7 Common Sense Tips to Honor New Graduates Without Going Broke

by Tracy · 12 comments

Everyone knows Christmas is a budget buster, but between graduations and weddings, May/June can leave your wallet crying for mercy, to and that’s before you even think about taking a family vacation!

Here are a few tips to keep things sane when it comes to honoring new graduates.

1. Don’t feel obligated to do something about each and every graduation announcement you receive. Some people send them to literally everyone who is even vaguely acquainted with the graduate. A cynical explanation is that it’s a gift grab, but thinking that will just make you grouchy so instead just smile at how exuberant the graduate and family are about this big milestone and wish your co-worker’s step-sister’s daughter well as you put the announcement in the recycling bin.

2. While some people consider cash gifts tacky, I think it’s the way to go for new graduates and not just because I’m lazy. This is a time of transition for them and the last thing they need is more stuff to deal with. Cash gifts can be pooled to get the graduate what they really need as they go off to college or start their career. Don’t worry, you don’t have to give a ton, and it can depend on how close you are to the graduate and how big your wallet is.

If you really don’t like giving cash, a gift certificate to Target or Amazon or a similar “sells everything and is everywhere” type store is a good choice. Consult with the graduates family before buying things like luggage, bed linens, small appliances, etc to avoid duplication, buying the wrong size or buying something that they can’t use in their new home.

3. If you are close, do consider taking the new graduate out for lunch or a coffee and let them know how proud you are of them and talk about their future plans. This is a great time for you to let them know about any networking opportunities you know of or to give them some helpful advice about living on their own and dealing with the rigors of college or a career. Often the best gift we can give the people in our life is our time (that said; don’t schedule your “catch-up” chat for the morning after the graduation party!).

4. Most graduates have only a very limited number of tickets to their ceremony. If you’re invited and can’t make it, please let them know well in advance so that they can invite somebody else.

5. Being invited to an out-of-town graduation can carry significant costs. The good news is that you generally have quite a bit of notice that a family member will one day graduate from high school or college and can plan accordingly. Don’t feel guilty, however, if you have to turn down a more distance family member or acquaintance’s invitation because of financial reasons. Do call them up personally to let them know how proud you are, but don’t allow anyone to try and guilt you into sacrificing your financial well-being to go.

6. Don’t feel like you have to send a gift or cash the minute you get the graduation announcement. It might very well come in handier in the fall after they move into the dorms or after they start their new job.

7. Consider offering the new graduate a service instead of a physical gift. For example, you can lend them your truck to move to the dorms or offer to get their computer in tip top shape before they leave. Again, the idea is to avoid too much stuff and to do things that will actually help the graduate get a great start to the next chapter of their life.

Do you have a go-to graduation gift? What are some of the more memorable gifts you were given for graduation?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Elizabeth says:

    I agree with a few ideas, and guess it depends on the graduate.
    When I graduated college almost two years ago, I had no idea how much renting a U-Haul and driving cross-country to start my new life was going to cost me. The cash I received from aunts and uncles ($25 is the norm for graduations in my family) really made a difference for me, and I thought of them and how fortunate I was the entire 2 day drive…
    I also agree that the sit down/life advice can be priceless, depending on how well you know the student. I got that ‘gift’ from my prior-service uncles as I was getting out of the military, and I will never forget those talks. At that time, helping me decide what to do next and sharing some pointers and connections was more helpful than money would have been. (Just make sure it doesn’t come off as a lecture or scare tactic.)

  • RoadOutOfDebt says:

    Great tips. I believe money gifts are the best: you don’t stress too much about the gift and are very useful for graduates.

  • Alexis says:

    Why not make something personal for the graduate? I knit hats and scarves for a couple of Texans who planned to attend universities in cold and distant states. They loved the gifts and I know they were put to use. They cost very little to make and it was fun for me, too.

  • Harry says:

    While I don’t feel obligated to give to everyone, my wife and I have determined a fixed amount to give when we agree that we want to. Graduations get $10, marriages get $25. For a closer relationship we might do more for a marriage, but having a set amount already determined cuts through a lot of clutter.

    A card for grade school – or an ice cream cone.

  • Marie at familymoneyvalues.com says:

    You know, I don’t really remember getting any gifts for either high school or college – except from my parents.

    What are all of your thoughts on appropriate GRADE school graduations?

  • Michelle says:

    I really like recommendation #7. Too many people underestimate the costs of moving… and if you could lend a helping hand during the hectic moving month it means a lot to the graduating students.

  • Witty Artist says:

    Another idea when you are not so close to the graduate is sending a bunch of flowers. As for when I graduated, I received cash gifts, flowers, books.

  • random surfer says:

    Or maybe the poor kid just doesn’t know alot of people and you really ARE one of the few persons they (or thier parents) could dump an invitation on. Be nice and supply something inside the card. Even $5 is appreciated. That’s a cup of Bigbucks coffee to drink on moving day.

  • infinite banking says:

    I agree with KM, if you aren’t that close to a graduate just send them a thank you card. don’t ever feel obligated to send money.

  • Justin says:

    I don’t see any problems with cash as a gift. Transitioning from either high school to college or college to real world both come with their own, often substantial, costs.

    The offer of “services” seems a little tricky. What if the graduate asks for something out of scope like helping to pack his dorm room, it could be a little awkward as you try and tap dance out of that one and explain you were offering to help as long as it didn’t take more than two hours out of your day 🙂

    • KM says:

      I would think it would be specified ahead of time, not just “I will help you with something….tell me what.” Someone who knows computers, for example, will offer to fix a laptop.

  • KM says:

    Also, if you are not that close, I think even a simple congratulations card is enough.

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