Are you on the hunt for a great gift for the special graduate in your life?
Back in the day, I received a special present — a gold cross pen — from my older cousin who was already in college. I felt so sophisticated!
While writing instruments are a great gift, there are a few less obvious options that can help a college graduate set herself up for financial success in the future. With students graduating with an average of $35,000 in student loan debt, they need a financial leg up more than ever.
Here are 5 unique money-savvy gifts for high school grads:
- A slow cooker
Learning to plan meals and cook delicious food he’ll look forward to eating can prevent your college student from wasting thousands of dollars on dining out. A cheap dinner out costs $15 to $20 per person, while many slow cooker dinners cost $2 to $3 per meal.
The summer between graduation and college (or trade school), teach your student to throw some meat, veggies, and a pack of spices in the slow cooker in the morning to have a delicious meal for dinner. He can freeze the leftovers, too!
Saving $200 in food costs per month translates into $9,600 in savings over four years in college. If they continue the habit during working years, the slow cooker meal savings could allow them to save that $200 per month in a Roth IRA or 401(k) through their employer. Who knew a countertop appliance could lead to a successfully funded retirement?
- A bike and a pre-paid credit card for Uber
Having a car on campus is expensive. If your student can get around using alternative modes of transportation, they can save thousands of dollars over their four years of college.
Consider this: The sticker price of a 2011 Chevy Impala may be $8,564, but the “true cost to own” is over $24,000 for a 5-year period, according to Edmunds.com. You have to consider not just the cost of the vehicle and fuel, but maintenance, repairs, and insurance. Then you also have to add the cost of parking on campus.
Unless there is a real need to have a vehicle, like an awesome internship that is a drive away, encourage your student to ride a bike, use public transportation, pay for gas for rides from friends, and use Uber or Lyft to get around.
- Noise-cancelling headphones
The more roommates your student can fit in one apartment or household, the less rent they have to pay. When a student reduces their overhead, they can save thousands of dollars in costs. An added bonus is they learn to get along well with others — a skill they can use in their personal and business lives.
There is a drawback, however. Sharing a room means lack of privacy and increased noise and interruptions. Give your student a great set of headphones to drown out distractions.
- A leash, portable water dish, and treats but not a dog
It’s not necessarily a good idea for a college student to own a dog, since owning a pet is expensive and the canine may not get the attention it needs. But a student can certainly start a dog-walking business and make an income on the side for a very low startup cost.
College students have flexible schedules, so they could pick up a couple of clients who live close to campus and walk dogs between classes. The students can get their exercise by walking or running with the dogs and pick up $15 per hour. Dog owners in neighborhoods often know each other, so one client can easily turn into 2 or 3. Before they graduate, they could train an incoming freshman to take over the little business.
Students can make easy money with a side gig, whether it’s dog walking, music lessons, or computer technology skills. It will also help them build confidence.
- A healthy (and wealthy) survival kit
Give your student a healthy start so they can perform at their peak, especially during that important freshman year. Katie Brewer, CFP (™) and owner of Your Richest Life, suggests giving graduates items to keep them healthy, such as an ergonomic backpack that distributes weight of their heavy books (easier on the back) and with material that breathes (easier on their clothes). A student is on campus most of the day, and keeping their spine in line can prevent injury and keep them comfortable.
Katie also admits to being “slightly obsessed” with her Tervis water bottle that doesn’t spill and keeps water cold all day. She’d add a good water bottle to the survival kit so students aren’t constantly buying expensive water at the student union (and it’s good for the environment, too).
Some other things to add to the survival guide, Katie says, are rain gear (to stay dry at class and football games) and a couple of bottles of vitamins to prevent colds during stressful mid-term and final exam weeks. While it’s difficult to quantify the cost of the common cold, students who take care of themselves and prevent illness can be more productive during their college years and beyond.
You can always go with a more traditional graduation gift, like a dorm refrigerator or the pen I loved so much. But wouldn’t it be great to teach your favorite high school senior some unique money lessons with their graduation gift?
They may thank you years later when they buy their first house with the down payment from the car, rent, and food cost savings. And that bottle of Vitamin C may have started them on a life-long habit of taking great care of themselves so they are healthy, wealthy, and wise.
This was originally posted on my Forbes.com contributor site under the title: 5 Gifts For High School Seniors That Will Set Them Up For Financial Success.
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