We are in the thick of it. That month when the junk mail is sprinkled with graduation announcements and party invitations, often honoring people we don’t even recognize. Do you take a gift to the party? Do you send cash and a card? Do you call your neighbor to see if she has a niece named “Wendy,” because maybe you got her mail by mistake?

Gift giving has always been difficult, but it seems to be getting tougher to know what’s best to give among far-flung friends, mixed families and expanding casual networks. And it gets even more complicated when you really CARE.

While graduates overwhelmingly prefer receiving money, and people overwhelmingly like giving it, that only makes things more complicated. Few of us know how much cash is appropriate, and we often feel that money or gift cards alone are too impersonal.

I did some homework. As you can imagine, there’s no easy answer. The amount of money that feels right depends upon:

  1. the type of graduation,
  2. how close the relationship is, and
  3. how much the recipient needs the money.

But in general, according to a study by Hallmark:

  • 95 percent believe money is an appropriate gift for graduation from high school or college
  • $25 is about average for a close friend (or child of a close friend)
  • 67 percent believe that $50 or more is appropriate for a close relative
  • $20 is the average for a not-so-close friend
  • And many would give no gift to a not-so-close friend, but they might send a card.

Once you decide how much cash to give, the perfect gift can be achieved by adding something meaningful or personal — something that shows your heartfelt hopes for the graduate at this important life milestone.

Like Hallmark, I believe that this extra something should be in the form of a sentiment … an expression that makes a connection.

That’s why I like books — some particular books, that is — that seem just right for the occasion.

do your laundry or you'll die alone book cover with other graduation books

So if you’re like me, you’ll order a book online immediately upon receiving the graduation announcement, or wait until the last minute, and head out for that graduation party taking the route that goes by a bookstore and the ATM.

For more ideas to give WITH cash or INSTEAD of it, may I recommend The Great Graduation Gift List by the experts at Grown & Flown.

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do your laundry or die alone author becky blades

Becky Blades, Author of Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone, and contributor to Huffington Post, Oprah.com, Scary Mommy, and Grown & Flown.