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Graduation Gifts I Wish Someone Had Given Me

practical gifts for new graduatesBy the end of this month, thousands of students will be graduating from college. While some might go back home to live with Mom and Dad, the majority will be moving into the world of paying rent, utilities, car insurance and all the fun stuff that comes with adulthood.

I’m sure there are many college students who had to pay for all their expenses from the time they left home, but many are lucky enough to have parents who supported them by paying things like car maintenance, health insurance, and dental visits. It can be a real eye opener to be totally on your own, having to navigate adult responsibilities. Graduation gifts aren’t going to fund a lifestyle, but they can go a long way toward getting feet wet in the real world. Here are some graduation gifts I wish someone had given me to help ease the transition.

Gift Card For Car Maintenance

When I was in college, I used my parent’s mechanic when I was home on breaks for things like tire rotations and oil changes. It doesn’t cost a ton of money for routine car maintenance, but it adds up when combined with all the new expenses graduates face. A gift card from Jiffy Lube of Grease Monkey would at least cover some of those costs for a while.

Right after graduating optometry school, I was making $25,000 a year, and I’m ashamed to say that I put off lots things that I knew were important just to save money. While it’s tempting to want to go out and buy a car after getting your first job, it’s tons smarter for new grads to drive their old college beater for a while longer, especially if they have student loan payments coming up. Routine maintenance goes a long way toward making this possible.

The Automatic Millionaire

I wonder if I would have read and appreciated this book when as a new graduate? No one ever really talked to me about retirement at that stage of the game, and I really wish I’d started saving aggressively right from the beginning of my career. I thought I had plenty of time to do that later, but the best time is always right now.

The Automatic Millionaire was the first financial book I read as we were trying to get out of credit card debt. I don’t agree with everything David Bach says, but this book really made so much sense.  I’ve given a copy of this book to several graduates and young people. I have no idea if any of them read it or got anything out of it, but it’s never too early to start planning for the future!

Basic Kitchen Tools

When I lived in a dorm or even in a house with roommates, I never owned many of my own dishes or cooking utensils. I usually just used whatever was already there, and to be honest, I didn’t cook very much if it didn’t go in the microwave or a pot of boiling water. I’d love to have some of the student loan money back that I spent on Back Yard Burger or Papa Johns’s but I digress……..

Sadly, the habits of buying pre-packaged food or getting take out continued long after I was done with school. There are lots of cooking utensils, dishes, and baking pans to be found on the cheap at yard sales and thrift stores, but everyone living on their own needs a few basic cooking items that can be tough to find used.

With a few kitchen tools and Pinterest, anyone can make home cooked meals very inexpensively. While I might have rolled my eyes if someone had given me a crock pot right out of school, it would have come in very handy when I was working long days and coming home starved.

Household Tools

To this day, I am no DIY expert, but it was almost comical to see my struggles when I first moved out on my own. I remember buying cheap shelves and furniture that had to be assembled, thinking I was doing so well until the whole thing was done and half of it was backwards or upside down. I also remember having to go to Target and buy screwdrivers and a hammer because I’d never had a use for tools in my former life. A basic DIY kit would have been very useful and should include:

  • Hammer
  • Phillips and flat head screwdrivers
  • Picture hangers
  • Paint brushes
  • A plunger
  • Duct tape
  • Super glue
  • Scissors
  • Pliers
  • Flashlight
  • 5 gallon bucket

Netflix or Hulu

I think lots of college kids these days watch TV or movies through streaming, but I’m sure a fair number still subscribe to cable. The nice thing about having cable in college is that you can split the cost with roommates. Once new graduates are living alone, that bill doubles or triples if no roomies are involved.

Having a subscription to Netflix or Hulu means no need to ever develop a cable habit. Gift subscriptions can be ordered online or you can pick up gift cards at a variety of stores. They didn’t have Netflix when I was in college, but I do wish I had some of the money back I spent on cable and satellite TV over the years.

What About Cash?

Cash is always a welcome gift, but it’s too easy to spend on clothes or eating out. I would rather give new graduates a gift that continues to help with saving money and eases the transition into true adulthood, but that’s just me after years of doing it the wrong way. Hopefully today’s graduates are much smarter that I was!

What is your go to graduation gift? What tools or kitchen items would you give to someone just starting out?


About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. Unless we’re asked for something specific, or know the family well enough to know what they might best benefit from, we tend to give cash or some sort of gift card. I love the practical gift idea though like something for the kitchen or tools. I had no idea what I was doing with either when I graduated and know I would’ve benefitted from one or the other.

  2. A book about money is a great idea! Cash always works well too. I usually give cash because I am not the world’s best gift giver.

    • I think since I don’t really like to receive gifts, I have a hard time giving them. I try to make everything practical and that’s probably not always the best way to be.

  3. I really like what my parents got me for my graduation: a nice printer. In college I could always print at school, but once I was graduated it was something I definitely needed to invest in. I like your suggestion of “The Automatic Millionaire” and it’s on my list of books to read this year.

    • You probably know most of the information already, but it was really eye opening for me coming from a place where I’d never been particularly responsible with money.

  4. Thoughtful, timely post. Thanks for sharing.

  5. I really wish someone would have sat me down and talked to me about how to effectively manage my money…still, I was young and it very well could have fallen on deaf ears. 🙂

    • I’m not sure I would have been receptive either, but at least it would have been there in the back of my mind.

  6. I think I’m going to start giving a good personal finance book along with some cash. I like that idea!

    • I wish someone had given me a finance book way back when. Who knows if I would have taken the advice, but I like to think I was open minded enough to give it a try.

  7. Great suggestions, Kim. I love the idea of giving a good financial book and some supplies to help them set-up their first apartment/home since most college kids have little to no kitchen or house supplies. I also think the car maintenance gift certificate is a fabulous idea but that is something many kids don’t think about. Their parents took care of it for them.

    • Car repair and maintenance was an eye opener for me. Having to buy that first set of tires seemed very tragic at the time.

  8. Great list! For one of us, we got the graduation gift of paying off our $10K credit card debt. Of course, because we didn’t actually learn much from that, we went on to run it all back up! But, we’re believers that you learn as much or more from mistakes as from good decisions, so we don’t regret that — we think it shaped who we are and where we are today, which we’re thankful for!

    • I hear you. We ran out credit debt up and down several times before getting serious, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for all it taught us.

  9. My plan for college graduates is to give money, and then a great book like The Millionaire Next Door. Kids need to have wisdom and education as they head out into the real world of adulthood!

  10. By the time I was done with college, I bought a house to rent out to students. So my aunt and uncle gave me a comprehensive set of tools. Those were invaluable.

    I also like your idea of some basic kitchen implements. It’ll encourage them to cook, even if they’re not enthused about it.

  11. I really wish I had learned about the wonders of a slow cooker long ago! I only got my first one about two years ago and it´s a total game changer! My mom never used one, so I had no idea what I was missing out on.

    • My Mom didn’t either, but she was a good Southern cook, so maybe that seemed too easy. You really have to work hard to make a crock pot meal turn out bad!

  12. Since our daughter is graduating from college in May a few family members are going together and buying her a Kitchen Aid stand mixer (I found a super deal). We know she likes to makes cookies and wanted to get her something that would last a long time (I still use mine that I got over 20 years ago) and she said she didn’t want jewelry since she didn’t think she would wear it that often. For friends of hers I usually get a small gift card to either Starbucks, a grocery store or a fast food place so they can have a treat.

  13. Money is really what I prefer as a graduation gift. However, I honestly would like to receive a certificate for a short culinary course for baking or probably a good recipe book. This would be really perfect and I would appreciate it so much.

  14. Great gift ideas!

    I like the gift card for car maintenance, car trouble is the pits! Household tools is another area for DIY stuff. Usually, I do an Amazon or iTunes gift card. Not sure about cash; I feel kind of weird about it when it comes to gifts.

    Neat list, thanks for sharing! 🙂

  15. Great list of items! When I graduated during college, my parents gave me cash and some formal dress.

  16. I really like the tools and kitchen supplies idea! Mr. FW’s mom gave him a skillet for graduation that we use to this day. That stuff is seriously useful and, probably not something your average college grad would think to ask for. My sister-in-law is graduating from high school next month and I’m trying to figure out what to get her. I can’t remember what I needed at that point in time… dorm supplies I suppose!

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