Mom's money lessons
Property taxes: The fifth time's a charm

Financial gifts for graduates

We're about half-way through May, a month that rivals December when it comes to gift giving.

Graduates1_1 Not only do we have Mother's Day, but there are all those graduates. High school, college, and even some elementary and middle schools have commencement ceremonies nowadays.

I'm not going to get into this whole lower-level graduation thing except to ask, "Why?" And to suggest that the perfect gift for these kiddies is an extra Oreo at snack time.

But for those slightly older graduates, whether heading off to college or into the cold, cruel world, here are half a dozen financial gifts they will appreciate, including a couple that actually will appreciate over the years.

$ You gotta start with the old standby, cash. As the joke goes, it's always the right size and everybody looks good in green or, now with the new $10s, $20s and $50s, with a few pastel highlights.

Pick up crisp new bills and stick them in a "Congrats Graduate!" card or in a plain envelope with a handwritten note. If you want to add a small token, too, slide them into a dollar sign money clip (personal engraving optional).

If your graduate is taking a break to tour the world, a gift of the coin of the realm would be welcome. Sure credit cards are accepted worldwide, but it never hurts to have a bit of the local currency on hand for taxis and tips as soon as you arrive.

Check with your bank or order online from Wells Fargo or Thomas Cook. This currency conversion calculator will help you get the correct amount of $ to €, ¥, ₧, £ or whatever legal tender is used in the grad's travels.

$$ Cold cash a bit too crass for your taste? Then repackage the money as a gift certificate (yes, a few places still offer these quaint items) or as a prepaid gift card.

If you go with the plastic option, one from Visa or MasterCard offers your graduate flexibility. These can be used at any store that accepts the brands' regular charge or debit cards. You should be able to buy one at your bank.

$$$ If you want to make sure the graduate doesn't immediately blow your monetary gift, give a certificate of deposit. Pick a short-term one that will mature just as the kid is getting to college, then he or she can get to the money to buy books and other campus necessities.

Of course, in this case you'll need the student's Social Security number, so this likely will be a gift option only for very close friends and relatives. To protect against identity theft, the financial institution also might require that the student come in with you to set up the account and sign the appropriate paperwork, so that takes the surprise element out of the gift.

And be sure to warn the grad that he or she will owe taxes on the interest that the CD earns.

$$$$ Feeling like a patriotic gift giver? Then consider one of the many U.S. Treasury products.

The most common gift in this category is savings bonds. Series EE bonds pay a fixed rate of interest for up to 30 years. Series I bonds offer the earnings some protection against inflation through a combination fixed rate, set for the life of the bond, and one based on the current inflation rate and updated every six months.

You can purchase either type at most financial institutions or, if you set up an account at TreasuryDirect, you can buy them online. Get details on purchasing savings bonds as a gift here.

Since the bonds earn a bit of interest, it's a gift that keeps on giving for many more years. The tax situation is also a little better than it is for the CD. Interest from all savings bond series is exempt from state and local taxes, and federal tax is deferred until the bond is redeemed.

$$$$$ Contribute to the graduate's continuing education. If the student has a Coverdell education savings account or a 529 tuition plan, a gift to these accounts would probably be welcome, by the grad as well as his or her parents. Check with the family for details and to coordinate your gift to ensure that limits and other guidelines are met.

$$$$$$ If your graduate already is money savvy, he or she probably would enjoy a subscription, either online or paper, to one of the many specialty financial publications. You can choose from magazines as well as newspapers and newsletters.

Here's one final money idea for those youngest grads whose ceremonies I disparaged earlier. To get the kiddies headed in the right money management direction from an early age, give them a share of stock in a company that they recognize: Disney (with Mickey and pals on the certificate), DreamWorks (Shrek graces this one), LeapFrog, McDonald's and Mattel are just a few single-share offerings.

You can have the certificate delivered in a personalized frame and one company even offers companion T-shirts and security blankets for the young new shareholders. To purchase single shares, check out Give A Share, One Share and Single Share.

The child will be able to track the progress of his or her investment and who knows, could become the next Warren Buffet.

Johnny_lechner_2 You can't make me go! That apparently is the motto of Johnny Lechner, one student who has no desire whatsoever for any graduation gifts.

Lechner could have graduated last week. Heck, he could have graduated last century. But each time, he put off the big day.

Most recently, he opted out of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater's May 13 pomp and circumstance, deciding instead to stick around for a 13th year of undergraduate studies.

According to this New York Times story, Lechner said he didn't start out to be a perpetual student, but it just happened once he realized how much fun he was having at college.

Get the scoop from Johnny himself at his Web site, which includes a link to his blog.

He must really be having a great time since, as his site notes, Wisconsin enacted a law requiring him to pay double the tuition because he could have graduated years ago.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Nothing wrong with a little cash as a gift, although I would probably have remembered the 529 contributions more. Interesting info about the single stock and framed certificate. I will keep this in mind for future gifts to the youngsters.

As far as Johnny Lechner, I think its hilarious that Wisconsin passed a law dealing with tuition and graduation because of him.

The comments to this entry are closed.