10 Smart Gifts for College Grads

These practical ideas will help young adults as they enter the real world.

Over the next several weeks, colleges across the country will hold their annual spring commencement ceremonies. If you have a friend or family member who is graduating and you're wondering what gift to give them, we have several practical suggestions.

DOWNLOAD: The Kip Tips iPad App

Here are ten gift ideas that will help college grads get a head start in the real world:

Subscribe to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance

Be a smarter, better informed investor.

Save up to 74%

Sign up for Kiplinger’s Free E-Newsletters

Profit and prosper with the best of expert advice on investing, taxes, retirement, personal finance and more - straight to your e-mail.

Profit and prosper with the best of expert advice - straight to your e-mail.

Sign up

Interview attire. It's crucial to project the right image if you want to get a job and get ahead. But college seniors are more likely to have closets filled with shorts, jeans and t-shirts than work-appropriate attire. So take your grad shopping for a good suit. For families on a budget, give a nice tie, dress shirt and perhaps some sensible shoes. See 5 Ways to Dress for Success on a Budget for affordable ways to outfit your college grad. And share these tips on how to impress a hiring manager with your grad.

Session with a career coach. In today's competitive job market, a session with a career coach could give a college grad an edge over other applicants. Hiring a coach isn't cheap -- it can cost several hundred dollars. But this might be money well spent if you're a parent and don't want your kid moving back in with you because he's unemployed. You can find a coach through the International Coach Federation's referral service.

Financial advice. If your child knows little about the basics of investing or personal finance, help her learn with a few good books. For easy-to-read primers, see 4 Great Financial Books for Recent Grads. Or get her a subscription to Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine for just $12.

Smart phone. Because smart phones aren't cheap, a college grad short on cash is sure to appreciate this gift (especially if you pay for the service plan, too). Believe it or not, a smart phone can actually help her save money. Coupon apps can help her spend less at the grocery store. And it can eliminate the need to buy other gadgets, such as a camera and portable music player. See 10 Ways to Make Your Smart Phone Pay for Itself. The iPhone 4S with Siri, the voice-activated personal assistant, also can help your grad deal with money matters on the go (see How to Use Siri as a Personal Assistant).

Grocery gift card. Encourage your grad to cook at home with a gift card to a grocery store. Hopefully, she'll be less tempted to dine out if she can stock her refrigerator for free. You can find discount grocery gift cards at Plastic Jungle and Gift Card Granny.

A mattress. Everyone has to sleep. So your college student will surely appreciate a real bed -- rather than that worn-out futon he was sleeping on in his college apartment. And May is a good time to buy mattresses, which can be marked down by as much as 50% as retailers try to make way for newer models.

Security deposit for an apartment. For grads just starting out, coming up with the first month's rent and a security deposit can be tough if their first paycheck won't show up until the end of the month. And you don't want them to have to rely on a credit card to make these payments. So consider chipping in by offering to write a check for the security deposit or one month's rent.

Renter's insurance. First-time renters often don't realize that they'll have to pay to replace their stuff if it's stolen or damaged by fire or another disaster -- unless they have renter's insurance. You can help them protect their belongings and finances by purchasing them a policy, which usually costs $200 to $300 a year.

Help with student-loan payments. Students with loans usually get a six-month grace period before they have to start making payments. If your grad doesn't have a job by that point, he might need help footing the monthly bill because you don't want him to default (see The Dark Side of Student Loans). Consider pitching in until he gets a steady paycheck or can find relief through an income-based repayment plan or loan-deferment program.

A head start on retirement savings. If your grad will have earned income from a job, you can open and fund a Roth IRA for her. Even if she has a workplace retirement account, she'll benefit from a Roth because she'll be able to withdraw the money tax-free in retirement. She also can withdraw contributions (not earnings) at any time tax- and penalty-free. To learn more, see 8 Reasons You Need a Roth IRA Now.

Follow me on Twitter

Cameron Huddleston
Former Online Editor, Kiplinger.com

Award-winning journalist, speaker, family finance expert, and author of Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk.

Cameron Huddleston wrote the daily "Kip Tips" column for Kiplinger.com. She joined Kiplinger in 2001 after graduating from American University with an MA in economic journalism.