Smart SpendingSmart Spending

11 cheap or free graduation gifts

The average cost for graduation gifts is about $50. You don't need to spend nearly that much while still giving a thoughtful, useful gift.

By MSN Money Partner Apr 24, 2013 2:42PM

This post comes from Angela Colley at partner site Money Talks News.

Money Talks News on MSN MoneyMy baby sister is graduating this spring. According to a National Retail Federation survey, consumers were expected to spend an average of $99.94 on graduation gifts last year, buying on average gifts for two new graduates.

Image: College graduates © Ariel Skelley / Blend Images/Getty ImagesDon't tell her, but I don't plan to spend much on my sister's grad gift this year. After all, gifts are better if they come from the heart, not the wallet, and I have a few ideas for inexpensive, personalized gifts.

If you are buying a gift for a new grad this year, check out these inexpensive and free ideas.

1. Starter kit

My go-to gift for extended family, friends of friends and co-workers' kids: a starter kit for their new apartment or dorm room. The kit usually consists of a laundry basket stuffed with things everyone needs -- cleaning products, toilet paper, paper towels, sponges, hand soap, trash bags and other supplies. Because I know it will get used, I feel better about getting it. The money clincher: I only buy what I find on sale and have a coupon for. I once paid less than $30 for an entire basket of goodies.

2. Organizational tools

It may not seem like the most exciting gift, but 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.

3. Nice pair of shoes

Many people recommend buying a college grad their first business suit. Not a bad idea, but suits don't come cheap and it's hard to know the perfect size, style and color. Instead, how about a nice pair of shoes? Most college students don't spend a lot of time buying dress shoes, so they'll appreciate the gift. Make sure to review the return policy before you make a purchase.

4. Tie

A nice tie also makes a great gift, especially considering that new college grads probably don't own a lot of ties yet. Online, has several for about $40, and carries ties for less than $10. Offline, check discount stores like T.J. Maxx and Marshalls.

5. Personal finance book

I've made my share of financial mistakes. If I could do it all over again, I'd learn the ropes before I started making an income by reading some of the highly recommended personal finance books. If you feel the same way, why not give the grad in your life the gift of financial know-how?

6. Mini-fridge

If your grad is headed to a dorm, consider buying a mini-fridge. They get a lot of use because dorm-dwellers often don't have access to a full kitchen. They go on sale in May, but you can save more by buying a gently used one from a college student. My sister sold her mini-fridge for $40 after she moved out of her dorm at the end of freshman year. Check your local Craigslist for deals.

7. Briefcase

One of the best gifts I ever got was a leather briefcase. It wasn't anything fancy -- just enough to hold my laptop, a notepad and some pens. But it replaced the old cloth messenger bag with a Sex Pistols patch hot-glued to the front I had been dragging around. Much less embarrassing to take to my first office job.

8. Gift cards

For grads you don't know well enough to buy something personal, gift cards may be your answer. But you don't have to pay full price for them. Check out gift card discount sites like Plastic Jungle, or Cardpool.

9. Resume

College grads are going to need all the help they can get to land a job, so why not offer your free expertise? If you're a good writer or just have a lot of business experience, offer to write the grad's resume for free. Bonus points if you print copies too.

10. Moving help

How about a "Good for one move" homemade coupon? It may not seem like a gift, but the grad in your life will appreciate your offer when he's lugging heavy boxes up three flights of stairs to his new apartment.

11. Book of your best advice

A homemade book of practical life advice is a great personal gift to give to a grad. If you love to write, come up with your own ideas. And if you don't, borrow some from great thinkers you respect. You can make the book with word processing software or write it by hand for a more personal touch.

Have any great ideas for a cheap graduation gift?

More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:

Apr 25, 2013 1:30PM

I like the starter kit idea. But instead of collecting coupons and watching out for sales, just get all the components at a place like Family Dollar or Dollar General.


Don't feel guilty if you only know the person casually, and don't wish to shell out. People seem to forget that GIFTS ARE NEVER REQUIRED. There's nothing wrong with a thoughtful card congratulating the grad and wishing him/her well. Briefcase, mini-fridge, shoes? Outfitting for college is the parents' business. Outfitting after college is the grad's business. I like the idea of a book on personal finance, though.

Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Smart Spending brings you the best money-saving tips from MSN Money and the rest of the Web. Join the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.