graduates

Finding a gift for today’s high school or college graduate can be a bit nerve-racking. Cash is by far the most popular graduation gift, but it’s not that personal. Meanwhile, some traditional gifts, such as a watch or fountain pen, may baffle a graduate who’s never used either ‒ and likely won’t in the future.

Going electronic isn’t an easy solution, either. Your grad may already have the phone, tablet or laptop she needs. If not, she is still likely to have firm ideas about what she does want, so make sure you consult her before going this route.

If you’re looking for other ideas for a distinctive gift that can help your grad get off to a good start, consider the following:

Some advice ‒ A session with a financial planner can help graduates set up a budget, learn about student loan payoff options and get started with retirement savings. A career coach can polish a resume, offer job-hunting advice and hone strategies for moving up the career ladder. A stylist or personal shopper can assist in putting together a professional wardrobe. Meanwhile, the same college consultants who help high school students pick schools often also offer boot camps, workshops or individual coaching in college survival skills. Expect to spend around $150 an hour for two to three hours with any of these professionals.

Advice in book form ‒ Alternatively, you could consider an advice book geared to his or her needs, such as “Lean In for Graduates” by Sheryl Sandberg, “Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties” by Beth Kobliner; “Style Bible: What to Wear to Work” by Lauren A. Rothman; and “The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College” by Harlan Cohen.

Experiences ‒ Voluminous research shows that experiences bring more lasting happiness than stuff. The gift of travel is a perennial favorite, but theater tickets or a great dinner out are other ways to create memories. Thrill-seekers might enjoy flying lessons, skydiving, whitewater rafting or a racecar driving experience. More sedate options could be a hot-air balloon ride, a spa package or gift certificates for gourmet cooking classes, which combine a social experience with a valuable skill for post-college life.

A great bag ‒ A battered duffle was fine for bringing home laundry from college or traveling during that semester abroad. In adult life, though, your grad will need actual luggage. A full suite of bags might be overkill, but you can’t go wrong with a quality carryon. Some airlines have tightened their standards, so look for a 21- or 22-inch tall bag that’s no more than 14 inches wide (although consider one that can expand, since some airlines are more generous). Spinners with four wheels handle better than rollers with just two.

A bike (with a good lock) ‒ Fewer of today’s high school graduates have a driver’s license than in the past, and many college graduates are heading to cities where owning a car is more of a pain than a privilege. If that’s the case for your grad, a stylish new bike could be a welcome gift. Where there are bikes, there are bike thieves, so include a top-notch lock such as Kryptonite’s New York Fahgettaboudit U-Lock, an “extra-tough bicycle lock designed to hold up to thieves in New York and elsewhere,” according to its ad copy.

Matching funds ‒ It’s never too early to start saving for retirement, and a generous way to encourage that habit is to offer matching funds for anything the graduate deposits in a Roth IRA.