Best (Intangible) Gifts for Grads

Best Gifts for Graduates

What gifts are you giving your graduate?

It’s that time of year again.

Graduation season is in full swing, and everywhere you look there are top ten lists telling you the best gift you can give the graduate in your life.

And while it’s always nice to receive presents, particularly when they commemorate the hard work necessary to earn a diploma or a degree, I would say the best gifts you can give your graduate can’t be wrapped in pretty paper and tied up with a bow.

If you really want to give a new high school or college graduate a gift that will last them a lifetime, think about doing one of the following things:

1. Create a budget. For many people, the word budget has an unpleasant, if not frightening, connotation. But jumping into adulthood without this skill can set young graduates up for a great deal of stress in the future.

If you know that a graduate in your life hasn’t been raised with a budgeting mindset, offer to help her figure out a basic one. This could be as simple as giving her a copy of a personal finance book, or as complex as setting aside some time with her to go over the details of her finances.

Obviously, this is not a gift you can present to a young adult you’re not close to—or one who is not interested in this kind of help. But if you know a graduate who is feeling overwhelmed with the financial aspects of adulthood, they will use and appreciate this gift for life.

2. Set clear boundaries. It used to be that college graduation marked the end of young adults considering their parents’ house to be home. But now the so-called Boomerang Generation is becoming the norm, and many families are finding that their young adult children are ending back in their childhood bedrooms.

This is a tough situation for everyone, and one of the best things that a parent can do for their returning graduate is to set up clear boundaries from the get-go. Let your child know how he is expected to contribute to the household, whether through rent, chores, or a continuing job search.

And, set up a plan together to eventually get him living on his own. It may feel awkward to discuss these matters, but feeling like a contributing and respected adult in a childhood home will make a huge difference to your graduate.

3. Plan for the future. We all know now that retirement contributions made in your 20s have incredible power for growth. But how many of us really understood this in our 20s? Guiding a new graduate through financial planning will help them to know where they want to go in life, and how they want to get there.

Again, this gift can be accomplished in a couple of ways: for example, you could sit down with your graduate and talk about her long term plans for career, travel, family, etc, and help her make a plan to get there.

Alternatively, you could simply introduce your graduate to your financial adviser. Either way, you are helping her to map a financial course for her life.

Giving these kinds of intangible gifts to a graduate might not make you the favorite aunt or uncle at the graduation party. And in some cases, it may not be appropriate to insert yourself into a young relative or friend’s finances.

But in certain cases, being a personal finance mentor is the best gift you could ever give.

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Last Edited: June 30, 2012 @ 1:10 pm The content of is for general information purposes only and does not constitute professional advice. Visitors to should not act upon the content or information without first seeking appropriate professional advice. In accordance with the latest FTC guidelines, we declare that we have a financial relationship with every company mentioned on this site.
About Emily Guy Birken

Emily Guy Birken is a former English teacher, and an excellent freelance writer. She's also a stay-at-home-mom. She resides in Lafayette, IN, with her engineer husband and son. Emily's thoughts on parenting and life in general are found at The SAHMnambulist.


  1. Good article, PT.  Personal finance is probably the last thing on their minds before harsh reality strikes home.
    We gave our high-school graduate the parental letter that I wish I’d had when I was her age:
    She just finished sophomore year of college on a NROTC scholarship.  Considering all the money she’s saved us in the college fund, when she graduates we’re going to help her make sure that she maxes out her Roth IRA and her Thrift Savings Plan.  But of course every kid is different, and I’m hoping that ours doesn’t just turn the “extra” money into a lifestyle enhancement.
    I also highly recommend the book “You’re On Your Own (But I’m Here If You Need Me)” by Marjorie Savage.  She handled parent’s programs at a large university for a number of years, and I’m afraid that she’s seen it all.

  2. If you can get a new grad to start saving for retirement as soon as they start their first job with a decent % (15-25%) then they will more than thank you in about 10-20 years when they realize what you have done for them. They won’t view it as a gift now but if you get them to take action they definitely will later.

  3. AverageJoeMoney says:

    My kids are about 14 months from college. We’re now reading Ramit’s book chapter by chapter and discussing at dinner so that they have some clue about being attacked with credit card offers and bad habits all around them. Making a budget together is a great “last step” before they head out next year. Thanks, Emily!