Seven Practical Gift Ideas for the Indebted College Graduate

Google “gift ideas for college graduates” and you’ll find a dizzying array of tchotchkes whose sole purpose is to impress or entertain. Buzzfeed, for example, offers gift ideas ranging from a celebratory flask to a globe made of corks or a GoPro camera. Other gift lists include things like make-your-own-beer kits, fancy coffee makers, and monogrammed coasters.

While such novelty gifts might be perfect for certain college graduates, many are entirely impractical – especially for graduates with a pile of student loan debt.

Considering that nearly two thirds of college students left school with an average of $37,172 in student loans in 2016, many new grads may not be interested in starting their professional lives with quirky clutter, no matter how fun it is. Instead, they may wish for practical gifts they can use – gifts that will help them earn more to pay down debt or, at least, save them money.

Practical Graduation Gifts for Indebted New Grads

If you can’t decide what to buy the college graduate in your life, think beyond the gadgets and gizmos to what they could actually use. Here are some practical ideas for the average college graduate who has bills to pay and not much else:

#1: M-O-N-E-Y

Want a gift your college grad will never throw away? Give them cold, hard cash they can use in whatever way they wish. With student loan bills nearly due, any indebted college graduate could use money to get their adult life started.

While you may never know how they use the cash (and there is, of course, a possibility they’ll use it in a way you don’t approve of), cash gifts are always appreciated. Plus, they’re perfectly practical for college graduates who could use cash more than a new coffee maker or waffle iron.

#2: Gift of College Gift Cards

A company called offers the perfect gift for people who want to help new graduates pay off their student loans. Plus, this gift idea guarantees the money isn’t used elsewhere or wasted. With Gift of College gift cards (which can be purchased online or at stores like Toys ‘R’ Us), you can donate to a child’s 529 plan or student loan account.

There are a few caveats to take care of before this one can work. First, your college graduate needs to set up an online Gift of College account and link their student loans. They can do this after they receive your gift card, but it is required.

Second, the gift-giver is charged a small fee for each Gift of College card – usually between $3.95 and $5.95, depending on the amount. A $500 gift card is $5.95, for example, bringing the grand total to $505.95. On the flip side, however, the recipient can use the money to pay off student loans with no fees.

#3: A Smart Personal Finance Book

Getting out of debt is no easy feat, and that’s especially true when you’re just out of college and starting a career. While personal finance books receive their share of yawns, they can be a smart gift idea for college graduates first learning to wrangle their money.

We all have our favorite personal finance books, but you could always go with a classic like The Millionaire Next Door or The Total Money Makeover.

Erin Lowry’s new book, Broke Millennial, is another fan favorite perfect for 20-somethings or college graduates first starting out. Through story-telling and real-world examples, Lowry tells others how to quit scraping by and get their financial lives together.

#4: Gift Cards

If you’re not keen on gifting money, books, or debt repayment, regular ol’ gift cards offer another practical gift opportunity. Depending on your college graduate’s needs, you could dole out gift cards to a home goods store, their favorite restaurants, or even the grocery store.

While gift cards can be extremely impersonal, they are always appreciated – especially by those who are struggling to pay bills. So, think long and hard about the gift cards your graduate might need or use. Once you decide, you can order gift cards online or buy them in nearly any retail store.

#5: Paid Resume Service

What most indebted college graduates really need is a job. Unfortunately, that is one gift that’s nearly impossible to give.

But to help with the process, you can give the gift of professional resume editing. With a paid resume service, your college graduate will receive a professional-looking resume that can help them stand out in a crowded field.

It’s easy to find people who offer this service online or in your local area. Usually, you can ask around and find a handful of English majors or career coaches who help young graduates improve their resume skills. As a last resort, you can book a resume service online.

#6: Furniture

Leaving college often means moving out on your own for the first time. If you’re an indebted graduate, that means facing a slew of brand new bills– things like deposits for rent and utilities, housewares, bedding, and everything else an apartment needs.

One of the biggest expenses to cover is, of course, furniture. When you’ve been living in a dorm or shared apartment for the last four or more years, you may have few usable pieces – or, at least, few you want to bring along to your post-college life.

Furniture is a solid gift option for college graduates getting their own place. If you’re not sure what to buy or what they need, a gift card to a department store or IKEA could do the trick.

#7: Household Goods

This last gift idea can be tricky to execute, mostly because you may not know what your college graduate needs. It’s almost guaranteed they need something, but it’s hard to guess whether they’re bringing their shared coffee pot from their old apartment or in need of dishes, bed sheets, or new silverware.

Asking a parent or friend is a good way to gauge the type of housewares any college graduate actually needs. If your goal is buying something for the home, you could also opt to give gift cards to stores that offer an array of housewares and small appliances – places like Target, Walmart, or Bed, Bath, & Beyond.

The Bottom Line

While you might be inclined to purchase college graduates a silly gift they’ll laugh about this year, it might be wise to think of what they need instead. With the average student loan burden well over $30,000, they might wish the beer pong set you gave them was a toaster, a student loan payment, or some cold, hard cash.

While practical gifts may not be as fun, they’re needed now more than ever.

Holly Johnson is an award-winning personal finance writer and the author of Zero Down Your Debt. Johnson shares her obsession with frugality, budgeting, and travel at

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What are you getting as a college graduation gift this year? What would you add to this list?

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