A graduation gift that doesn’t glitter may still be golden

A check is nice. So are earrings. But if you really want to make sure your favorite graduate heads to college or to a first real job with the best foot forward, think about a career-minded graduation gift.

My favorite gift is wrapping up two personal finance gems: ‘‘I Will Teach You to Be Rich,’’ by Ramit Sethi, and ‘‘Get a Financial Life,’’ by Beth Kobliner.

The books lay out the basics: spending less than you earn, putting money aside for emergencies, the pitfalls of easy credit — the things many young people don’t learn until they are mired in credit card and student loan debt and can’t buy a car or house.


Graduates aren’t always thrilled when they tear open the wrapping paper. (Maybe they were expecting keys to a car?) But their parents like what they see. The books might help launch the graduate on a path off the family sofa and toward financial independence.

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Books alone, however, won’t do the job. Every graduate, high school or college, will benefit from learning how to network.

It’s a skill that can’t be taught too early. I drill my high school senior and her friends on the importance of telling everyone they know they’re looking for summer jobs.

I also point out that they already know people — from moms to teachers to neighbors to local business owners — who could provide advice on career choices, direct them to job openings, or write recommendations.

To get her favorite graduates on the right path, Antoinette Roberson gives a business card holder.


“Graduates are starting to think professionally,’’ said Roberson, interim executive director of career services at Texas Southern University.

She said her gift inspires graduates to print business cards and give them out at job fairs, internship programs, and industry events.

Another great gift option is a leather-bound portfolio to carry on job interviews. Or a nice pen.

‘‘Recruiters scrutinize everything,’’ she said, from the polish (or lack of it) on your shoes to whether your jewelry is too flashy. ‘‘A nice pen says a lot about a person.’’

So does your interviewing suit. Publicist Patricia Bernstein recommends a gift certificate to Ann Taylor or Banana Republic for female graduates. For male graduates, she recommends a Jos. A. Bank gift certificate to buy a business suit.


Houston employment lawyer Laurence Stuart said his parents’ graduation offering didn’t seem like much of a gift at the time. But in hindsight their decision to cut him off financially was the best graduation present he received.

‘’It forced me to get serious about my life and about having a career instead of a job,’’ said Stuart.

L.M. Sixel writes for the Houston Chronicle.