Nearly a third of us bestow gifts on graduates during a typical commencement season, according to the National Retail Federation, averaging just under $90 per gift.
The most popular item, favored by a sizable majority of givers, is the simple, practical and always-appropriate envelope stuffed with cash.
If you weary of feeling like a bagman for a numbers-running operation, however, or you worry the money will go for a new piercing or tattoo, consider these gifts with a personal finance flair.
A Slice of The Apple
Giving your grad the latest and greatest tablet could set you back $400 or more — and set your grad up for techno-envy whenever their favorite tech company comes out with the next iteration of its hot-selling gadget.
So how about a share (or two) of Apple stock?
Owning a bite of the Apple never goes out of style, and this gift will give the youngster a reason to learn about stocks and investing.
You can buy a single share of many publicly traded companies through a number of services, including Sharebuilder, FrameAStock.com, and Oneshare.
Financial Planning Session
A typical college student’s financial planning session involves mulling over whether to order two large pizzas and a pitcher of beer, or one pizza and two pitchers.
After graduation, when paychecks presumably start rolling in, however, budgets, savings, insurance, retirement plans and other higher-level concerns will become more important.
You can help your grad get his or her arms around their new financial responsibilities by laying out $100 to $300 for a pre-paid session or two with a Certified Financial Planner or other well-credentialed financial advisor.
A Roth IRA
Anyone who has sat through a commencement speech or two knows that graduates go forth to “follow their passions” and “make the world a better place.”
That sounds great, but by the time today’s graduates are accomplished enough to be asked to give a commencement speech, they may find that their passion has shifted more toward building a solid retirement portfolio.
You can help them get ready for that day with a Roth IRA. Future withdrawals from Roth IRAs are free of federal taxes and you can put $1,000 to $5,000 in today for tax-free growth until retirement.
There are restrictions, however. Recipients need some earned income to qualify, for instance. Talk to a broker or banker about details.
A Haberdasher Gift Card
Recent grads are, presumably, seeking employment. And flip flops and backwards ball caps probably won’t cut it for most job interviews.
So a gift card to a department store or other purveyor of suitable professional garments is sure to be appreciated and you can tailor the amount of the gift to your personal budget.
A designer men’s suit might set you back $2,oo0 (or more!) and $50 gift card to Target, meanwhile, would more than suffice for a women’s Timex watch with white lizard grain leather strap.
A Car-Sharing Club Membership
Thanks to you, your grad is dressed to impress and, with the help of a new watch, may even be on time for their first job interview.
But how to actually get to the prospective employer’s office across town when the only wheels they own is an ancient bike they pedaled to class as an undergrad?
The generation before might have taken the bus or bummed a ride from a friend if they were carless, but the 21st Century approach to this problem is car-sharing.
A Zipcar gift certificate is $25 and up and can pay for initial membership or hourly rentals. When the interview is done and the grad is back home, they just leave the vehicle where they found it and walk away.
They may not have everything just yet, but they’re on their way.
Mark Henricks reports on finance, business, technology and other topics from Austin, Texas. He is the author of Not Just A Living: The Complete Guide to Creating a Business that Gives You A Life and other books. Visit him online or on Twitter @markhenricks.