Graduation Gifting: How Much Is "Too Much"​?

How to gift smart for graduation (and other achievements) while considering the consequences of “too much”

Graduation season is upon us. We are so proud of our graduates’ achievements, and - in our overindulgent culture - it is quite natural to gift the achievement. The question is, where is the merit in gift giving?  What was once a gesture of successful achievement has become a furthering of our entitled societal expectations.

There’s a shelf full of books on the subject (The Price of Privilege by Madeline Levine and The Narcissism Epidemic by Jean M.Twenge and W. Keith Campbell among them) lamenting what will become of this generation of overindulged kids. Everything from a lack of independence to an overgrown sense of entitlement rank high in the authors’ concerns. At a minimum, showering kids with presents sets up their expectations. Excess equals happiness. More is better. But is it?

I’ve always objected to the word itself: spoiled. Like rotten fruit? Yuck. We pay lip service to teaching our kids about the value of earned success, while we acknowledge the accomplishment with an avalanche of stuff. What’s the real message we’re sending?

Kids become more aware of gratitude when they see it and hear it. Model the gratitude by regularly expressing appreciation for the things and people you have in your life. And express your joy in your new graduate’s achievement.  A beautiful frame for their diploma is a thoughtful gesture - and one that doesn’t put gift giving into superdrive.

Another tip is to maintain reasonable expectations. What an achievement to attain scholastic success.  That is a true gift in and of itself. Perhaps some small token to signify the journey is meaningful.  Setting up the expectation that “now the graduate deserves a significant financial reward” undermines the hard work the student put in to get to their successful position. Recognize the achievement.  Reduce the physical accolades. 

 The natural result of maintaining reasonable expectations is that excitement remains high.

If you’re not desensitized to true thoughtfulness, you’re pleasantly surprised with whatever gift you receive. It might seem counterintuitive (which is why spoiling can be so tempting), but, in my opinion, those who don’t get everything they want are happier and more grateful than those who do. Does Veruca Salt ring a bell?

 It’s actually good to not get everything you want. It teaches contentment and gratitude for what you do have. People who always get what they want are always wanting more and more (and bigger and better). When kids grow up getting everything they ask for, real life hits pretty hard.  Learning gratitude, contentment and compassion comes easier when we start young.

Is it too late to scale back? I don’t think it’s ever too late to scale back on gift giving extravagance, no matter how old you or your kids are.

Start by changing the expectations. Talk to your family about simplifying. You can make it about money if you want, but it’s perfectly fine to simplify for simplicity’s sake.

Help the discussion be a positive one. Be excited about the opportunity to be more thoughtful and intentional with your gifts, rather than spending and spoiling. Help your children focus on others and use their talents to give meaningful gifts.

There may be some growing pains as you scale back, but I would rather console my child who didn’t receive an iPad like his kindergarten classmates now, than deal with a full-blown Veruca Salt later.


Bio: Rachel Namoff is on the forefront of financial literacy. Her systems have transformed retirement planning for advisors, baby boomers and individuals. She is currently a managing member of Arapaho Asset Management.