Your Money: Money-smart gifts for college grads

NEW YORK (Reuters) - For college graduates entering a challenging job market, some of whom are carrying tremendous student loan debt, any gift to help them better manage their money is both practical and welcome.

Students graduating from the School of Law cheer as they receive their degrees during the 364th Commencement Exercises at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts May 28, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

The following are three ways to help recent graduates find their financial footing in the real world:

1. Investing for the long haul

When William Bauer, managing director of Royce, a New Jersey leather goods company, graduated from McGill University in 2014 and HEC Paris in 2015, his mother gave him 100 shares of Johnson & Johnson stock and 100 shares of Qualcomm.

“It’s nice to have money to fall back on for the inevitable rainy day,” says Bauer, who liked the gift idea so much that he recently gave his brother stock upon college graduation.

Jake Rheude’s parents essentially gave him a forced savings plan. Rheude studied marketing at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, driving a 2001 Audi A4 his parents loaned him. He paid the insurance on it to them every month.

When Rheude graduated, his parents gave him access to a bank account where his monthly payments of $96 had been deposited and accumulating in a mutual fund account.

“Their gift to me was over $5,000, money that would have likely been spent on frivolous expenses had I not been required to make the payments,” says Rheude, now director of business development and marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment, in Knoxville.

“It taught me an immense amount about the realities of living expenses, but also about the power of saving a relatively small amount - although some months it seemed like a huge amount - consistently, over the course of several years,” he said.

Cash gifts are another conduit to fiscal responsibility. For financial writer Scott Bowen, a gift of $1,000 from his father as he graduated from an MFA program was directed into a mutual fund account.

“That wasn’t much money, but it got me focused on two essential habits: putting your own money away for the future and not thinking you can rely on a 401(k) or Social Security,” Bowen says, adding that “you have to pay attention to the things that you invest in - you actually have to understand some things about the fund itself and its investment direction.”

2. Advice and guidance

“On My Own Two Feet: A Modern Girl’s Guide to Personal Finance,” by personal finance experts Manisha Thakor and Sharon Kedar, tackles money basics like credit card debt and retirement planning. The lessons shared in the book are even more powerful when paired with frank, personal advice, Thakor says.

“Take the young person out to a restaurant of their choosing and share with them your best and worst financial decisions,” advises Thakor, who is director of wealth strategies for women at The BAM Alliance. “Answer their questions about money.”

Another book recommended by personal finance experts was written 90 years ago, but is still relevant today.

Daniel L. Grote, a certified financial planner in Denver, received “The Richest Man in Babylon” by George S. Clason from his Uncle Jim - “My mentor and the most financially successful person I know,” notes Grote.

“It is an excellent, quick read” for anyone who wants to know how acquire solid personal finance skills, says Grote, who has since given the book as a gift many times.

Booking a session with a financial planner or adviser is another smart move. “When the advice comes from someone other than a parent, it tends to sink in more,” says consumer credit expert and author Beverly Blair Harzog.

Ask the planner to provide basic money advice, such as budgeting, avoiding debt and the importance of a healthy credit score.

3. Launch a career

Ashley Souza, associate director of relationship development for Centerpoint Advisors, LLC in Needham, Massachusetts, surprised and delighted her newly graduated cousin by giving her a boot camp with a career strategist.

She found it priceless – receiving a professional resume, headshot, LinkedIn profile, mock interviews with professional contacts, and tips covering everything regarding meeting etiquette and wardrobe must-haves.

Souza also gave her cousin a $100 gift card to Banana Republic for some updated work clothes.

“The coaching really helped her gain confidence, and the interviewers were impressed with her updated resume when she arrived, as well as her poise,” Souza says.

Editing by Lauren Young and G Crosse