The best holiday gifts for recent college grads


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Christmas is one of my favorite days of the year. I love being with my family, drinking hot chocolate and eating cookies in our pajamas on Christmas morning. I also love opening presents! However, since I’ve entered my 20s, presents don’t bring the same excitement as when I was younger.

Part of that, I think, is now that I’m a young adult, my family isn’t so sure what to get me anymore. I still enjoy getting fun little decorations and plushies, but I don’t really have anywhere to put them or any use for them. And cash is always a nice present, but it doesn’t necessarily feel thoughtful.

The best gifts for college grads

That’s why I compiled a list of gift ideas with the help of some of my friends who are also in their 20s. What I found through talking with them is that that young adults have similar desires when it comes to presents. Most want something that they wouldn’t get themselves – whether it’s too expensive or just not a necessity – or something practical that they wouldn’t even think to buy themselves until they need it.

So, whether you’re shopping for your grandchild, kids, niece or nephew, cousin or sibling, this list should give you plenty of ideas for thoughtful gifts for the college grads in your life.

Instant Pot

1. Kitchen supplies

When my boyfriend moved into his first apartment with five other guys, they had very little for their kitchen. They had a hand-me-down microwave, an assortment of cups from take-out restaurants and a silverware drawer full of forks they had swiped from the dining halls.

A thoughtful gift to get someone in their first apartment could be supplies to fill their cupboards or an appliance that goes beyond the basics. Anything from plates and silverware to a coffee maker or Instant Pot could make a great gift for someone in their first home.

Area rug

2. Area rugs & other home decor

Other items that young adults rarely purchase are home decorations. Items like coasters, rugs and throw pillows are very nice, but usually too expensive to justify buying – some rugs cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. If you know someone who recently moved into their first or second apartment, some decorations could be a nice gift to upgrade their space and make it feel more like a home.

Pull-up bar

3. Workout gear

Gym memberships are expensive, but young adults still want to be healthy and stay active. That’s why a good gift could be weights, resistance bands, a yoga mat or this pull-up bar

Blue Sky planner

4. A new planner (and accessories)

I love planners! Every month I get the urge to buy a new one, even though I already have several yearly planners at home. I honestly wouldn’t mind buying a new planner every few months, except that good planners can be upwards of $20. That’s why a great gift idea would be a new planner or accessories like pens and stickers.

I personally like Blue Sky brand planners because they include weekly and monthly views, which allow me to plan months in advance, and they come in a variety of sizes and patterns. Another good option is a Moleskine dotted notebook for people who are interested in bullet journaling or designing their own planner. I’ve also included a link for my favorite pens from Huhuhero, which several of my friends have bought at my recommendation.

Desk organizer

5. Office supplies

As we are beginning our careers, most of us are starting out in entry-level jobs with very little equipment for work. Since most people spend 40-plus hours a week in their workplace, why not make it feel nice with some attractive decorations and supplies like this desktop organizer

Trunk organizer

6. Car accessories

It’s not just our desks that need organizing and sprucing up. Many of us spend a lot of time in our cars commuting to and from work. Why not pick out some accessories to make commuting a little more enjoyable? A trunk organizer or a steering wheel cover can make a nice gift, as would a gift certificate for an oil change or a car wash. 

Organizing bins

7. Home organization

I’ve been watching a lot of home organization shows lately, which has inspired me to reorganize my entire apartment. I wish I could arrange all of my belongings inside beautiful clear bins in rainbow order, but the cost of organizers can add up quickly. I think most young adults would appreciate a variety of storage bins to better organize their homes. After all, you can never be too organized.

Reusable produce bags

8. Sustainable supplies

I’ve been trying to be more environmentally conscious. I use fewer plastic straws, I eat at home instead of ordering take-out and I try to limit my use of grocery bags. However, buying reusable items can be pricey. If the person you’re shopping for is environmentally conscious, a set of mason jars or these reusable produce bags could be a great gift!

Electric razor

9. Beauty and grooming tools

Beauty tools can be expensive, and they always break when you need them most. I kept my broken hair dryer for months, even though it smelled like smoke every time I turned it on. When I mentioned it to a friend at school, she bought me a hair dryer for Christmas so I didn’t have to worry about burning my house down. A thoughtful and useful gift could be a new hair dryer, like I needed, or a nice electric razor.

Young woman in business casual clothing
fizkes / iStock

10. Work attire

One of the most difficult transitions from college to career was updating my wardrobe. In most workplaces, a T-Shirt and distressed jeans are not acceptable attire. But business clothes that are comfortable and durable can be a big expense, especially when a person is just starting out in their career. 

You can give the gift of clothes and quality time by taking them shopping to update their wardrobe. Or, if that’s not possible, a gift card to their favorite store will do just fine.

Bar Keepers Friend

11. Cleaning supplies and tools

I called my grandma at least once a week in college to get her advice about cleaning, and she taught me a lot about her tried-and-true products to clean any mess. A much appreciated gift could be your go-to cleaning products.

One of the best products my grandma recommended was Bar Keepers Friend powdered cleanser. It can clean any kitchen mess, including burnt-on grease, just by mixing with some water.

Fire extinguisher

12. Safety equipment

I stole this idea from my mom, who said her go-to wedding gift in her 20s and 30s was a fire extinguisher. In all of the places I’ve lived, I have never seen a fire extinguisher in the building, much less in individual apartments. It’s one of those items that you don’t need until you really need it, and by then it’s too late. That’s why a fire extinguisher, or other safety items like a first aid kit or safety blanket, could make a great holiday gift for young adults.

nata_zhekova / iStock

13. Craft or art supplies

One of the best go-to gifts is craft or art supplies. This doesn’t have to apply to just 20-somethings either. If you know what the person likes to do for fun or as a hobby, more supplies are always great. However, I suggest researching whatever it is, whether it’s painting, knitting or woodworking, and get high-quality supplies tailored to their specific interest.

Dog in a sweater

14. Pet supplies

Most people spoil their pets, and pet owners have no problem with other people spoiling their pets as well. That’s why the perfect present for a pet owner is gifts for their fur (or scale, or feather) babies. Anything from toys to treats or even cute little sweaters could make great gifts for a young pet owner. Or, for the gift that keeps on giving, a subscription to BarkBox or KitNipBox could also be a good options.

Woman with house plants
PIKSEL / iStock

15. Plants

For those who can’t afford (or don’t want) a pet, but still want a living thing to care for, plants are a great gift for both beginners and experienced plant lovers. Or, if you’re not super knowledgeable about plants, some decorative pots can also be a great gift!

Mrs. Myers lemon verbena candles

16. Candles

Who doesn’t love burning a candle when they get home from work or on a chilly weekend morning? One of the most popular gift ideas among my friends was candles, because a person can never have too many candles. More environmentally friendly candle options use soy or beeswax instead of paraffin, which is made of petroleum by-products. Soy and beeswax candles are also safer to use around pets.

Woman reading

17. Books

While it’s hard to suggest specific books, as everyone has their own tastes, I can certainly suggest a few places to find them. If you want to buy a gift for a known book lover, take a look at their Goodreads profile, which usually has a list of books they want to read. Another option is a Kindle Unlimited subscription or a Barnes and Noble Gift Card. That way they can select any book they want. Or, if you want to make them really happy, a new bookshelf to store all of their beloved books could be nice as well.

wutwhanfoto / iStock

18. Streaming services gift cards

Nearly everybody has access to Netflix, Hulu or Spotify. However, if you add up the monthly subscription cost for every streaming service, it can get expensive. An easy gift for a binge-watcher or music lover could be a Neftlix or Spotify gift card, which can pay for a few months of streaming, to an entire year. 

ablokhin / iStock

19. Restaurant gift cards

As a 20-something with very little money, my idea of splurging is going to Chipotle instead of Taco Bell for dinner. Cooking is hard and buying takeout can add up quickly. That’s why every young adult would love a meal or two at their favorite place to eat. Whether you get a gift card to pay for their morning coffee, a treat for their lunch break, or a nice dinner and some drinks, I can almost guarantee they’ll love it.

cash gifts

20. Cash

I know I said in the beginning that cash isn’t always the most thoughtful gift, but I am not saying it won’t work at all. If you aren’t sure what to get and a gift card won’t work, money will do just fine. If you want to make it more thoughtful, tell them that it is earmarked for something specific, like a road trip or a new TV, and it will make the cash feel more personal. Or, if you really want to have some fun, skip getting a card and wrap the money like a gift instead.

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