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The best gifts for grads under $50

Give them something useful without breaking the bank.

Engadget

Finding the right gift for a new graduate in your life can be tough. Default ideas like a fancy watch or a monogrammed bag can be pricey and, let’s face it, boring. Tech can be a good option, and no, you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a solid gadget that they’d like. While expensive stuff like iPhones, smartwatches and game consoles may come to mind immediately, they aren’t the only options out there. And sometimes all it takes is a practical gadget like a power bank to make someone’s life a little easier — that’s especially applicable to new grads who are focusing all of their attention on snagging that new job or applying for further education. Here’s Engadget’s list of the best gifts under $50 for new graduates.

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One of Anker’s latest 5,000mAh portable chargers builds upon others we’ve recommended in the past with a digital screen and a built-in USB-C cable. New grads will not only love its compact size and flip-up AC prongs, but also its digital screen that shows them how much juice is left in the power bank while it’s reviving their dead smartphone. The built-in charging cable means they don’t have to remember to bring their own when they’re rushing out the door at the start of a long day, and the ability to use the power bank as a plugged-in, 30W charger means that they could even use it to power up their tablet or laptop, too. This is a practical gift that will likely live in your giftee’s backpack or handbag, and it won’t break the bank for you.

$40 at Amazon

We’ve been fans of 8Bitdo’s affordable, multi-platform controllers for quite some time, and the $50 Pro 2 is no exception. You can use it with the Nintendo Switch and on Windows, macOS, Android and Raspberry Pi, and you’re able to map functions to buttons using its companion smartphone app. The Pro 2 also adds new bumper buttons under each arm, something the previous version did not have. In general, 8Bitdo’s controllers are more ergonomic than, say, relying on a keyboard and mouse when playing PC games. They’re also a dramatic improvement over the Switch’s Joy-Cons which, if we’re honest, aren’t the most comfortable controllers to use for long stretches of time. The Pro 2 charges up via USB-C, but you can also remove the battery pack and replace it with AA batteries if you know you won’t be able to charge up frequently.

$50 at Amazon
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$80 at Newegg

Help your grad keep track of their things by getting them a gadget like the Chipolo One. This Bluetooth tracker is one of our favorites because its separation alerts are top-notch. What that means in practice is if your grad leaves their keys or wallet with the One attached to it somewhere, say at a coffee shop, they’ll get a notification to their phone quickly after they leave, telling them they left something behind. Chipolo’s tech will even give you directions via your maps app to the precise location of your lost stuff, in the event that you miss the original notification. The Chipolo One is also a good pick for anyone, really, since it works on iPhones and Android devices.

$25 at Amazon

Multitaskers are crucial in the kitchen, especially when you’re fighting with your countertops for space. One of the best kitchen gadgets with many uses is an electric kettle, and you don’t have to spend a ton to get a decent one. Cosori makes a few good models, including this stainless steel one that comes in at only $40. It has a six-cup capacity and claims it can boil water in less than three minutes, which means new graduates won’t have to wait long to make a cup of coffee or tea, cook some ramen noodles or get broth ready for soup. We also like that it has an automatic shutoff safety feature that powers down the machine 30 seconds after water comes to rolling boil.

$40 at Amazon

I received this Cartman 39-piece tool set right after college when I moved into my first apartment, and now, over 10 years later, it’s still with me in my home’s garage. I put this thing and all its contents through the ringer hanging pictures, putting together Ikea furniture, changing light fixtures and even repairing a broken door lock late on a Saturday night. It includes all of the essentials one would need to do what I listed above, and much more, without much hassle: a measuring tape, hammer, screwdriver with 20 different bits, pairs of pliers and scissors and more. The plastic case that comes with all of the pieces has spaces designed to fit each tool and, while it’s a little flimsy, mine lasted a number of years before I accidentally broke the handle (totally my fault, too). The fact that it comes in a few different accent colors is icing on the cake; my “pink toolset” was a running joke in my family for a long time, but we were always laughing with the tools rather than at them because I used them so much. This is one of those gifts for graduates that isn’t flashy, but it’s necessary — and they will thank you for it.

$23 at Amazon

Money management will be more important than ever before for recent graduates, and Quicken’s Simplifi budgeting app can help them get a handle on their finances. It’s our current favorite budgeting app and the one we recommended most Mint users switch to once that service was shut down earlier this year. We like Simplifi’s clean interface and general ease of use: it’s a relatively painless process to connect all of your accounts, including ones with Fidelity, and the app then shows you things like recent spending, upcoming recurring payments, top spending categories, a snapshot of your current spending plan and more. The app does a fine job of categorizing transactions as well, and your grad can do things like label certain transactions like their monthly phone bill as recurring. And you may gift them a subscription to start, but the standard $48-per-year pricing will hopefully be affordable enough for your giftee to continue paying for it in the future, if they find it useful.

$48/year at Quicken

Regardless of whether your grad rides public transit to work, drives a car everywhere or lives within walking distance of all the essentials, a reusable bag will be a necessity for them. This one from Peak Design is especially handy because it has a zip closure, something many other reusable totes don’t have, an interior pocket that fits most smartphones and a single-strap design that’s easy to carry by hand or over the shoulder. It’s made of ripstop nylon as well, so it will hold up to even their heaviest of grocery runs. And when they don’t need it, it packs down into itself in a shape that’s only slightly larger than a deck of cards. That means they can toss it in their bag or trunk and never leave home without it.

$20 at Adorama
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$20 at Amazon$20 at Best Buy

Nothing against Stanley cups, but there are other options out there. We’re partial to Yetis for their classic, dishwasher-safe design, vacuum insulation and bold colors. If you know your grad has trouble staying hydrated during busy days, consider gifting them a 35-ounce Yeti Rambler straw mug. It has a handle for easy carrying across their office or downstairs to the living room if they work from home, and its lid-and-straw combo feels pretty sturdy and secure, despite not being leakproof. The straw also has a handy stopper at one end so it won’t entirely fall out of the cup if it takes a fall. You’ll likely find your giftee’s favorite color amongst the choices, which range from pastels like pink and purple to classics like red and white. And if you order directly from Yeti, you can customize the Rambler with their name, monogram, zodiac sign and more.

$42 at Amazon

If your giftee thought they had a lot of logins to keep track of in school, just wait until they get into the workplace. A password manager will be a must-have, and you can easily give them a 1Password digital gift card so they have no excuse not to use one. Our favorite password manager is easy to use, even for those who have never had a password manager before, and it provides top-notch security. It uses industry standard encryption, a “secret key” that only your giftee knows along with their one password to keep all of their other information safe. In addition to login credentials, new graduates can keep other information like credit card numbers, banking information and sensitive notes in their 1Password vaults for safekeeping — and they can easily access it all on their phone or laptop whenever they need. At minimum, it’s much more secure than a tattered sticky note for keep tracking of their most important passwords. At best, it could be a crucial service that your grad decides to keep paying for long after they’ve used up their gift card.

$25+ at 1Password

Charging gear makes for great stocking stuffers, even during this time of the year sans-stockings. Tech like Anker’s 30W GaN USB-C charger will be welcomed gifts for anybody, but the graduate in your life will particularly appreciate them. This adapter provides a maximum power output of 30W, which will be more than enough to fast-charge the latest smartphones and provide enough power to juice up a tablet and some laptops. While multi-port chargers are handy, sometimes the simplicity of a single USB-C accessory like this one is preferred. Not only is it smaller and lighter than other 30W chargers, but its dual prongs flip down to reduce its overall size even further. Complete the package by pairing the adapter with a USB-C cable and your grad will never have to worry about running out of battery again.

$20 at Amazon
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$23 at Newegg

One of the best gifts you can give a new graduate, or anyone really, is covering something they pay for regularly like a streaming service. Paramount+ is a great option in general because you can readily find gift cards for the service online, and an ad-supported subscription only costs $6 per month. Gifting them a $25 gift card will allow them full access for four months, which is more time than you’d get with other streaming services for the same amount of money. Paramount+ has a ton of content for them to watch too, including movies like the Mean Girls remake and Good Burger 2, plus dozens of TV shows including Star Trek: Discovery, The Twilight Zone and the Halo adaptation. There’s also a generous selection of live sports, including Serie A, UEFA Champions League and Europa League soccer.

$25 at Walmart
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$25 at Newegg

New graduates moving out into a new apartment will feel a certain peace of mind knowing they can keep an eye on their abode while they’re out all day. That’s especially true for any that have pets patiently waiting for them at home. A Blink Mini security camera has all of the features they’d need to check in every once in a while, and it’s footprint is so small that they’ll easily be able to find a place for it. The camera will record 1080p video when it senses motion, and it’ll send an alert to your grad’s phone so they can view the footage. It also supports two-way audio, so they can comfort their furry friends with their voices as needed. And while Blink does have a subscription plan that lets you store video clips to the cloud, it’s not necessary if you’re just using the camera as a second pair of eyes. Plus, you can download any video clips you want to save to your phone for safe keeping.

$30 at Lowe's
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$30 at Kohl's$40 at Amazon

You may not want to think about all the nights your grad has been out until 4am, but it’s likely they’ve clocked a few of those by now. Giving them an easy way to get home in the form of a gift card will not only be a welcomed convenience, but also a safety measure. Hopping in a Lyft or an Uber as soon as they’ve made the decision to bounce will make it so they don’t have to wait for public transit that may not arrive on time (or at all), or beg a friend of a friend for a ride. Not to mention, they’ll feel a huge sense of relief knowing that, the next time they go out, their ride home is already taken care of.

$25+ at Walmart
Repel Umbrella

Hear us out — a good umbrella is an unexpected yet invaluable gift. Few things are worse than getting stuck in a downpour on your way to work, especially if you use public transit to get there. Repel’s windproof travel umbrella is just the right size — not too big or too small at 11.5 inches in length — and its nine reinforced fiberglass ribs prevent it from being blown inside-out easily. We also like its single-button design, allowing you to open or close it with one hand. Repel’s umbrella is one of those practical gifts that your grad will be glad to have at the most crucial times, and they’ll save money in the long run by not needing to buy a new, cheap umbrella every time the skies open up.

$27 at Amazon

A good cast iron skillet like this one from Lodge will be a versatile addition to any new graduate’s kitchen. We’re sure there are more ramen-fueled busy days ahead for your giftee, but they can and should start to learn to cook for themselves if they haven’t already. With its ability to sear, sauté and braise, and go from the stovetop to the oven to the grill, a cast iron skillet could be the main pan they use to cook a meal from start to finish. Whether they’re trying out a new salmon fillet recipe or making a side dish of cornbread to bring to a potluck, this Lodge skillet will serve them well. It’s pre-seasoned and will get even better over time as they cook with it, and cast iron cookware in general is great at holding onto heat so it will keep their food warmer for longer once it’s done. Just make sure they know that cast iron and dishwashers don’t mix; this one will require hand washing.

$50 at Wayfair
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$50 at Amazon$50 at Walmart

While technically priced at more than $50, we wanted to include the Instant Vortex Mini with the other gift ideas here in part because it’s often on sale for around $45. Also, it’s a powerful little air fryer that any new graduate should be able to fit into even the most cramped of kitchen setups. It has an easy to use touchscreen with a few different cooking modes, but we expect most graduates will use it to cook snacks like mozzarella sticks and reheat leftovers to crispy perfection. We recommend checking out our air fryer guide if you want to give them something a little bigger that can cook more food at once — but if you’re only looking out for your grad and maybe their partner or favorite roommate, the Instant Vortex Mini will feed them well.

$60 at Amazon