38 inexpensive gift ideas for grads

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Grad Gifts They'll Actually Use

Relatives and friends often congratulate high school and college graduates with useful gifts, but that can be easier said than done on a budget. This guide includes inexpensive, fun, and practical gift ideas that will help soon-to-be college students survive the dorms and newly independent adults manage the "real world."

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38 inexpensive gift ideas for grads (Cheapism)
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38 inexpensive gift ideas for grads

Cookbook

There are plenty of recipes online, but sometimes it's easiest to have a cookbook sitting on the counter. Start the grad off right with a copy of the all-encompassing "Joy of Cooking" ($22) or choose a regionally focused tome for grads moving away from home.

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Shower Caddy Kit

For a high school graduate heading off to a college dorm, a shower caddy is a must. Make the pre-college shopping a bit easier by stocking the caddy with personal care products such as shampoo, conditioner, shaving lotion, body scrub, loofa, manicure kit, and a pair of cheap flip-flops (for the shower), all for about $25.

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Friendly Advice

This inexpensive gift may be one of the most meaningful and rewarding for a new grad: Ask friends and family to write letters with advice, collect the missives, and present them in an attractive box. Browse Etsy for all manner of unique storage containers at various prices.

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Kitchen Starter Kit

For graduates moving out on their own, a kitchen starter kit is most welcome, and cheaper items are perfectly appropriate for college or a first-time kitchen. An oven mitt stuffed with utensils (whisk, spatula, salad tongs, etc.) purchased at the dollar store might cost about $20. Feeling generous? How about a large mixing bowl or kitchen trash can brimming with items such as cups, a can opener, cutting board, dish drainer, and skillet -- all for about $80.

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Personalized Towels

When students are stacked three or four deep in a dorm room, sometimes it's hard to keep track of personal belongings. For about $30 to $50, give a rising freshman a set of personalized face and body towels or a set so unusual that no one else will have it. A graduating senior looking forward to apartment mates will be equally appreciative.

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Gym Membership

For grads eager to stave off the dreaded "Freshman 15" or shed the effects of all those late-night pizza runs, a gym membership (starting at $20 to $30 a month) could be the perfect gift. If tuition covers gym fees or the recent college grad is already a gym rat, opt for a new workout bag (about $30) or clothing (about $40 for shorts or pants and a top).

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World Insights

Help the grad stay current with a subscription to The New York Times for $8.75 a week, including full digital access (half price if the student signs up using a school email address). Or, take out a subscription to a magazine that reflects the graduate's interests. A year of Vanity Fair with magazines and digital access costs $17, for example, while a 12-month subscription to Rolling Stone print plus digital costs $35.

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Toolbox

Because grown-ups often find they need to fix things themselves, an essential item on the life-kit list is a toolbox. A hammer comes in handy for hanging artwork; a screwdriver is perfect for assembling furniture; and a wrench can stop that leaky pipe. A 53-piece tool set sold on Amazon includes all the essentials for home repairs, comes in a compact case, and costs less than $30.

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Inspirational Artwork and Posters

It is hard being on your own for the first time. Posters and artwork that display inspirational quotes, images of favorite musicians, and pictures of getaway spots can help ease lingering anxiety. Check out big-box retailers, local music stores, and online vendors such as Art.com and Amazon for a graduation gift costing less than $10.

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Laundry Bag

Grads on their way to a dorm or apartment likely dread the idea of schlepping dirty clothes to the laundry. Make this chore a little easier by filling a budget laundry basket or hamper with detergent, dryer sheets or fabric softener, and stain remover for about $30 or so. Include a roll of quarters and a laundry cheat sheet with tips to keep clothes from shrinking or fading.

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Games

No matter the age, card and board games never go out of style. Grads will appreciate a classic, simple, and fun game such as Apples to Apples ($10), which comes in party-box size. The dirtier version, Cards Against Humanity, costs $25. The newly released Exploding Kittens card game is also quite popular. Original and not-safe-for-work versions are $20 each.

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Rechargeable Screwdriver

A toolbox may come with many essentials, but a basic plug-in or rechargeable screwdriver costs about $20 and is a practical addition. It provides the extra oomph needed to get challenging jobs done.

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Restaurant Meal

Whether graduates have already paid for an on-campus meal plan or are just starting to figure out how to make ends meet, it can be hard to justify spending money at local restaurants. Give them an excuse with a gift card to a local restaurant or a national chain they enjoy.

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Terry Wrap or Robe

The walk between the showers and the dorm room can be a long one. Women may feel more comfortable in an inexpensive terry wrap, which tightens at the top to ensure it won't slip off. Prices start at about $20. For a more expensive gift that a student will use for years to come, either sex will appreciate a robe for staying both warm and covered.

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Carry-On Luggage

A practical gift for high school and college grads alike, new carry-on luggage can hold necessities for trips home and abroad. Duffel bags start at about $15 and a sturdy carry-on with wheels and retractable handle retails for about $60 to $80.

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Custom Print

Feeling inspired? Spend $10 to $40 to create a custom poster, canvas print, or framed photo for the grad. Memories of home, family, friends, and shared vacations can brighten anyone's day and make excellent house-warming gifts. Retail chains and photo sites make these easy and inexpensive gifts -- especially with easy-to-find discounts. Check daily deal sites for cheap prices.

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Air Freshener

Most necessary for students moving into a dorm, a plug-in air freshener (less than $10) can cover up some of the scents that build up during the first year at college -- and might give the recipient a laugh.

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Entertainment

A subscription to Netflix ($10 a month) is perfect for the TV junkie or movie maven, while music enthusiasts will appreciate a subscription to Spotify Premium ($10 a month). Cover the cost for a few months to get them started.

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College Gear

A way to show school pride as a student or alum, gear with the school's logo or name always hits the mark. College T-shirts, sweatshirts, and caps typically sell for $20 to $40, while small items, such as key chains or mugs, make useful gifts and frequently cost less than $10.

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Lap Desk

A lap desk makes it easy to plug away even when not at a desk (while watching TV or movies, say, or lying in bed). This inexpensive ($20 to $35) graduation gift protects against the hot underside of a laptop and provides a hard surface for a mouse or notepad.

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Scrapbook

This graduation present takes a bit of time and some behind-the-scenes collaboration. Reach out to friends and family of the grad for photos from their time at school and create a scrapbook as a keepsake. It costs about 9 cents to print a 4-by-6-inch digital photo, and scrapbooks can be had for $12 to $15. Find creative stickers, colored paper, and other decorations at craft stores or online.

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Grocery Store Gift Cards

When the grocery budget is tight, a grad who likes to cook will be grateful to have the extra $25 or so to spend on special ingredients. Kitchen-phobes can pick up ready-made or frozen meals, snacks, and beverages from the grocery aisles.

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Self-Defense Classes

Self-defense classes are good reassurance for graduates heading to college or out on their own (and their parents). They're often for women, although men also might appreciate the extra protection. Multi-day classes can cost several hundred dollars, so this gift may require contributions from several people to make it affordable.

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Self-Defense Tools

In addition to or instead of a class, self-defense equipment could be a welcome gift. Pepper spray costs about $11 and a stun gun retails for about $20. Check local laws first, as some states and municipalities ban the use or ownership of these items.

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Journal

A nicely bound journal (about $10) helps students of all ages organize thoughts and record experiences. Some specialty journals, such as "One Line a Day: A Five-Year Memory Book" ($10) or "The Five Minute Journal" ($23), meet the needs of those with limited time.

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Storage Containers

Dorm rooms and first apartments are often short on space. Storage containers that slip under a bed ($10 to $50) or over a closet door ($12 to $35) can help the new grad stay organized and carve out a little extra breathing room.

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Thank You Cards and Postage

Grads may put off sending thank you notes, but with all the necessary supplies in front of them, they won't have any excuses. A $25 stash of cards and stamps also will come in handy when sending thank you notes to prospective employers and other gift givers.

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Roadside Assistance

For graduates who will be driving to and from school or work, a roadside assistance plan (about $60 a year) can offer critical aid in a time of need. Services such as AAA often make discounts available -- look online for coupon codes.

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Sarong

A sarong in the grad's school colors is both fun and practical. This $15 graduation gift can be worn as clothing in a variety of ways and double as a beach or picnic blanket for summer festivals and outings.

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Electric Kettle

A versatile kitchen appliance that works just as well in a dorm room, an electric kettle makes it easy to prepare a cup of coffee or a bowl of instant ramen noodles and costs just $15.

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Fancy Coffee Maker

Artisan coffee is in, and a few tools can help upgrade the grad's daily fix. Pair a ceramic or glass dripper with coffee filters ($12 to $25), or opt for the AeroPress coffee and espresso maker, which starts at about $30, or a Chemex starts at about $39. Add a bag of high-quality beans for about $13 to $20.

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First Aid Kit

Though dorms typically have first aid kits available, it never hurts to have one stashed within the room, and college graduates and students living off campus likely won't have one at all. For those just-in-case moments, spend about $17 for all the essentials needed to clean and patch up minor wounds.

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Book Bag

Useful for hauling books between classes or documents to and from work, a carryall or book bag is a fitting and cheap gift for high school and college grads. It's key to know the graduate's preferences -- some like backpacks ($20) and others go for the look of a messenger bag ($40).

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Message Board

A whiteboard ($10 to $30) or a bulletin board ($13 to $25) hung in a central spot can help organize chores and serve as a place for notes to roommates. Propped up in an individual room, the board can help keep to-do lists organized and visible.

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Jumper Cables

Jumper cables ($13) are a mandatory accessory for the new grad's wheels. Round out the present with another car-related gift, such as foam tire sealant ($10), a tire gauge, or a hand-crank flashlight ($10).

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Reusable Water Bottle

A money saver that's also green, a reusable water bottle ($7) is a practical and cheap graduation gift. Get bonus points by printing something unique on it through a personalized-gift site such as CafePress (about $25).

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Multi-Tool

Swiss Army knives or Leatherman multi-tools can be pricey, but even a basic one costing about $15 can be useful for hiking, camping, picnics, and odd tasks around the apartment or dorm room.

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Fire Extinguisher

A fire extinguisher is the ultimate practical -- even dull -- gift, but graduates will be forever grateful should they ever need to use it. The investment of $20 to $40 can also pay off in reduced renter's insurance premiums.

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38 inexpensive gift ideas for grads

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