Things to Purchase for Young People Entering the Real World

I was reading the latest issue of Real Simple a few days ago, like you do after a long day of undergrad coursework (I do not care if this makes me a housefrau or a luddite. Viva la print media! Also: It was a gift). Paging through their “Gift Guide for Grads,” it became apparent to me that no one on the Real Simple editorial staff has ever met—or recalls being—a college student. They literally suggest (and I am not making this up) a mousepad and artisanal tonic water as gifts. Because when the grad in your life comes home to her shitty sublet after a long, hard day of unpaid interning, she’s really going to want to kick back and drink fancy sugar water and CLICK AT THINGS WITH A MOUSE.

So I feel it’s incumbent on me—a very nearly recent graduate—to make a list of things that people like me actually need. I am not posting this to drop any hints (my parents are assuming my loan debt, which is more of a present than I will ever receive for the rest of my life) but rather as a public service.

Nice pants: Maybe other people graduate from college with a closet full of professional wear, but my personal stock of intern-clothes is something like a pair of H&M slacks from the 10th grade and some bright-orange J. Crew pants that I bought at a flea market and are too short. Tops and shirts are less of an issue—nice blouse plus cardigan equals work appropriate!—but there is nowhere to hide your legs but in nice pants. Take your graduate out to a real store (it can be an outlet store!) and get them two or three pairs of basic dark trousers that actually fit. Don’t trust them with a gift card: Make sure you personally supervise the fitting of said pants. 

Gift cards: If there’s any kind of tackiness taboo about this, we need as a culture to get over it. Gift cards are great, so long as they’re for somewhere that is somewhere your gift will actually shop. This means NO iTUNES. iTunes gift cards are most useful as a tool to scrape burnt scrambled eggs off your IKEA pan. And, I’m sorry, but for some reason older aunts/family friends/grandparents see them and think “Yes! The iTunes! Where all of the Youth purchase their Music!” and buy them up like they’re Furbies in 1999. No. It will languish unused or get slowly nibbled away to buy new iterations of Angry Birds while your graduate is subsisting on ramen and ketchup packets. Instead, you could fund nicer versions of essentials at Target or Whole Foods (for quinoa without the sticker shock). Or, if you’re dead-set on bankrolling entertainment, buy a card for a movie theater or (ugh) Ticketmaster and get them something that’s fun and a social experience. Lastly, it’s not technically a gift card, but I know that if someone gave me a monthly Metrocard in my “ConGRADulations!” envelope I might weep for joy.

A Knife that Doesn’t Suck: Not for stabbing, for cooking! If the graduate in question ever prepares her own meals, this is an absolute essential. Don’t bother with a huge set of them; just one solid, 8 or 9 inch chef’s knife will do. Plenty of us are still hacking away at vegetables with scarily-bendy steak knives, which is a recipe for nothing but puncture wounds. You can’t get a decent temp job doing data entry if your fingers are mangled! Also: Forbid them from putting it in the dishwasher, if they’re lucky enough to have one.

A nice pair of bedsheets: Maybe this is just me, and maybe I am just gross, but I made it through college with only one set of crappy, scratchy bed linens that I only picked because they were dark enough to hide evidence of not being recently washed. Another, higher-thread-count sheet set would not only dramatically improve my sleep experience, but it would also remove one of the major limiting factors that determines when Laundry Day will occur (the other being underwear, but that’s kind of a weird present for this occasion). I hope I’m not alone in this.

Frequent-flier miles: If you’re a real person who flies for work or else just someone who’s really good at gaming the system, you might have racked up a decent number of these, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a young person who wouldn’t want some concrete help getting underway on the whole Postgrad Finding Yourself journey. Many rewards programs will let you buy a ticket for someone who’s not you, so make the offer to your Graduate if you can. You don’t have to buy the tickets or anything in advance of giving—my grandparents have done this for their kids/grandkids multiple times and just make hand-drawn certificates on shirt cardboard. Simple but wonderful.

Magazine Subscriptions: I know I shit on Real Simple before, but it’s actually one of those Little Things in my life that makes day-to-day whatevery bearable. The subscription was probably only 25 bucks, but it was a nice gesture and something I never would have rationalizing buying for myself. You can change your address online now, in case you’re as nomadic in your job search as I am, and magazines have the added bonus of furnishing inspiration for corrective Internet gift guides.


Blair Thornburgh graduates on Saturday. She is not nervous about her commencement speech or the rest of her life. 


51 Comments / Post A Comment

quick note – it’s bad luck to give a knife as a gift. when i tried to buy one for my boyfriend’s birthday at brooklyn kitchen, the nice folks said “don’t do that! bad luck! get a gift card!”.

petejayhawk (#674)

@claudineonthedole quick note – “bad luck” isn’t actually a thing.

A good knife is a great gift.

John@twitter (#888)

@claudineonthedole that’s why you always give a penny along with the knife.

cryptolect (#1,135)

@John@twitter I thought the person who gets the knife is supposed to give a penny. That way it’s not actually a gift. (My very superstitious boss told me this.)

AnnieNilsson (#406)

@cryptolect I thought it was: you always give a knife wedged deeply into a cantaloupe. No?

spex (#1,159)

This list is pretty spot-on.

lobsterhug (#43)

Real Simple is the best for easy recipes, but I let my subscription lapsed because I couldn’t take anymore advice on how to store my non-existent garden tools.

Pretty much everything on this list is right on. I’d like to give a +1 to the magazine subscription idea, because once when I had No Money At All, I was given a year’s subscription to the New Yorker for Christmas and every week when it arrived I would feel a little rich.

Also, when your recipient’s birthday or seasonal gift-giving holiday rolls around next year, if you’re stuck for gift ideas, you can always say “hey, would you like me to renew that subscription for you?”. (Best of all, nobody ever felt bad about saying “no, it’s OK.”) It’s festive and thoughtful!

I’ve truly never understood how gift cards are better than cash. They are not less “tacky,” just far less useful. And although a grocery store gift card will not likely go to waste, it’s also kinda condescending? Like, “I want to give you some money, but I don’t want you to spend it on drugs.” Weird. Anyhow, if you are ever thinking about giving a gift card, won’t you please just give cash?

koko (#1,165)

@Charismatic Megafauna My grandparents always give me a combination of cash and gift cards, which I love because it means that even if I spend all the cash on bills and groceries, I have a little bit of money that I HAVE to spend on something fun for myself.

Maladydee (#909)

@Charismatic Megafauna for me, gift cards force me to not just spend the money on boring essentials out of misplaced guilt. I mean, if I’m legit struggling putting food on my table, hells yeah, cash all the way. But growing up poor saddled me with a mindset that I should feel bad about spending money on frivolous things for fun. (I do it anyway, I just feel bad.) So I guess it depends on the personality of the recipient.

I have a hierarchy of gifts: Something I’ve been wanting but wouldn’t get for myself (price is really irrelevant here > taking me out someplace = something handmade, doesn’t really matter what > bookstore gift certificates (they are higher than all other gift certs because it is very hard to buy me books, so this is actually way more thoughtful than buying me a book) > something expensive that I haven’t really been longing for (oh god the guilt of the expensive present!) > cash folded into pretty origami shapes > cash >walmart gift certificates (generic like cash, but more restrictive) > a book that is already on my shelf/ not my chosen genre/ terrible >>>>>>>> no gift.

Now I am curious about other peoples’ gift hierarchies! (I assume in their heart of hearts, everyone has them to some extent.)

@Charismatic Megafauna I prefer gift cards because it means I have to spend them at a certain place, which because of the way my brain works makes me really think about what I want to buy with them so I feel like I’ve made the best choice. I only recently spent the last of the gift cards I got this past Christmas, and if that money had been cash it would have disappeared into coffee and snacks months ago (but hey, maybe what some people want most is just coffee-and-snack money that didn’t have to come out of their own budget! YMMV).

acid burn (#113)

Ooh, this is a great list! I’m going on six years out of college and would not say no to basically any of these. Stupid bendy steak knives.

Getting a recent grad a trustworthy knife can’t be overstated, especially if they’ve never had one before. Some of my recent grad friends with flimsy/dull knives just think that’s what they’re supposed to be like. It’s best to show those people the light.

If I’d add anything to this list, it’d be something professional to put their lunch in. Because plastic bags look bad, and the tin lunch box that was ironically funny in college looks unprofessional.

@Matt Poindexter@twitter Wait, so what IS the professional thing to put one’s lunch in? Is Tupperware also considered gauche?

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@stuffisthings @Matt Poindexter@twitter Etsy actually has some very nice lunch bags that would be professionally appropriate. I’m personally a fan of this one if you don’t work with a lot of PC people or vegans:

There was someone at my old office who had lovely glass tupperware he packaged his lunches in. I imagined that it was much easier to keep clean and he never seemed to have leaks or spills.

Final lesson for graduates/new professionals, especially the women: just don’t be that girl who brings her lunch in the leftover paper bag from Victoria’s Secret. Your colleagues don’t need to know that much about you.

Olivia2.0 (#260)

@Matt Poindexter@twitter This thing is actually amazing: and fits really really well in a “manbag” (or lady bag!) like a timbuk 2, over the shoulder briefcase, etc.

@stuffisthings I think Tupperware is fine, but what if you have too many containers to carry them by hand?

pfunkem (#1,167)

@MuffyStJohn They don’t need to know that you … wear underwear? Bras are scandalous?

@pfunkem They don’t need to know where you purchase your underwear. They should be able to assume that you wear underwear. A shopping bag from any store that doesn’t primarily sell lingerie or sex toys would be fine, I think.

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@pfunkem I don’t need to know where any of my colleagues buy their underwear, TBH. And I’m pretty damned liberal. There is also only a certain kind of person that thinks this is appropriate information to share in a workplace, and that person lacks professionalism.

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@Rachel Goldfarb@twitter You beat me to it! Now I’m imagining people bringing their leftover lasagna into work in Babeland bags.

pfunkem (#1,167)

@MuffyStJohn I guess that’s sort of fair, depending on your environment. I’m much more squicked out by the idea of people judging others based on how they transport your lunch (!) than the idea that someone, sometime, somewhere, bought some “intimate apparel.” Then again, you’d probably call me unprofessional.

pfunkem (#1,167)

@Rachel Goldfarb@twitter VS does not sell sex toys.

@pfunkem I’m well aware, having shopped there. I was suggesting that there are basically two options for shopping bags you SHOULDN’T use: underwear and sex toys. As Muff suggested above, people bringing their leftover lasagna in a shopping bag branded for Babeland, a well known NYC sex shop, would be kind of inappropriate.

If you have a Victoria’s Secret shopping bag sitting around, you probably have a bag from Macy’s. Or the Gap. Or any other place where you’ve received a purchase in a sturdy flat-bottomed paper bag with handles that does not inform your coworkers where your underwear was purchased. Same reason your underwear shouldn’t be visible in work clothes: we don’t want to know.

bibliostitute (#285)

@Rachel Goldfarb@twitter a) I have to represent and let you know that Babeland is from seattle! 1993! I love them! whoops! NYCers, not to know. (and in Seattle our babeland bags are just brown, with no branding, i don’t think)

b) I guess I too am probably what might be considered unprofessional, but I feel like Victoria’s Secret, especially, has been so mainstreamed that it’s not even provocative to admit to having the bag? I am a boy, and I do not shop and VS, but I have taken lunch to school and work in a VS bag because it was available, courtesy of my sister or my mom getting my sister something? I find it hard not to read some sexy classism into this complaint about the lack of professionalism inherent in admitting to purchasing bras and panties. Sorry if I am being a throat jumper downer, but this sort of sentiment makes me sad! But I am a poet and can feel this way.

laloca03@twitter (#1,198)

@MuffyStJohn in my 20+ years in the workforce, i don’t think i’ve seen anyone blink at a VS bag in the office, *or* seen one used as a lunch bag (lunchtime shopping, sure). and that’s in “conservative” DC.

the long and short of it: no one really cares what you bring your lunch to work in. although the zojirushi bento boxes are a good choice if your office doesn’t have a fridge.

@pfunkem Just because you think someone shouldn’t be judged for something, doesn’t mean they won’t be. Women are judged harshly for everything they do in some types of workplaces.

Heckyes (#1,162)

I got a bit of money and a few American Express and Target gift cards for my graduation, with which I bought pants that fit, a new fancy knife, and some fancy (i.e. not the cheapest) sheets. Now I feel super justified with my purchases (even more than I did before)!

Seconded on sheets. I’m nearly 30 and only just last year invested in sheets and bedding that weren’t the cheapest available and OH MAN. It’s probably the thing I least regret buying ever (especially the down comforter).

ETA: A good knife, though, can be dangerous. If the recent grad is used to the flimsy and dull things kids call knives these days, they might just chop their fingers off with a real one.

(Yay editing!)

dotcommie (#662)

@stuffisthings my knife skills teacher made the argument that good knives are actually safer, since dull knives tend to slide off whatever you’re cutting while sharp knives just cut through. maybe pair the fancy knife with a knife skills class? they’re usually not too expensive, and LIFE CHANGING.

@stuffisthings I have a lot of sheets. BUT I recently bought new sheets that have changed my life. Well, not really. I never wanted to get out of bed before, anyway, but they are life changing in the sense that I am even less inclined now.

Anyway. OH MY GOD Lands’ End Oxford Cloth sheets. They are magnificent. (Ignore the negative reviews on the LE web site.) Yes, oxford cloth, like men’s shirts. The pillow cases even have cute little buttons. My god these sheets are comfy. They wash like a dream. They stay nice longer (my other ones: I’d want to change after 3 or 4 days; now I can easily go 7 nights… maybe longer. I”m not gross. Promise. Hide me from ACP.)

They are a little pricy, but if you bide your time, LE always has sales. I got mine 30% & free shipping, so in the $100 range for a queen-size set. They were worth every penny.

Ramble ramble, anyway (can you tell I suck at twitter?): Perfect sheets. All men should have these sheets, because it would make me want to spend much more time in your bed. (Listen up, current man friend: your sheets suck.)

gaucheSouth (#1,157)

Add a knife sharpener (one of those really inexpensive rolling ones is a fine sharp) or a honing rod.

As far as lunchbags–do those neoprene ones from Built look unprofessional? I need to know, for research purposes.

Finally, I have a good friend with a serious Coca-Cola habit, so I tediously key in the codes from the caps while I watch TV. Can’t use ’em for New Yorker subscriptions, but I have my Real Simple and Cooking Light covered. And gifts for several other people too.

MuffyStJohn (#280)

The Billfold is bringing it with the RIGHT ON this week. Outstanding list.

My only suggestion is that if you’re going to spring to buy someone pants (or any professional clothing), also throw in any necessary tailoring. A dry cleaner can take up a hem for $10 and it makes all the difference in terms of fit.

A 4’10” person

@MuffyStJohn YES. Also, if they don’t know better, teach them that they should take things to a tailor. Because so many of my peers don’t realize that they could own pants that are actually the right length!

@Rachel Goldfarb@twitter It is the saddest thing to me to see short women on the subway dragging their Brooks Brothers pant hems on the ground. Also doubly tragic since hemming pants is a very doable sewing project people who don’t sew.

This list is everything I wanted on graduation. Except for the nice knife, because I was given one as a “your first kitchen!” present during college. Luckily my loved ones are awesome, and in the year since I graduated people have bought me a couple pairs of dress pants from Banana Republic, a new down comforter, a subscription to New York, and flights/train tickets to visit for holidays and such.

I would add a decent cutting board to go with that knife- a wood one. Plastic cutting boards (and that’s what they own) will just dull the nice knife. And if the grad has never really owned a good knife, then maybe a knife skills class? I am so grateful for the knife skills class I took.

@Rachel Goldfarb@twitter And if they already have a good knife, how about a cast-iron skillet? Those are the foundations of a kitchen, to me.

@anachronistique I would have loved one of those- or in other kitchen things I own that the new grad is not likely to purchase for his/her self but wants, a small food processor, or an immersion blender, or a cast iron enameled dutch oven. I own all of these things (Mom likes to give me kitchen-related presents) and LOVE them.

vv965 (#1,166)

I feel like I am about to reveal massive ignorance, but where do you get your music if not from itunes? (Aside from torrenting.) Am I crazy? I use it all the time. If there is a cheaper way, tell me please!

camanda (#132)

@vv965 I buy mine on Amazon and in record stores. But I think the point is just that while the receiver might be happy to get an iTunes gift card, there are more thoughtful or practical things you can give a recent graduate, especially things that they wouldn’t think to buy for themselves — not a category iTunes falls into for the smartphone generation.

Also, for what it’s worth, I don’t know if iTunes ever does decent sales because I refuse to use it, but Amazon drops prices on albums and things all the time, which is one of the reasons I prefer buying my digital music through them. They offer 100 for under $3 each month and if you follow @amazonmp3 on Twitter, you’ll be able to get $2 off here and there or find other deals.

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@vv965 I certainly wouldn’t illegally download any of it from peer-sharing sites. Not me. Not ever.

Olivia2.0 (#260)

A nice not-backpack bag would be nice too, especially for a man!

Hey! I resemble that graphic!

camanda (#132)

Speaking from experience working with housewares etc., bedding and knives are two things that are absolutely worth spending money on and are totally the kinds of things that people should be giving recent graduates. The receiver will use them and love them — perfect gifts. And you can actually find high-quality stuff at very low prices if you’re diligent about finding sales and discount stores. I saw a set of $200 Wusthof knives at HomeGoods once for $90.

I second the comments about bags as well. I really think, too, that having a nice grown-up lunchbag and accouterments will encourage someone to bring lunch to work. I will once again give a thumbs-up to the Martha Stewart Collection food storage containers. I have the salad, lunch, and cereal containers, and they’re awesome. Makes it a lot easier to bring different and interesting things you’d actually want to eat instead of staring longingly at someone else’s take-out.

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@camanda How is it that everything Martha touches turns to awesomeness? I think that having good tupperware makes it much easier to bring your own lunch (which saves a ton more money than the initial investment on containers).

camanda (#132)

@MuffyStJohn Indeed! The three of them cost me maybe $25, if that. That’s about five lunches, depending on the place. And I’ve eaten more than five lunches out of them for sure.

AnnieNilsson (#406)

This is excellent. It’s also a great gift guide for like, anyone not living with their parents. I mean, I’m 30 and I still don’t have nice sheets/pants yet. I do have all the miles though…

cherrispryte (#19)

Note: If your recent graduate has any hoarding tendencies whatsoever, DO NOT GIVE THEM A MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION. My, um, friend told me to tell you this.

bibliostitute (#285)

@cherrispryte YES! And also if he is intent on moving halfway around the world within the next six months. It is dumb. He will not transfer the address. Or something. It’s unclear.

selenana (#673)

@cryptolect Right, the givee gives the giver a penny. I don’t do the knives as gifts thing either. Seriously taboo in some cultures.

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