9 Smart Financial Gifts to Give New Grads Besides Cash


Do new grads want cash? Yes — all day long. But you and I both know what new grads will do with it. Instead of setting them up for failure by handing over a hot wad of Benjis that'll burn holes in their pockets, steer them toward success with these financially valuable, money-inspired gifts.

1. Skill-based classes

I knew the basics of cooking and cleaning when I graduated college (I could scrub a toilet and do my own laundry, at least), but there were plenty of skills I lacked — like home improvements, vehicle maintenance, and, yes, money management. And while I had people around to help with many of those inconveniences, I was still kind of a disaster for the first few — OK, six — years on my own.

If someone had gifted me a help-yourself class or two, however, not only would I have been better prepared to enter the "real world" more confidently, but I could have capitalized on those skills to earn side income (because that's the real thing I'm great at). That would have come in handy when I was eating pizza bagels for every meal.

2. Starter emergency fund

New grads won't have the kind of emergencies that older adults do, but even the smallest crisis can turn into a major financial burden for someone just starting out. Lend a helping hand by setting up an emergency fund in their name at your bank (not theirs) so they're unlikely to drain it for early-20s nonsense.

Put aside $500 to $1,000 to start and add money as you see fit, or let the grad know that they can transfer money into the account when they have a little extra to spare. Their own contributions will provide even more padding when the going gets tough. (See also: 7 Easy Ways to Build an Emergency Fund From $0)

3. Website domain

Most college grads — heck, even high-schoolers — are tech savvy, but they may not have thought to secure their name as an internet domain for future use. I love this idea because while it's not a tangible gift, it is a gift that can spark inspiration. If someone handed me a website domain and told me to run with it, I'd at least ponder the possibilities, and that's all some people need to go full steam ahead. (See also: 8 Surprising Ways a Personal Website Can Improve Your Life)

4. Loyalty points

If you've racked up loyalty points and want to save money on grad gifts, look into gifting these transferable rewards.

"Loyalty points are a great money gift to give new grads instead of cash," says U.S. Travel Association spokesperson Laura Holmberg. "Loyalty points allow them to cash in for unique travel experiences at the time and destination of their choice — maybe for a post-grad getaway, or to put toward that first vacation once they're in the 'real world.'"

5. Big-idea books

New grads might not want to crack open a book right away, but gifting self-help books that lie in waiting until they're ready will be worth every penny once they pick them up and implement the actionable advice.

Some of my favorites include author-entrepreneur David Pike's The New Startup and The Startup Playbook by Rajat Bhargava and Will Herman (both are perfect for grads trying to figure out what they want to do with their work life), as well as David Carlson's Hustle Away Debt (because there will be a lot of debt to hustle away). (See also: The 8 Classic Personal Finance Books You Must Read)

6. Gift cards for life's necessities

Gift cards are a safe and popular gift to give, but when buying for new grads, think practical instead of frivolous. They might not appreciate $50 to a supermarket in the moment, but there will come a time they'll recognize that gift card as perhaps the most thoughtful and useful of the bunch. Other sensible gift card ideas include cards for gas, a new interview suit, work supplies, and home essentials.

7. Student loan payment

Many college grads start life with student debt looming over their heads, and you can help alleviate that burden somewhat by providing a few initial payments as a gift.

"Sit down with them and go through the process of helping them make a payment toward their student loans or contribute installments to their budget to help them on a monthly basis for a few months after they graduate," suggests Alayna Pehrson, financial blogger for BestCompany.com. "Overall, student loans can feel like a major weight to many fresh college graduates, so this gift could really go a long way for your grad." (See also: 15 Ways to Pay Back Student Loans Faster)

8. Investment starter capital

Broke college graduates don't think much about making investments right out of school when they're peering down a dark tunnel of 10 to 20 years of student loan payments. As such, this is a great opportunity for you to take the lead where investing is concerned.

"You can do this by giving them money to invest and starting them out with a well-known investing app like Acorns," Pehrson says. "Again, going through it with them step-by-step can ensure that they actually invest that money."

Take some time to explain how investing works, too. It's scary for a lot of people, but knowing what to do, why, and when will help new grads wrap their head around why it's important to keep this option open as a lifelong financial tactic.

9. Roth IRA

Retirement is the farthest thing from a new grad's mind, but you and I both know the earlier you start saving for that glorious day, the better. And in terms of the ROI, a Roth IRA is near the top of the list of best grad gifts.

Consider this: A max contribution of $5,500 in the starter account you set up for the grad at age 21 will mature to a staggering $71,000 by age 65, assuming 6 percent interest — and that's with no further contributions. Given that 13 percent of Americans have $0 saved for retirement, according to a 2018 GOBankingRates survey, your generous gift puts them well ahead of the curve before life even begins. (See also: 6 Reasons Every Millennial Needs a Roth IRA)

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