Hats Off to Better Grad Gifts

Graduation DayThis time of year, college graduates get slammed with predictable presents—checks, stationery, copies of Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Rise above the “Congrats!” pack by giving one of these money-smart gifts.

Deck of Cards—Part of feeling like a capable adult is being able to outfit your apartment with more than folding chairs and frameless posters. Give your grad gift cards to grown-up stores like IKEA, Home Depot, Best Buy, and Bed Bath & Beyond.*

Real Food—Rescue your grad from a fate of greasy, pricey take-out by giving a Community Supported Agriculture membership. Typically, CSA members get a selection of fresh, seasonal produce from local farmers once a week for about 5 months. Cost, about $12 to $25 per week. Get started by checking out Local Harvest’s directory of more than 4,000 CSAs throughout the U.S.

Seed Money—While the ex-student is pouring energy into a new job, pour a little start-up cash into an IRA in his or her name. Open a target-date fund based on her current age—the fund’s asset mix automatically adjusts to become more conservative over time. Many companies waive minimum account balances if the graduate agrees to deposit a small amount monthly. (In 2011, the most you can contribute is the smaller of these two amounts: $5,000 or the grad's taxable compensation for the year.)

* Federal laws restricting gift-card fees will take effect in August, but most states have already put some restrictions in place. Still, remind your grad to read the fine print for any gotchas.

Share the wealth. What money advice would you give a new grad?

photo source: Lowry Lou's photostream on Flickr

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