles.
For anything this big, always talk to the recipient before you buy, advises Sewell. Make sure it’s what they want and talk about how they’ll manage the costs of ownership. For example, will they be able to pay the car’s insurance, gas and maintenance costs?
If the extras are beyond their budget, could you cover those costs for a year if you bought a less expensive car?
Giving the gift of travel can broaden your grad’s horizons. A trip is “the ultimate experience to give,” says Amanda Fest, editor of CheapFlights.com. “Trips are a symbol of freedom, a chance to embrace change and independence. What better way to honor a graduate?”
Whether you give the grad a weekend away, a cross-country road trip, or backpacking excursion abroad, your gift “trip will create memories for a lifetime and will be a great way to celebrate this special milestone,” Fest adds.
NEA members can find a world of travel discounts on hotels, resorts, cruises and guided vacations through NEA Travel. You’ll also earn NEA Travel Dollars that you can apply to future travel costs.
Make sure your gift is easily refundable, Fest cautions. “You don’t want to splurge on a trip and then find out later the dates don’t work or there is somewhere else they’d have preferred to go.”
If the grad already has travel plans, your gift could contribute toward that goal. For example, Sewell knew that one of her nephews was already saving for a backpacking trip in Europe, so she gave him a Eurail Pass. That way she encouraged his saving plan and added something he needed for the trip.
“I think that money and gift cards are fabulous gifts for graduates,” says Sewell. She has five nieces and nephews who will be graduating—one each year—for the next few years. “We’re giving them all cash” because each has different needs and different plans so giving money makes more sense than giving things.
Hoxmeier agrees that “cash is king” and says “one can never go wrong” with a gift of cash.
How much money should you give? Sewell recommends limiting the gift to an amount the grad is accustomed to managing. For example, she says $500 “may not seem like a lot of money” to you but to a 17-year-old who has never handled that much money, it’s a fortune he may not yet have the maturity or wisdom to handle.
If money is tight, Hoxmeier suggests something simple and practical such as bucket of quarters the grad can use for doing laundry, a prepaid metro (public transportation) card, or a gift card for a local coffee shop, grocery store or restaurant.
“If you're not comfortable giving cash, gift cards can be fantastic,” Sewell says. A Bed, Bath and Beyond gift card could help the grad set up dorm housekeeping. A gift card to a favorite restaurant can be a treat. And of course, Sewell adds, “any graduate is going to love” a $10 gift card to Starbucks.
A final note:
Get gift receipts! If you thought something was a great gift, someone else might’ve thought so too, Sewell says. If the grad gets duplicates, a gift receipt will make it easier to return or exchange the extra one for something he wanted but didn’t get.