Inexpensive gift ideas

Gift ideas for Grads

by Catherine E. Galioto

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An invitation to a graduation party needn't be an invitation to write a fat check to the graduate. Many gift options exist that will help celebrate the academic achievements of the guest of honor and will make the grade for us dollar stretchers out there.

Find out if college is in the graduate's future, and then inquire about receiving any swag the school might produce. Fill a gift basket with tons of free pens, pencils, magnets, mouse pads, key rings and other promotional goodies from the graduate's school of choice. The college or university's public relations and recruitment offices are full of such stuff, as is the athletic office; the schools give away these items as advertisement. Don't forget to scour the admissions office; include a student handbook and other appropriate items to round out an overflowing gift basket that costs virtually nothing but your time. The graduate will be thrilled to showcase her new school pride.

A lighthearted gift for that grad is a case of ramen noodles, the college student's meal of necessity. Perhaps include some recipes for spicing up the ubiquitous "dorm food." A related item might be a journal you've filled with some college-life advice. That freshman will be as knowledgeable as a senior after reading your words of wisdom on how to survive an all-night thesis cram session or keg party.

Another reasonably priced gift can be found in the staple books every college-bound graduate needs. Books such as The Elements of Style: 50th Anniversary Edition , Gray's Anatomy , The Associated Press Stylebook , Writing Research Papers: A Complete Guide , or a good dictionary and thesaurus are great ideas, many of which are reasonably priced at retail book stores, or heavily discounted at used book stores.

The high school grad will also appreciate a scrapbook showcasing all the many school memories. With some light research, your scrapbook can include the graduation ceremony program, school literature and school-spirit items, the school newspaper, old report cards and projects, photograph pictures and heartfelt messages.

If you feel obligated to give a monetary gift, yet can't contribute a hefty sum, try displaying the dollar signs with flair. Create a piñata filled with dollar bills and other nearly-free treats. Instead of paying $30 on a store-made piñata, make your own from a recycled cardboard gift box. Make sure the box is not corrugated cardboard, or the graduate will have a hard time smashing through it. Fill this box with dollar bills, candy, stickers, pens, pencils and other low-cost items, and then seal it with light-weight tape. Get two double-sided signs from a party store that say an appropriate message and are slightly larger than the box's dimensions (I bought two for a total of $2), and then sign your name and well wishes to each one in permanent marker. Tie sturdy string around the box and leave enough to hang the piñata, and then attach the two signs. Voila! This idea is great for any type of party event and is certainly memorable.

Create a gift based on the graduate's post-high school plans. Do they have a job set up? Do they have a field of study picked out? Are they moving to a new location? The answers to these questions may spark an idea for a creative and reasonably priced gift.

Besides, your gift might serve as a study in frugality, a lesson anyone entering the lean college years can appreciate!

Catherine E. Galioto is an award-winning freelance writer from New Jersey who appears regularly in more than seven publications. Write to her at cgalioto8@

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