Home > Uncategorized > A Budget-Friendly Graduation Gift Guide

Comments 0 Comments

Finding gift ideas for the graduates in your life isn’t the hard part, since they need just about everything — pots and pans, thumb drives, transit passes, cash — you name it. The trick is finding something that both delights your grad and fits your budget.

We’ve got you covered. This guide compiles the gift ideas from Money Talks News and around the web. Most of these gifts cost $100 or less. Plenty are less than $50 and some can be assembled or given for little to no cost at all.


Books and magazines, music, entertainment and gourmet foods are a few of the many possible subscription gifts that can delight a grad month after month.

  • Netflix: Starting at $8 a month
  • Season tickets: For the local symphony, museum, theater or sports team
  • Kindle Unlimited: For $9.99 a month, as many books as you can read from 1 million+ titles
  • Good magazine: Inspired reading for “global citizens” and “doers” is $40 for four quarterly issues
  • Audible: $15 a month for access to one recorded book per month
  • Amazon Prime: $100 a year covers two-day shipping of purchases and free streaming of designated movies, TV and music
  • Wired magazine: $20 a year, $30 for two years
  • Gift-box subscriptions. Regular deliveries of craft kits, coffee, gourmet foods, dog toys and treats, beauty products, craft beer and more

Cash and gift cards are welcome graduation gifts. Load up a prepaid debit card or a card from your grads’ favorite stores or gas stations.

Make sure the store you choose is one the graduate uses, or choose merchants with a wide selection, like Amazon or Target. Or select a merchant that sells something that everyone needs, like music, gas, books or household supplies.

Even a modest gift card or cash gift becomes memorable when you invest it with love and imagination.

For example, try money balloons: Roll up bills, work them into clear balloons, inflate with helium and present them in a balloon bouquet. The blog Sugar and Charm recommends using clear, 16-inch balloons for best results:

Have them done at an actual balloon shop, which is what I did for our niece. … I would suggest only putting about 5-6 rolled-up bills in each 16-inch balloon with a handful of confetti.

Tip: Give the money balloons immediately so they’ll stay airborne; the cash adds weight, pulling them down as they lose air.


Kits are a great choice. You’ll find plenty of ingenious kits for sale or you can make one inexpensively and customize it for your recipient, giving something they won’t get from anyone else. A few ideas:

Kitchen supplies: Shop a big box store, Goodwill or IKEA for the essential implements and equipment for starting a kitchen. Add a few treats from the grocery store for variety. I spent $100 on an enormous load of pots, pans, dishes, glassware, dish towels and kitchen implements from IKEA recently for a well-received holiday gift.

House-cleaning tools and other life essentials: In this Money Talks News’ piece, “Happy Graduation! Here’s a Toilet Brush,” Donna Freedman describes scouring dollar stores, discount stores and yard sales to put together kits of life’s essentials — brooms, scrub brushes, dish towels and shelf liners are a few examples. She says:

If you’re going in with a group of people, place the items in a big laundry basket. You could put cleaning supplies in a bucket, group kitchen items inside a large pot, or fill a reusable shopping bag with pantry staples.

Toolbox: Find or buy a tool box and stock it. Lifehacker lists supplies for a basic toolbox and an enhanced toolbox. Or go basic: If you take a tip from Clint Eastwood in the 2008 movie “Gran Torino,” all you really need to tackle most household jobs is a can of WD-40, vice grips and a roll of duct tape.

DIY food kits: Food & Wine magazine lists 10 specialty food kits for homemade treats including hot sauce, cocktail bitters, gin, hard cider, ale, kimchi and jerk chicken with coconut spice. But you don’t need to buy kits.

Assemble your own ingredients and a recipe for something you know your grad loves — muffins, cookies, banana bread, toffee or peanut brittle, for example.

Container vegetable garden: A number of companies sell reasonably priced vegetable garden kits. I’ve used Earthbox ($33) with success. The kit includes a 2-cubic-foot, lightweight plastic container, low-tech watering system and instructions. You provide peat-based growing media, plant starts and water. Or, make your own kit for practically nothing. All kinds of containers, including recycled tires and old toy wagons can be adapted to grow vegetables.

Organizing tools: In “10 Cheap or Free Graduation Gifts,” Angela Colley writes:

If your grad is headed to a dorm (or out of one), simple, cheap organizational products can make their new life a lot easier. For example, last year I bought a friend’s kid two large shoe organizers, an over-the-door purse rack and a shower caddie to take to the dorm. I spent less than $50, and she used everything.


Backblaze online backup: I received a subscription ($5 a month or $50 a year) to this online backup service for Christmas one year. By March I was singing its praises. I’d accidentally corrupted a work file, making it, as a Microsoft Word tech-support person told me, unusable and unrecoverable.

I started to freak out, and then realized I was covered. Retrieving the file was easy, and it took just minutes. Backblaze automatically and constantly copies all the data on your PC or Mac to the cloud. Caveat: It stores your hard drive’s current data, overwriting yesterday’s data with today’s. In other words, there is no historical record of what was on your computer two weeks ago or two months ago.

Headphones: You can find decent sound on a low budget by reading reviews.CNET’s 2016 Best Tech Gifts Under $50 calls the $25 JVC HA-S400 Carbon Nanotubes headphones “a nice budget alternative.” CNET also likes the lightweight Panasonic RP-HTX7 ($38 and up), in black, white, red, pink and green.

Portable speakers: CNET recommends the hockey puck-shaped Logitech X100 Bluetooth speakers as ideal for music lovers who use a smartphone or tablet as a primary music source. It travels well and “delivers good sound for its size and price” (about $20).

Mobile chargers and batteries: Grads are moving fast, making mobile chargers a welcome, inexpensive gift. I use and give the MyChargeAmp mini (around $20).

Google Chromecast video streamer: Insert this thumb-sized stick into an HDMI port on a TV to “cast” your streaming subscriptions services like Hulu, Netflix, HBO Go, and Pandora from your Android phone, iPhone, tablet, iPad or laptop to the TV, mirroring on the TV what’s on your small screen ($35).


Grads are busy and constantly on the move. Help them get where they need to be by giving:

  • A transit pass
  • A refurbished used bicycle: You can pick one up for around $50 to $100, writes the Chicago Tribune in this article on how to make a used bike roadworthy.
  • Miles from your frequent-flyer account: See your program’s website for rules on transferring miles. (You can read up on the best credit cards with airline miles here.)
  • A roadside-assistance plan like AAA: Be sure to check first to find out if your grad already is covered through auto insurance.
  • Make a payment: Help your grad cover car insurance or an auto loan.
  • Gas money: It’s so nice to whip out a gift card at the pump.

Help them get on solid financial footing

These gifts help a young person along the path toward financial freedom:

Books: “Life or Debt 2010: A New Path to Financial Freedom,” Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson’s timeless book helps readers get started with chapters on how to save, invest, budget and avoid debt. “The Little Book of Common Sense Investing: The Only Way to Guarantee Your Fair Share of Stock Market Returns,” by John Bogle, is regarded by many as a bible for getting started investing

Budgeting help: YouNeedaBudget ($50 a year or $5 a month). This budgeting program gets top marks from reviewers. “The best tool out there for assembling a budget and helping you to stick with it,” says U.S. News.

Cooking instructions: “How to Cook Everything” ($23). A cookbook among financial aids? You bet. As U.S. News says, learning to cook at home is “one of the smartest money skills a person can master.” Food writer Mark Bittman explains the basics in an easy-going style with less emphasis on recipes and more on simple how-to.

Gifts that make a difference

Making a donation in your grad’s name, or buying from a company that donates part of its profits to help others, lets your gift do double duty. Here are a few examples:

  • The Sold Project: This nonprofit focuses on preventing child prostitution in northern Thailand by keeping children in school. You can fund a scholarships for $45, $60 or $100 a month. Just $16 a month provides “after-school programs, classes, mentorship, and other tools our kids need to succeed in life and avoid the path to exploitation,” according to the program.
  • A farm animal or share in the purchase of one: With offerings for as little as $10, Heifer International’s catalog lets you choose a gift that fits your budget and donate in your grad’s name to help a family sustain themselves.
  • The Truman Set: ($15).This shaving set includes foaming gel or shave cream, an ergonomically designed hand razor, precision-angled blades and free shipping. In addition to selling shaving products, Harry’s sends shaving supplies to your home. Subscriptions start at $3 a month.

The company gives 1% of its net revenue to the New York chapter of City Year, a national education nonprofit. Harry’s employees spend 1 percent of their work time volunteering.

Get them launched

Grads, whether they’re going on to more schooling or into the work world, appreciate gifts that help with the transition.

  • Business cards: Purchase a small number, just enough to get your grads through job hunting, with their name and basic contact info.
  • Electric tea kettle: These are the fastest, most-convenient way imaginable to boil water. No home should be without one.
  • Handheld vacuum: Your grad will get a lot of mileage from this useful gift.
  • Meals by mail: Three meals for two cost $60 (free shipping) from Blue Apron, which delivers fresh ingredients and step-by-step cooking instructions to your recipient’s home.
  • Microwave popcorn cooker: No dorm room should be without it, and Uncommon Goods has one for $15.
  • Must-have emergency kit: One $15 kit from Sephora has a makeup bag with 17 items she’ll need for coping with emergencies, from earring backs and stain remover pads to lip balm and clear nail polish.

No-cost gift

Gifting your labor, time and expertise lets you spend time with the graduate, bringing you a little closer, while giving your grad a leg up in life. Present them with a gift certificate for:

  • Moving help: This works especially well if you’ve got a truck and can help load and unload it. If not, offer to bring boxes and help with packing and unpacking.
  • Financial lessons: If you are known for your financial acumen, offer to help your graduate set up a budget, balance accounts, apply for a loan or get started investing.
  • Baking or cooking: Make a gift certificate good for several dozen cookies or a couple dozen muffins, deliverable upon request. You can also make and freeze soups, stews or casseroles with which to stock the graduate’s freezer.
  • Resume assistance: Brainstorm, type, write, edit or rewrite to help get a graduate’s resume ready for prime time.

More From Money Talks News:

Image: Rawpixel Ltd

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Credit.com receives compensation for the financial products and services advertised on this site if our users apply for and sign up for any of them.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team