8 Frugal Gift Ideas for Grads

As you consider gifts for the grads on your list, think of that person’s “next step.” For a high-school grad, it’s college. For a college grad, it’s a job, apartment or grad school.

The next step may be pulling long hours preparing for a state bar exam or taking a trip abroad. Select a gift that addresses that next step.

PREPAID ANYTHING. Your grad is sure to love anything that’s already paid for: movie tickets, gasoline, groceries, fast food, Walmart, Starbucks, Ikea, currency of the country he or she will be visiting, Amazon of course!—let your mind go wild.

BUS, SUBWAY OR TRAIN TOKENS. Give tickets for the mode of transportation the grad will be using, something that may require some sleuthing on your part to figure out what that might be. Or splurge on an open airline ticket between school and home cities.

BUCKET OF STUFF.  Get a bucket and write on the side, “Bucket of Stuff.” Fill it with all kinds of stuff the graduate is going to need in his or her new phase of life in a dorm or apartment. Ramen noodles, box of macaroni and cheese and other small pantry items. Highlighters, paperclips, washcloths, stamps, stickers, envelopes, batteries, shampoo, conditioner, bar soap, pens, pencils and so on. Get crazy. Use lots of ribbons and bright-colored paper. Add a card and you’re good to go.

KITCHEN STARTER KIT. Buy a large kitchen mitt and fill it with kitchen utensils from the dollar store.

MONOGRAMMED TOWELS. We have insider information here at EC Central that newly-minted college students really like towels that are monogrammed with their name or initials. Monogrammed towels are easy to track down and the graduation gift most likely to survive the college years.

Also: EC Smart Gifts for College-Bound Grads

BOOKS. A reasonably priced gift can be found in the reference books aisle of any bookstore—books every college-bound graduate needs, such as: The Elements of Style, On Writing Well, Gray’s Anatomy, The Associated Press Stylebook or Writing Research Papers: The Complete Guide. A good dictionary and thesaurus are great ideas, too.

LAUNDRY KIT.  Make or purchase a fabric laundry bag that you can personalize with the graduate’s name or initials. Fill it with laundry detergent, stain treatment, a laundry “how-to” guide you either write yourself, find online or purchase in a bookstore. Top it all off with a roll or two of quarters for use in the coin laundry.

MONEY. Go ahead, it’s okay. When it comes to gifting a graduate, cash is never impersonal or inappropriate. I’m sure every grad reading this is thanking me for setting the record straight.

More: 16 Gifts College Students Want


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  • Susan Sharp

    I made a medicine box for my son. I took an inexpensive plastic pencil box, usually about $1, and filled it with OTC pain medicine, antibiotic ointment, bandaids, benadryl, etc. He wasn’t overly appreciative at the time but he was thrilled when he needed some of the items and didn’t have to buy them. Easy to fill with custom items for the individual too.

  • Cally

    Put homemade laundry soap and the recipe in that laundry bag, that’s as good as giving money, right? or all the ingredients and the recipe.

  • MM

    Decorating for Christmas has always been big in my family. The Christmas before my twin nephews graduated college I hit a couple Christmas decoration stores early on the first shopping day after the holiday. I bought each beautiful and fun Christmas decoration items. As most items were 50 to 75 percent off, my $75. budget for each went a very long way and they started out with high quality Christmas decorations for their apartments and future homes.

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