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How Much Should I Give For A High School Graduation Gift?

Graduation gifts are a part of life. If you are giving cash as a graduation gift this article will help break down what to consider and show survey data on what households are giving on average.

Jill Caren
By Jill Caren
Published February 21st, 2024

Before we know it graduation season will be here for millions of high school students. Parties and dinners will fill calendars throughout May and June to celebrate the success of these graduates.

If you are invited to one of these celebrations, do you really know how much you should gift a high school graduate? Clearly your financial resources play a big part, but what is really appropriate?

For me, it has always been decided by how well I know the kid. Family members and friends who are like family will typically get more than our friends we see once in a while.

But what are the cash and gifting standards for graduates these day? Here are some things to think about.

Is cash appropriate for a graduation gift?

Yes, cash is not only appropriate as a graduation gift – most students would prefer it. Money is an especially good option if you do not know the student well. This money can help them enjoy their last summer before college or trade school – or help them with upcoming education expenses.

Cash is always welcome as a graduation gift.

How much cash should you give as a graduation gift?

How much you give as a graduation gift should be based on your relationship, and how much you can afford. Below are some recommendations based on survey results from a study done by the National Retail Federation.

  • Acquaintances – We recommend a gift of $25-$50 for students you may not be close with.
  • Close friends – A range of $75-$100 is a gift range for close friends. The closer you are with the family, the higher the gift.
  • Child’s friend – You have probably grown close with a few of your kids friends over the years. A cash gift of $25-$50 is fair for friends of your children.
  • Relatives – A range of $75-$125 is a good gift range for close relatives. If you are not very close then $30-$50 may be more appropriate.
  • Babysitters, Dogwalkers, etc. – If you employ a student to do errands, then you definitely want to show them you are proud of them. A good range for employed students is $25-$50.

The first thing you should do before deciding how much you will give will be to create a list of all the kids you know that are graduating. Then decide how much you can afford to gift – then break it down by relationship.

This will help you make sure you do not give more than you can afford.

Creative ways to gift cash to a graduate

While money in a card is the standard, there are so many other great ways to present a cash gift in more exciting ways.

  • Put cash in balloons that they can have fun popping
  • Create origami shapes from different bills
  • Create a cake from rolled up bills
  • If they are close, create a photo album or memory book and tuck bills throughout

Creativity will become part of the gift that the student will love – and remember!

high school graduate getting flowers as gift
Photo credit: Depositphotos

Graduation gift survey results

A study done by the National Retail Federation (NRF) shows some interesting results about graduation gifting. The survey, completed in 2023, included 8,414 people that were over the age of 18. It asked questions specifically about gifting for high school and college graduates.

According to the survey, cash is the top gift by all that responded to the survey.

Total annual spend on graduation gifts

Below is the total amount of money spent on graduation gifts from 2018-2022.

  • 2022 total graduation gift spending was 5.8 billion
  • 2021 total graduation gift spending was $5.9 billion
  • 2020 total graduation gift spending was $5.1 billion
  • 2019 total graduation gift spending was $5.5 billion
  • 2018 total graduation gift spending was $5.2 billion

The growth in spend has been large over the last 20 years. Average spend fell to $3.9 billion in 2009 and remained flat until 2012 when it jumped to $4.7 billion. It stayed around that range until 2016 when it hit $5 billion.

It is clear the growth of graduation spending is something that may continue to rise over the years if the economy stays stable.

Household spending on graduation gifts

The survey also included data per household. Below are the average graduation gifts given per household that participated in the survey.

  • 2023 average household spend on graduation gifts was $116.19
  • 2022 average household spend on graduation gifts was $114.89
  • 2021 average household spend on graduation gifts was $119.44
  • 2020 average household spend on graduation gifts was $112.30
  • 2019 average household spend on graduation gifts was $107.46

The lowest household spend was back in 2009 – 2011 when it fell to under $90. The increase has been rising since 2018.

Graduation gifts are always appreciated, but remember to be responsible. Do not try to impress or up others by giving more than you can afford. Remember, when it comes to gifts it is the thought that counts – not the dollar signs!


Jill Caren is an international SEO consultant and founder of 2Dogs Media. She is also a trainer, journalist, and speaker who helps brands increase their organic search visibility, traffic, and conversions. She is also the co-founder of Blue Collar Brain, a resource for those looking to enter a trade career.

She has been featured on MSN, Wealth of Geeks, Hubspot, SEO Powersuite, and other publications for her work as an SEO and advocate for skilled trades.

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