A Graduation Gift Guide: Some Pretty Cheap Stuff Every Grad Needs


It’s graduation season, which means you or someone you know may be about to enter the hard, cold, post-college world. Luckily a few relatively inexpensive implements can help ease that transition.

The traditional graduation gift is a check — or a stuffed bear wearing a mortarboard. But those wishing to make a contribution more specific than the former and more practical than the latter — or new grads with their own Target gift cards — might want to consider the following:


Storytime: when I was still in college, my roommate and I were trying to put together a futon. We needed a hammer. We said, “gosh, if only someone would just walk by and give us a hammer.” Then a man in a hard hat walked right by our door. Did he have a hammer? He did! Could we borrow it? We could! He asked that we leave it outside the door when we were finished, but he never returned to pick it up, leading us to believe he was some benevolent hammer-bringing ghost. Years later, I lost this hammer in a move, but the ghost did not return — proving that when you’re a grownup, you need your own hammer. From hanging pictures to (literally) breaking the ice at parties, it is essential.


I also have a story about glue. When I was living by myself for the first time, I bought a cheap old chair that promptly broke under the weight of a very petite friend. I needed to repair it, and I had no one to help me, so I went out and bought some wood glue and clamps and did it myself. The whole process made me feel like an Independent, Effective Adult, even though the chair was basically unsalvageable and broke again two days later. Having the right glue can make you feel powerful, and of course it can help you fix all the things you break because you are young and clumsy and your living space is small and sometimes filled with drunk people. If you get both wood glue and super glue, you can stick anything back together — at least for a while.


For a little more money, you can combine the above and some other useful items into an even more useful item: the toolbox. It doesn’t have to be huge — a hammer, some screwdrivers, a selection of nails, and some pliers will get you started. Mine has dinosaurs on it.

Hand towels

To the fresh-out-of-college person, hand towels may feel like kind of an indulgence — and they are. But isn’t it nice to offer your guests the option of drying their hands on something they can be reasonably sure has never touched your butt? I think it is.


Ideally, you should have two pairs: one for the kitchen and one for everything else. Three is even better.

A decent job-interview outfit

As Sadie has pointed out, these vary by industry. Aspiring financiers may need a suit, but I got through my education- and nonprofit-related early job interviews mostly fine with some black pants, decent flats, and button-downs. Regardless of your career path, Sadie’s post-college wardrobe post is a good place to start planning a sartorial transition. And for the office-bound, Katy suggests a selection of cardigans, because offices are always fucking cold.

Mailing supplies

The era of mailing out resumes may be over, but everybody still needs to send a thank-you card from time to time — or return the nice job-interview button-down that turned out to have horrible annoying bust darts up under your arms (a personal peeve). Some nice stationery, a whole bunch of stamps, and some solid manila envelopes — as well as a package of those nice “privacy” envelopes for mailing rent checks — will stand a new grad in good stead.


This has already become something of a traditional graduation gift, and with good reason: knowing how to cook a few decent meals for yourself is a great way to avoid blowing all of your first paycheck on take-out. Cooking is also a fun, cheap thing to do with your friends. Hortense recommends Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything, while my dad loves Veganomicon, which is funny because of how much he used to make fun of me for being a vegetarian. Other kitchen necessities include a coffee maker (this will also save coffee drinkers a ton of money) and a set of nice knives (although I have been making do with extremely crappy knives for years, and still enjoy eating food).

Adult life demands other necessities, of course: a vacuum; an iron (or a bunch of wrinkle-free clothes); come April, tax software; a toilet plunger; a sense of humility (Irin says the current economy will probably help with this). The point is, while the “real world” is scary, you can make it way less scary with a few pretty basic tools. None of the above cost a lot of money (except maybe the outfit, though even this need not). But they can make the difference between sitting in your unadorned apartment with a bunch of broken furniture and butt-towels, and striding out confidently into the world, secure in the knowledge that if something needs hammering, you can hammer it.

Image via Andresr/Shutterstock.com.

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