Functional gifting: College freshmen offer graduation gift advice for the class of 2014

Functional gifting: College freshmen offer graduation gift advice for the class of 2014

May 2nd, 2014 by Casey Phillips in Life Entertainment

Hixson High School graduating seniors listen to a speaker during their commencement ceremony in this 2013 photo.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

MOST POPULAR GIFTS

According to Amazon.com, here are currently the most-wished-for gadgets for grads in various categories:

Camera (video): GoPro HERO3+: Black Edition, $399

Camera (SLR): Canon EOS REbel T3i, $599

Laptop: Acer C720 Chromebook, $199

Mini fridge: Danby DAR195BL 1.8 cubic-foot, $119

Tablet: Kindle Fire HD 7-inch, $119

Video game system: Playstation 4, $399

Watch: Samsung Galaxy Gear Smartwach, $192

USE IT WISELY

SmartAboutMoney.org offers the following tips to senior to make the best use of the money they're statistically bound to receive as graduation presents:

Stash some. Put a portion of the money in a savings account to use in case of unexpected expenses. Cars and computers can break down and, if yours do, you might wish you'd put some of your bounty aside.

Buy books and supplies. According to College Board, students this year spent an average of $1,200 on books and school supplies. If you shop for books early, you can save some money, especially if you buy used. Just be sure to get the right edition.

Deck out your dorm. In a dorm, mom can't hear you whine that you're out of fresh sheets. That's on you now. Earmark some of your cash to invest in necessities such as towels, linens and blankets, kitchen supplies and toiletries.

Spend (some of) it. Graduation is cause for celebration. No need to be too responsible. Reward yourself with some new clothes or that gadget you've been eyeing. Just keep in mind that if you blow it now, you won't have it later.

For many of life's momentous occasions - weddings, births, buying a home - registries take the guesswork out of the gift-giving process.

But when it comes to celebrating high school graduation, friends and loved ones often are shooting blind.

As a result, gift givers traditionally fall back on can't-miss presents that let grads buy what they want. And mostly, that means cash. According to the National Retail Federation, 88.8 percent of graduation gifts in 2013 were either money or gift cards. The federation estimated total graduation gift spending last year at about $4.7 billion.

To friends and family who would prefer to give something a little more personal than a check, a group of students who should know -- recent high school graduates who just finished their first year of college -- have a few suggestions for gifts that will make life easier for the class of 2014 next fall.

"My gifts were mostly monetary, but I also received practical things like laundry detergent, good-quality cooking supplies, and totes for carrying and storing clothes, food and dishes," says Cicely McCoy, who is finishing her freshman year studying corporate communications at Austin Peay University.

Before she graduated from Hixson High School, McCoy says she and her parents wrote up a list of items she would need, including picture-hanging strips, stain remover, dishes and sheets. Having survived her first year at the Clarksville, Tenn., campus, McCoy says some of her best presents were from that list of mundane items.

"[They] all turned out to be useful, especially the totes and containers," she says. "Those are useful for packing belongings when you leave home and for storing things when you get to school."

The money McCoy says she received has been helpful in taking care of unexpected expenses, but she warns that gift cards have not been nearly as handy.

"Places like Amazon are great and versatile, but if you are not 100 percent sure where to get a gift card from, then don't get a gift card," she says. "They can be hard to use."

Many freshmen say they were unprepared for the variety of things they ultimately needed when they arrived at college. Faced with a last-minute scramble to check everything off their must-have list, they say they appreciated the day-to-day items that seemed, at first, to be afterthoughts when they received them.

East Tennessee State University freshman Jessica Coonley says she received plenty of money when she graduated from Hamilton County Middle College last May and, while she wouldn't have turned down more, some of the most-indispensable items she received cost less than $10 on Amazon.

"The absolute-most-useful gift I received was a gigantic laundry bag from a friend and chip (bag) clips from my mom," she says. "I use them for literally everything, all the time."

Although gift registration for grads hasn't traditionally been a common practice, some retailers are offering seniors and their families a chance to draft a wish list of wants and needs. Websites for Bed Bath & Beyond, Target, Walmart and Amazon have a feature that allows students to register for what they want or need and share those selections with friends and family.

Sometimes, however, freshmen say the best gift they received was the one they didn't realize they needed when it was given.

According to the College Board, the average amount paid out this year by students for "personal and transportation expenses" -- described as everything from gas and clothing to entertainment -- was $2,580 at private colleges and $3,228 at public schools. Faced with these many miscellaneous expenses, many freshmen say they were happy to pad their wallets with graduation greenbacks, but they were thankful for any item they didn't have to buy themselves, especially if a relative or family friend stepped in and footed the bill for big-ticket necessities.

"I just accepted whatever someone was able to give me, unless they wanted specifics," says Deroneasha Smartt, a psychology major at Middle Tennessee State University. "Then I'd ask for the big things like refrigerator, microwave and printer."

In a pinch, however, it was better to receive the small sundries she didn't know she needed than to have a pocket full of cash, says Smart, a 2013 Howard School graduate.

"There was nothing I really needed when I got to college except an umbrella," she says. "I had totally forgotten about the weather since it was so hot outside [when I got there], but luckily I was able to get one."

For some students, however, the most helpful gift they could have received wouldn't have cost anything but time.

"One thing I wish I had been given were just some letters of encouragement," McCoy says. "Moving away from home is a scary thing, and I know that, especially when exam week rolls around, kind words from family and friends make things much more bearable."

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.