Top 7 Practical Alternatives to Giving Grads Monetary Gifts

by Hank Coleman

Alternative Graduation GiftsSchool graduations are celebrated at many different levels (even kindergarten nowadays). But, there’s only one thing many people tend to rely on for graduation gift giving: money. Sure, most kids and college students love seeing cash flutter out of their congratulatory cards. But, cash is not a great gift, especially when there are more ideas for exciting and practical graduation gifts out there.

Cool Alternatives to Giving Money As Graduation Gifts

Here are a few exciting and practical ideas for graduation gifts that you can use to surprise your new graduate no matter the age.

DIY “Tuition Gift Certificate” 

At this point, most of us are uncomfortably aware of the dire student loan statistics. Seven out of 10 college students finishing their degrees only with the help of loans? The $1.3 trillion in outstanding student loans as of 2015? Yikes.

If you want to give a truly helpful graduation gift to a college-bound high school grad, then why not a DIY gift certificate promising to pay for a certain amount of their tuition? This is way more valuable than just giving them money and hoping they use it for tuition (hint: most college freshman won’t). The only issues are the lack of accountability (unless the parents are paying for some of the tuition and you send money their way) and lack of excitement.

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Let’s face it: “I’ll help you pay for tuition so you’re not drowning in debt in 5+ years!” doesn’t have the same “wow” factor for a high school graduate as a pile of cash would because they won’t notice just how much this gift helps them until they finish their degree and the student loan repayments begin.

Alternatively, you can give the new grad your own gift certificate promising to pay for textbooks or campus parking for their first semester or school year. These are more feasible options because you’re reimbursing the student for an expense that comes with a receipt, which guarantees your money will be spent on something school-related.

To add an educational benefit to your gift for a high school student, you could give them a basic personal finance book with the promise of paying for something (tuition, textbooks, parking, etc.) after they prove they’ve read it. It’s not the most exciting gift, but they’ll thank you later on for a lesson that most other students learn the hard way during college.

Grocery Gift Basket

A grocery gift basket is perfect for high school grads and college grads alike. You can be as creative as you’d like, throwing in staple items like pasta and sauces, chips, energy drinks, and protein bars, along with basic cookware and dishes, which are perfect for a high school grad moving into their first apartment.

Or, giving a small appliance is perfect for a college grad upgrading to a nicer lifestyle in the “real world”. You can’t go wrong with a grocery gift card either, because this is a great back-up plan if they run out of money and would have to survive on ramen noodles and dollar menu items otherwise.

Coffee Machine 

If a high school or community college grad loves having a daily cup o’joe to stay awake for those early morning classes, then a coffee maker or Keurig coffee machine is a super convenient and cost-saving graduation gift. Caffeine addicts living on student loans and minimum wage incomes simply can’t afford to visit Starbucks everyday for their coffee fix.

But, having a coffee machine in their dorm or apartment would save them time and money throughout college and beyond. For a personalized touch, include a bag or box of their favorite coffee flavor and a travel mug that they can bring to class.

Amazon or Campus Store Gift Card 

Between 2002 and 2013, the cost of textbooks skyrocketed 82% and even with e-books flooding the market, textbooks are still wildly overpriced. Some professors have mandatory textbooks outlined in their syllabi, which means college students have no choice but to fork over hundreds of dollars each semester to rent or buy books if they want to succeed in their classes.

Why not help a new college student out by giving them gift cards for Amazon’s textbook store or the college campus bookstore? This is preferable to a monetary gift because again, it guarantees that the student will use these funds for beneficial purposes (textbooks or an e-book reader) instead of spending no-strings-attached cash on something frivolous.

Scooter or Skateboard

This gift is perfect for graduate of all ages. For younger students not yet in college, a scooter or skateboard will encourage them to have fun outdoors and get exercise. For a high school graduate, the gift of a scooter can help them get around more quickly on a large college campus, thereby ensuring they’re never late to class.

Cooking Classes

Unless the gift recipient is planning on eating dorm food for the indefinite future, the graduation gift of cooking classes for teens and young adults will create lifelong skills and inspire healthier eating habits that’ll avoid the dreaded “freshman 15” gain. There’s plenty of time to attend cooking classes during the summer after their graduation and practice their new skills at home before the next school year begins.

You can save money on cooking classes by gifting a GrouponAlternative Graduation Gifts or LivingSocial voucher or by signing the recipient up for a short crash course in meal preparation. Whether they learn to make salads, pasta, pizza, or breakfast items, a cooking class is an incredibly useful gift that’s pretty fun too! Shop LivingSocial for Graduation Gift Ideas Under $50!Alternative Graduation Gifts

Video or Music Streaming Subscription

In between studying and going to class and doing homework in college, the student will want to relax and unwind in their free time. What better way to keep them entertained than with a subscription to a video or music streaming service?

If they have a TV in their dorm or apartment, then a Netflix, Hulu, or HBO subscription would be perfect (and only cost you $10-15 per month). If they prefer to read or exercise in their free time, then a music streaming subscription such as Apple Music or Spotify ($12-15 each) will give them access to millions of songs for music listening on-the-go. 

Sure, it’s fun to receive money for any occasion, but as we’ve discussed, there are so many other practical alternatives to stuffing an envelope with cash for a new graduate. Whether your child is about to graduate high school or you just received a friend’s college graduation announcement in the mail, there are lots of useful graduation gifts that will save the recipient time and money for many years to come.

What about you? What has been your favorite one of your graduation gifts to give or receive?

7 Alternatives to Money for Graduation Gifts

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About Hank Coleman

Hank Coleman is the founder of Money Q&A, an Iraq combat veteran, a Dr. Pepper addict, and a self-proclaimed investing junkie. He has written extensively for many nationally known financial websites and publications. Hank holds a Master’s Degree in Finance and a graduate certificate in personal financial planning. Email him directly at Hank[at]MoneyQandA.com.


Hank Coleman has written 575 articles on Money Q&A. Learn more about Money Q&A on Twitter @MoneyQandA and @HankColeman.


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Financial Slacker

I like the cooking classes idea. It’s probably not something a recent graduate would buy for themselves, but it’s practical.

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Hank Coleman

I think that it’s a great gift for so many who find themselves cooking for the first time. It will help them save money too in the long run from not eating out at a restaurant so much.

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