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Monday, June 6, 2022

What's Your Go-To Graduation Gift?

"It's that tome of year, when the world falls in love. . ."" oh no, wrong song, not that holiday. But it is that time of year -- graduation season. Who knew graduates would get a whole season? Eons ago, when I graduated high school, we got a day and a night. Then it was off to our summer jobs the following day. Now, according to Yahoo!, MSN, Fox News, etc, graduation is a season. In some ways, that's a good thing. In theory, a season gives me more time to figure out my response to the announcements that come in the mail. 

I'm really honored when a friend from years past counts me among those that they want to share this news about their child's major milestone. I do enjoy seeing the photos, and I want to offer my congratulations for their hard work and achievements. Deciding on how best to respond takes me a while, though. And I'm not the only one who is thinking through how to respond -- whether or not to send a gift, and if so, what seems to be the going amount to spend? A friend emailed over the weekend with just such a quandary. So I told her that I'd put the question to you, friends.

When you receive a graduation announcement, how do you respond?
  • if you haven't seen the graduate in many years, nor kept an active friendship with the parents vs if the graduate is the child of a close, current friend
  • or if the graduate is an extended family member (niece, nephew, grandchild)
  • if the graduation is high school vs. university
What do you prefer to give a graduate?
  • what's your budget for the above different scenarios?
  • do you like to give cash? (How much is too much, how little is too little?)
  • or small package by mail?
  • or hand delivered gift?
  • just a card?
  • do you give handmade gifts?
  • is there a difference if you're invited to the graduation, or to a party, or just received an announcement?
Some ideas that I've used in the past or that have been given to my own kids:
  • cash in the amount that corresponds to the current graduation year -- some friends of ours gave one daughter $20.19 in cash, because this daughter graduated in 2019.
  • if the graduate will be going on to university in the fall, I've given gift cards to restaurants or stores in their future university town, along with a small map showing the proximity of the restaurant or store to their campus.
  • I've also given merchandise purchased from the future university book store, such as socks and ball caps, with the uni's logo.
  • One university had electronic dollars that could be purchased by parents or friends for the students to use on campus and at some local eateries. This made a handy high school graduation gift for my nephew. Once on campus, he had some spending money to do things with roomies and new friends.
  • For an inexpensive gift, I've given M & M's in school colors.
  • For a graduate who won't be going on to further education but instead will be entering the work world, I've given practical gifts. 
Now, over to you, friends -- do you have a go-to graduation gift idea?


  1. Graduation season is over for us. We know zero people, friends, relatives with kids that are graduating. But when we did, we often would only give cards with money. Sometimes, $10, sometimes $20 but not much more because in those days we knew a ton of kids and we were on a very tight budget and just could not give any more. Oh, this was for high school graduation. For college graduation we didn't give our kids anything other than a dinner after the ceremony and we always went Mexican food. I have not seen many college graduation parties (at least around here). And all of the kids my children went to elementary school and high school with were just acquaintances after college was done so there wasn't a friendship anymore.


  2. This is a hard question for me, too. When I was graduating, my mother always gave the grad a good dictionary if they were going to college. That doesn't work these days. I have no idea what is the going amount for money gifts (and I know it varies depending on the circle and area) but we just gave a grad $50. We knew the parents, but not the son so much. We were invited to a party and the invitation asked for money to help pay for college. We had other commitments so we didn't go to the party.

    1. An invite that states a request for $, is a no go for me, just inappropriate. You invite folks over to share in the celebration, not to pass a hat. I would have declined.

    2. I think asking just for money is tacky, too. However, these people are from a different country with different customs. I was going to just send a card, but my husband knows them better and wanted to give something.

    3. $50 was very gererous, you don't know the grad, but hubs has a relationship with the parents and wished to give something, even though you declined the party invite. I wouldn't have given more than $20 in that case. JMHO

  3. Hard one! And it really varies. We've decided we're not obligated to give anything if it's someone we don't know well. But honestly, hardly anyone seems to send announcements any more, at least around here. Neither of our girls did, either, and I doubt the other three kids will. I personally feel like sending them is sort of hinting for a gift, but I know that wasn't always the case. Things are just so different these days. If it's a family we know pretty well and we'd like to give a gift, $50 would be our standard go-to. For our own children, so far with the first two we've bought them a nice laptop to use for college.

  4. I have gotten very good at ignoring the "gimme money" announcements and invitations. I typically just do $50 for graduation and $50-$100 for weddings, depending on the relationship.

  5. Very timely, indeed. Thing is, I think that monetary amounts vary geographically. In the past (before my kids were in that season of life) I would ask a friend or two what the going rate of money was for a gift. My own son graduated from high school last year and amounts varied, but at the lower end was $20. Most people gave cash or gift cards. We hosted an open house party for him, but because we were smack dab in the midst of of covid, our venue (our church) had many restrictions and we thought we would have to have the party outside. We didn't get the go-ahead to have it indoors until 2 weeks prior to the party. Typically we would have provided a luncheon for our guests but due to the uncertainties, we instead had goodie bags. My son had attained his Eagle Scout rank earlier in the year and again, due to restrictions, we had to defer his Eagle Scout ceremony. I decided to combine the 2 events and we had the Scout ceremony in the late morning followed by the graduation open house immediately afterwards. Many of the people attending would have come to both events, anyway. I mention this because he also received gifts for his Scout award, so I think some of his cash gifts were in higher amounts than what they might otherwise have been.

    That being said--I typically give cash or gift cards--my lower end is $20 and upper end is $50. That's only for high school graduation. I don't give gifts for college graduation. If I barely know the kid or parents, then I don't give anything, but that's a tricky one to figure out. A friend of mine gave my son a gift card to the college bookstore, which I thought was a brilliant idea--textbooks are so darn expensive! His college bookstore is through Barnes and Noble so that was the card she gave.

    In my area it's pretty common to get a mailed invitation and for families to host an open house. Our pastor's son also graduated last year and he opted not to have an open house--we didn't receive a grad announcement, but since the pastor and his wife came to my son's party we made a point of sending their son a card with a cash gift.

    In the past I've given practical gifts if the child is planning on living in a dorm--underbed storage boxes, a nice set of towels, etc. I don't think that I would give a handmade gift in most situations, but if I did, it would probably be something on the order of a throw blanket in the college colors for them to take with them. Most dorms have limited space so I try to be mindful of that.

    That's probably more info than you wanted! I'm in the time of life when this is a big part of our lives so I appreciate having you bring it up. Hope my responses helped.

  6. I can't recall the last time I received any sort of official announcement vs an invitation. That said, neither require any recognition if I hardly know the person and/or have no relationship with them. Post some pics on Facebook, sure, I'll send a "Congrats! to Jane/Bob" post but that would probably be it. If the graduate was someone close to me, a god child, my best friend's child who I actually knew, then a gift of either cash/CC/tangible item, in varying amounts, depending upon relationship and where my heart was lead. My co-worker or boss's child who I think* I met 10 years ago in passing? No. This can also be a season where folks are looking to shake others down, which I find beyond distasteful.

  7. We haven't been in the season for a very long time. Giving announcements to everyone even acquaintances seem overdone and we've ignored it when we got them many years ago. But it does feel awkward and I wish they didn't send the announcement. But an invitation to a party is always acknowledged with a cash gift and RSVP. On the whole, these days, we give money for all occasions because we think it is the most appreciated. I'm relieved to hear the amounts that everyone said in their comments, because that's what we normally give, $20 at the low end and standard $50. If there is a party we do attend, then we try to cover the cost for our meals too, so a higher amount.

    Hope you are feeling better,

  8. Thank you, all, for your input. I love the idea of a gift card to the university bookstore. It helps with a necessary cost. My own kids went to a very small high school. They didn't offer graduation announcements. There was a graduation dinner buffet after the ceremony for all of the families, but that was the extent of the event. I don't think my kids received any gifts for high school graduation from anyone other than my husband and self. We gave each child a laptop to use in college and that was it. After they graduated from university, they received a few gifts from others and work-suitable clothing from us as their gift.
    I'll make sure my friend (who originally asked about gift ideas and thoughts) gets a chance to read all of your comments. Again, thank you!


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