Relatives and friends often congratulate high school and college graduates with useful gifts, but that can be easier said than done on a budget. This guide includes inexpensive, fun, and practical gift ideas that will help soon-to-be college students survive the dorms and newly independent adults manage the "real world."
Related: 20 Dollar Store Dorm Essentials
For a high school graduate heading off to a college dorm, a shower caddy is a must. Make the pre-college shopping a bit easier by stocking the caddy with personal care products such as shampoo, conditioner, shaving lotion, body scrub, loofa, manicure kit, and a pair of cheap flip-flops (for the shower), all for about $25.
This inexpensive gift may be one of the most meaningful and rewarding for a new grad: Ask friends and family to write letters with advice, collect the missives, and present them in an attractive box. Browse Etsy for all manner of unique storage containers at various prices.
For graduates moving out on their own, a kitchen starter kit is most welcome, and cheaper items are perfectly appropriate for college or a first-time kitchen. An oven mitt stuffed with utensils (whisk, spatula, salad tongs, etc.) purchased at the dollar store might cost about $20. Feeling generous? How about a large mixing bowl or kitchen trash can brimming with items such as cups, a can opener, cutting board, dish drainer, and skillet -- all for about $80.
When students are stacked three or four deep in a dorm room, sometimes it's hard to keep track of personal belongings. For about $30 to $50, give a rising freshman a set of personalized face and body towels or a set so unusual that no one else will have it. A graduating senior looking forward to apartment mates will be equally appreciative.
For grads eager to stave off the dreaded "Freshman 15" or shed the effects of all those late-night pizza runs, a gym membership (starting at $20 to $30 a month) could be the perfect gift. If tuition covers gym fees or the recent college grad is already a gym rat, opt for a new workout bag (about $30) or clothing (about $40 for shorts or pants and a top).
Help the grad stay current with a subscription to The New York Times for $8.75 a week, including full digital access (half price if the student signs up using a school email address). Or, take out a subscription to a magazine that reflects the graduate's interests. A year of Vanity Fair with magazines and digital access costs $17, for example, while a 12-month subscription to Rolling Stone print plus digital costs $35.
Because grown-ups often find they need to fix things themselves, an essential item on the life-kit list is a toolbox. A hammer comes in handy for hanging artwork; a screwdriver is perfect for assembling furniture; and a wrench can stop that leaky pipe. A 53-piece tool set sold on Amazon includes all the essentials for home repairs, comes in a compact case, and costs less than $30.
It is hard being on your own for the first time. Posters and artwork that display inspirational quotes, images of favorite musicians, and pictures of getaway spots can help ease lingering anxiety. Check out big-box retailers, local music stores, and online vendors such as Art.com and Amazon for a graduation gift costing less than $10.
Grads on their way to a dorm or apartment likely dread the idea of schlepping dirty clothes to the laundry. Make this chore a little easier by filling a budget laundry basket or hamper with detergent, dryer sheets or fabric softener, and stain remover for about $30 or so. Include a roll of quarters and a laundry cheat sheet with tips to keep clothes from shrinking or fading.
No matter the age, card and board games never go out of style. Grads will appreciate a classic, simple, and fun game such as Apples to Apples ($10), which comes in party-box size. The dirtier version, Cards Against Humanity, costs $25. The newly released Exploding Kittens card game is also quite popular. Original and not-safe-for-work versions are $20 each.
The walk between the showers and the dorm room can be a long one. Women may feel more comfortable in an inexpensive terry wrap, which tightens at the top to ensure it won't slip off. Prices start at about $20. For a more expensive gift that a student will use for years to come, either sex will appreciate a robe for staying both warm and covered.
Feeling inspired? Spend $10 to $40 to create a custom poster, canvas print, or framed photo for the grad. Memories of home, family, friends, and shared vacations can brighten anyone's day and make excellent house-warming gifts. Retail chains and photo sites make these easy and inexpensive gifts -- especially with easy-to-find discounts. Check daily deal sites for cheap prices.
This graduation present takes a bit of time and some behind-the-scenes collaboration. Reach out to friends and family of the grad for photos from their time at school and create a scrapbook as a keepsake. It costs about 9 cents to print a 4-by-6-inch digital photo, and scrapbooks can be had for $12 to $15. Find creative stickers, colored paper, and other decorations at craft stores or online.
Self-defense classes are good reassurance for graduates heading to college or out on their own (and their parents). They're often for women, although men also might appreciate the extra protection. Multi-day classes can cost several hundred dollars, so this gift may require contributions from several people to make it affordable.
Grads may put off sending thank you notes, but with all the necessary supplies in front of them, they won't have any excuses. A $25 stash of cards and stamps also will come in handy when sending thank you notes to prospective employers and other gift givers.
For graduates who will be driving to and from school or work, a roadside assistance plan (about $60 a year) can offer critical aid in a time of need. Services such as AAA often make discounts available -- look online for coupon codes.
Artisan coffee is in, and a few tools can help upgrade the grad's daily fix. Pair a ceramic or glass dripper with coffee filters ($12 to $25), or opt for the AeroPress coffee and espresso maker, which starts at about $30, or a Chemex starts at about $39. Add a bag of high-quality beans for about $13 to $20.
Though dorms typically have first aid kits available, it never hurts to have one stashed within the room, and college graduates and students living off campus likely won't have one at all. For those just-in-case moments, spend about $17 for all the essentials needed to clean and patch up minor wounds.