A lovely and less expensive option is a good-looking journal. I spied some classy journals on clearance in Borders this week for $4.00 each, and several pretty (and rich-looking) styles at Big Lots for $3.00. A fun idea is to wrap these in crisp dollar bills. Since they're small, it doesn't take too many bills to get the job done. Tie with bright ribbon and a tag cut from cardstock, and skip buying a card.
Other generic ideas include:
A fleece blanket, stainless steel or good plastic (BPA free) water bottle, pocket knife key chain, flash drive, hand-crank flashlight, road atlas, emergency car kit, or first aid kit. You can often pick these items up on clearance for a decent price-start looking now! Try online shops like www.Amazon.com, or www.overstock.com, or hit TJ Maxx, Ross, Marshalls or similar stores for good quality products at a decent price. Try to get creative with presentation--it can make all the difference! Old road maps, for instance, make appropriate (and free!) wrapping paper.
For grads heading to college, or leaving home, a customized basket is a practical idea. These can be affordable if you plan ahead and have the time for smart, thrifty shopping. Some themes:
Bathroom: include a towel (monogrammed or otherwise personalized or decorated), and flip-flops for shower shoes
Comfort: microwaveable heat pack, bandaids, antibiotic ointment, tweezers, nail clippers, icepack, throat drops, etc. Here's a tutorial for making a basic heat pack--you can get creative with these with fun shapes and fabrics.
Laundry: a laundry basket or bag, a few rolled quarters, small detergent bottle, etc. (as well as laundry instructions)
Cleaning: Any chance they'll clean their new digs? Increase the possibility by putting together a bucket of homemade cleaning products (along with recipes for refills) and cute rubber gloves for the gals. Our February Digest featured several homemade cleaning recipes!
School supplies: post it notes, paper clips, scissors, tape, folders, ruler, etc. You'll find the best prices on these things in the back-to-school sales--remember to shop ahead next year!
Food: Always a favorite! Include convenience foods like granola bars, instant noodles, dried fruit snacks, jerky, single-serving soups, popcorn, hot chocolate or cider packets, etc. Shop sales, use coupons, and get the most for your money.
Still with me? Below are my top pick frugal graduation gifts this year and, for the record, both met with teenage approval!
For the guys: A FrisbeeŽ filled generously with homemade cookies (something sturdy like chocolate chip or brownies.) Wrap snugly with cellophane, tie with a bow and cardstock tag. Include a stamped postcard--addressed to you! On the front of the postcard, print the message "Please send cookies!" On the back you can include a choice of three types of cookies if you wish (box or line to check) and an expiry date for your offer. (One year is good.) Then follow through with the goods when that card comes in the mail! Or, skip the cookies now, just give the Frisbee and the postcard(s).
For the girls: A glass tile necklace. I love these! Go to www.etsy.com and type "glass tile necklace" in the search box. Many styles are available for less than $10.00. They are beautiful and available in such a variety of themes and colors. There is sure to be one to suit every girl on your list. BUT here's my suggestion. Buy the materials to make your own, and solve your gift-giving dilemma for girl graduates for years to come! These look so easy to make. Here's a good tutorial. Supplies can be purchased on www.etsy.com. I saw silver-plated chains for under $1.00 each and glass tiles for less than 50 cents. Now THAT's an affordable and special gift!
Finally, a gift you can make for either gender! How about a magnetic memo board you can make yourself? Take a look at this idea from Family Fun. Another option is to cut a piece of plywood to fit inside a thrifted, painted frame. Paint the plywood with chalkboard paint for a one-of-a-kind chalkboard.
I think teen guys are harder to buy for than girls. I asked a male graduate-to-be what his favorite, frugal graduation gift would be. "Food, money, or gas card," is what he replied. I believe these would probably be on the top of the list for the girls, too!