Life after school – even in college - is oftentimes full of financial obstacles that we all must learn to overcome. If you’re deciding on a good gift for a high school or college graduate, helping put them on the right financial path is a gift that can keep on giving for the rest of their life.

Life Insurance Policy

While it might sound a bit morbid, it’s never too early to start thinking about life insurance.

While it’s unlikely to be something on a young person’s mind, there are benefits to having a long-term policy plan in place.

Consider the value of investing in their future family during their 20s and 30s, when health concerns are typically not much of a factor.

Not to mention, the younger they are, the less you'll pay in premiums. While there are many factors that determine how much you'll pay in insurance premiums, age plays a big role and makes a strong case for buying life insurance as early in life as possible.

Not to mention, it’s highly unlikely they already have a plan, unless their family has already purchased them one.

Start and Contribute to a 529 Plan

This one is perfect for younger graduates, even as early as elementary school. Starting and contributing to a 529 plan — a tax-advantaged savings plan used for future education costs — can really add up by the time they use the funds.

529 savings grow tax-deferred over time and are designed to be used tax-free to pay for education costs like tuition, fees, room and board, books and supplies, computers, or even student loan repayment up to $10,000.

Plus, once an account is opened, anyone can contribute to it.

A contribution to a 529 plan qualifies for the annual federal gift tax exclusion, according to Ameriprise Financial. For 2023, this is $17,000, so you would only pay taxes on any amount over this value.

Student Loan Payments

For those college graduates who took out student loans to pay for school, making a few of their first payments after graduation can help give them a leg up.

While graduates have a six-month grace period, any payments made that can help them save money on interest, leading to a lower monthly payment, can be big.

If you don’t want to just give them cash, there are gift cards like that can be redeemed straight into a student loan account. You can also divide the donation into payments which will make it easier for a recent graduate to manage student loan debt.

CD or Savings Bond

When it comes to financial graduation gifts, the two most classic are a certificate of deposit – or CD – and a savings bond.

If you go the CD route, set one up in their name that can only be withdrawn after a certain period without penalties. This can help them jump-start the process of building savings and earning interest over time.

You can put the entire gift in one CD or use a ladder strategy. The former might earn a higher interest rate, but breaking your gift down into several CDs with different terms — i.e., a ladder approach — will allow the recipient earlier access to some of the funds.

If you go the savings bond route, you’re providing a safe, low-risk investment that pays a predictable interest rate, and its prices do not fluctuate with the stock market.

Savings Account

This may sound surprising, but more new graduates don’t have a savings account than you would think.

Open a savings account for your grad with a little money in it to begin with, then walk them through the process of setting up an automatic payroll deduction directly into their savings.

Doing so will help them understand the importance of saving for the future and as well as why you should make it a priority.

Buy them a Stock

It’s never too early to start investing in the stock market, especially if that’s something that seems like it might be of interest to your graduate.

You can give a graduate a stock that you owned or buy a stock for them by transferring your stocks into their custodial brokerage account.

Gifting someone a stock while they’re young will allow them the opportunity to learn about investing and how investing early can increase their funds for retirement with compound interest.

As for which stock(s) to purchase; pick either a company you think they’ll have interest in (ie: Apple, Google, Amazon) or a company that has long-standing stability (ie: Johnson & Johnson, Proctor & Gamble, Sherwin Williams Co.).

Retirement Savings

The most important thing when it comes to saving for retirement is to just get started. That said, the earlier you start, the greater your saving potential.

While retirement isn’t something most young people have top of mind, it should be.

A traditional IRA is a way to save for retirement, especially for those who aren’t worried about retiring for a long time. Traditional IRAs offer the key advantage of tax-deferred growth, meaning you won't pay taxes on your untaxed earning or contributions until you're required to start taking minimum distributions at age 73.

This is especially great if you plan on being in a lower tax bracket by the time you retire.

Also, setting up a retirement account now should help them pay more attention when their employers start to offer company matches in 401K plans.