Buying the Perfect Graduation Gift: Ideas for Soon-to-be Empty Nesters

Finding the perfect graduation gift is a challenge for any parent who’s fledglings are ready to leave the nest. As it is, Graduation Day brings a mixed basket of emotions, some good, some sad, mostly nostalgic. You want your graduation day gift to be the beginning of a memory that will last a long time. Some soon-to-be empty nesters buy their kids cars when they’re ready to leave home, some make financial investments in their names, and some might even sponsor a “go find yourself” trip to Europe or the Far East before their son or daughter heads off to college.

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On the other hand, graduation gifting doesn’t always have to be an expensive affair. Sure, you’ve probably set aside some money for this, but what if you don’t want to go the traditional way of buying a car or some plane tickets? What gift ideas should you be looking at in terms of broad categories? What’s the starting point for finding that perfect graduation gift? Here are 6 of the most popular categories of gifts that will be appreciated – hopefully, for a long time after they’re given.

Cold, Hard Cash is the King of Gift Ideas

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Cash always tops the list of most-wanted gifts. And why not? As an etiquette expert from Florida points out: “It’s rarely returned, and one size fits all.” Cash is and always was the king of good times, and nothing says “take me, I’m yours” like a great big wad of dough or piles of neatly stacked currency notes.

But if you don’t want to be crass about it, how about throwing a ‘costume’ over the graduation day bundle you’re about to drop?

Idea 1: Put wads of money into new shoes and gift-wrap it in a proper shoebox. Imagine the look on their face when they struggle to get their toes in and find the cause of the obstruction!

Idea 2: This one’s adapted from an idea by blogger Izzy Anderson. Take several bills and tape them together end to end to create a long strip of money. Roll it into a tight roll that will fit on the inside of a tube of toilet paper. Sounds like fun already, right? Now, get the cardboard tube from a roll of toilet paper and cut a slit into the side about the width of a dollar bill, maybe just a little wider. Next, insert the roll of money into the tube with the slit and get the first bill to peep out of the tube. In the image below, they’ve used a Pull Me tab on the first bill.

There are literally hundreds of gift ideas for gifting cash, so get as creative as you like. Just make sure none of the bills are damaged in the process. To match the gift to your budget, use ones, fives, or twenties.

If cash just won’t cut it or you think it’s no fun receiving money (are you kidding me???), consider some other gift ideas. Here’s one that immediately comes to mind…

Jewelry: Graduation Gifts that Glimmer

“You can always tell what kind of a person a man really thinks you are by the earrings he gives you.”
― Audrey Hepburn

Ah, jewelry – another word that appeals to everyone but is like music to a girl’s ears! Diamonds, in particular, make excellent graduation gifts for young women. That doesn’t mean men won’t like it. A solitaire tie pin for a son off to do a corporate internship might be overkill, but how about a diamond-studded watch or platinum bracelet that can eventually become a family heirloom? Graduation is a fitting rite of passage for such precious gifts.

Jewelry needn’t always be of the expensive kind, either. Depending on what you plan to spend, you can consider a necklace and earring set, a bracelet, a finger ring, a locket, a pendant, a tie pin, an ear stud, and so on. The only problem with jewelry is that the appeal is very specific; be sure you know what she’ll love or he’ll appreciate before you go and splurge several hundred dollars or more on a jewelry item.

Investments as a Graduation Gift Idea

If you’re investment-savvy, you can consider gifting some long-term Treasury ETFs, or stocks from a defensive segment like consumer packaged goods or utilities. These can be sound investment choices in a volatile environment because they focus on essential goods that people will always need. It’s not as glamorous as owning stocks in Apple, Inc. perhaps, but shares in a soap company or one that makes toilet paper or a consistent dividend-grower can provide more than a little financial stability over several decades.

Also Read: 101 Gift Ideas for 2020

Always look at the long-term horizon when making an investment as a gift for someone else. Many thousands of millionaires have been created by the capital markets, and you want your graduate son or daughter to have a backup if they ever need it in the future. Don’t get sucked in by sure-money deals or things like mutual funds. Look for solidly-backed opportunities that are relatively low-risk and have yielded results for decades, through recessions and boom times alike.

Technology Gifts for Graduation Day

When you think of gifting technology, gadgets are probably the first things that come to mind. But remember that you’re looking for a very special gift, not the run-of-the-mill gift like the latest iPhone or Samsung S series smartphone. Why not a more practical gift, like a convertible notebook for a college freshman or a new home security system for a daughter moving to her own apartment?

For that matter, it doesn’t even have to be a physical product. How about a digital gift like a Netflix annual subscription or a year of Amazon Prime? These offer prolonged value and will be much appreciated. If you think about it, technology is a great enabler for the art of gift-giving.

Nuts and Bolts, a.k.a. Essential Gifts

This category of graduation gifts has a decidedly practical bent to it and there’s no end to the possibilities it brings. But you have to be careful to stay away from things that might look practical but hold very little actual value. An example of that: a son living off-campus and mostly eating take-out or home delivery won’t appreciate a dishwasher but one who loves cooking in his apartment and entertaining friends will thank you after every party.

Here are some of the other things you can consider gifting a graduate about to leave home for the great unknown:

  • Cooking utensils, silverware, or crockery
  • Clothing, shoes, accessories, etc.
  • Bed, mattress, bed linen, etc.
  • Appliances: microwave, hairdryer, coffee maker, toaster (ah, the classic wedding gift!), and so on
  • Computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone
  • Toolbox with all the necessary tools
  • First-aid kit with specific medicines for your child
  • A food subscription plan for convenient meal delivery
  • Travel gear and accessories
  • Portable chargers, also known as power banks
  • Amazon Echo or any of the Alexa voice assistant products
  • Heavy appliances: air conditioner, washing machine, dryer, refrigerator, wall TV, deep freezer, oven, etc.
  • Vouchers, coupons, and digital discounts – perfect for the frugal graduate struggling to pay down their student loan!
  • A professional DSLR camera for the outdoorsy graduate who loves hiking, biking, and anything that keeps them moving.
  • A set of our own Friendship Lamps, perhaps?

There’s no dearth of websites telling you about the best graduation gift ideas, but we advise you to think it through and figure out what your now-adult child will find of practical value and for a prolonged period of time. Keep this in mind:

““They always gives me bath salts,” complained Nobby. “And bath soap and bubble bath and herbal bath lumps and tons of bath stuff and I can’t think why, ‘cos it’s not as if I hardly ever has a bath. You’d think they’d take the hint, wouldn’t you?””
― Terry Pratchett, Hogfather

Time and You: The Greatest Gifts of Them All

This might sound corny but the most valuable gift you can give as a graduation present for your precious child who’s going away is the gift of time. Communicating with Home Base is not something for your children to “get to it when they can”, especially for sensitive kids going out into a tough world. They might not have the financial safety net or social protection they enjoyed when they lived under your roof but you can certainly make sure they get the emotional support they need to get through the average week as an adult.

“The best gifts come from the heart, not the store.”
― Sarah Dessen, Lock and Key

Scheduling special FaceTime or Skype calls throughout the week is a great way to keep it consistent. Consider buying a video calling tool like the Echo Show or Echo Spot from Amazon or a 10″ Facebook Portal for a larger screen.

A word of caution is appropriate at this point: don’t overcommunicate. And that includes putting pressure on them to make every call on the schedule. Don’t let it be an obligation; it should be more of an open window when they know they can reach you for sure at those times. It’ll give them a tremendous sense of security and confidence knowing you’re there for them.

And God knows we could all use a little of both in our lives right now as the threat of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 starts cutting a swathe through a totally unprepared modern human civilization.

Our gift ideas for graduation will hopefully lighten the burden of separation. In these troubled times, we need something that brings us closer as a family. Gifts are a powerful way to make yourself present when you’re absent, to coin a new Master Oogway expression.

We’ll leave you with this final nugget of wisdom; not from Oogway but someone equally wise in the ways of the world:

“A gift consists not in what is done or given, but in the intention of the giver or doer.”
― Seneca, Moral Essays: Volume III

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