Class of 2019, Here are 5 Genius Ways to Use the Cash You Got at Graduation

This year’s crop of fresh-faced graduates have a lot to look forward to. New job or school opportunities, maybe a party or two and, of course, gifts.

No fibbing, grads. You know one of the only things getting you through that last round of finals was the promise of a good celebration and a few presents for all your hard work.

Whether you’re the giver or the recipient of a gift during this graduation season, listen up.

I have some advice for you.

The Gift Grads Really Want

Gift givers, the graduates in your life are too polite to tell you this, so I’ll say it for them.

Personalized stationery or a new commuter bag makes a cool gift, but sometimes the best present is simply some cold, hard cash.

College Time’s Madison Rutherford sums it up best. “Let’s be real here: What we really want is cold, hard cash so we can buy the crap we really care about, like Chipotle and PBR.”

How Much Graduation Gift Money Should You Give?

First of all, let’s get one thing straight, gift givers: You’re under no obligation to give a present — cash or otherwise — to anyone.

If your budget doesn’t allow for it (or you just flat-out don’t want to), a heartfelt card or note is just fine. (Right, grads? Right?)

If you do want to give the gift of money, though, you’ve got a lot of company.

According to the National Retail Federation, more than half of the people who give graduation gifts prefer to hand out cash.

When you’re deciding how much to give, here’s a good rule of thumb: Based on a 2015 NRF survey, the average cash graduation gift is around $100.

What Should You Do With Your Graduation Gift Money?

Grads, I’m going to go all mom on you before I offer suggestions on what to do with the cash you get.

Before you spend or invest a dime of that money, send thank-you notes to everyone who gave you a present. Do it.

Now, I wouldn’t be a responsible Penny Hoarder if I didn’t suggest that you set aside a portion of the money to start building an emergency fund.

You can also:

  • Park it in a free bank account and let it start earning interest. Chime is one of our faves and helps you automatically grow your savings.
  • Invest in the stock market. The microinvesting app Stash walks you through the process and lets you get started for only $5. Read our full Stash app review here.

Of course, we all need to cut loose a little bit and reward ourselves for a job well done. Take a little bit of the money you got and splurge on something nice for yourself. You deserve it.

But first, write those thank-you notes.  

Lisa McGreevy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s been both a graduation gift giver and recipient. She thinks giving is much more fun.