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The best graduation gifts under $30 for 2021

TV streamers, pingpong sets, investing advice and lots of other great, affordable ideas.

Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Rick Broida
3 min read
$30 at Amazon
Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite
Voice-powered streaming goodness
$30 at Amazon
Skullcandy Sesh Evo true wireless earbuds
A surprisingly good AirPods alternative
$25 at Amazon
Tile key finder
Tile Mate tracker
Because (gasp!) even graduates lose things.
$20 at Amazon
Pingpong paddle and net set
Anyone for (table) tennis?
$10 at Amazon
Dash Mini Waffle Maker
Good for paninis and other stuff, too
$15 at Amazon
Kasa Smart Multicolor Light Bulb
"Alexa, activate party mode."
$17 at Amazon
The Elements of Investing by Charles D. Ellis
Oh, the money they'll save

Unlike last year, high school and college graduation ceremonies might actually happen. That alone is worth celebrating, to say nothing of the students who managed to complete their educations in the midst of a full-on global catastrophe.

All that hard work deserves a reward, don't you think? Below, I've rounded up some grad gifts that won't break the bank; they're priced $30 or less. And they're all fun, practical or both. If you have any ideas of your own to add, please do so in the comments!

Read more: 

For anyone graduating from streaming solely on a phone or tablet to an actual TV, a streaming stick is essential. Amazon's entry-level job works well, though it's worth noting the more capable Fire TV Stick 4K is currently on sale for just $10 more.

Why Amazon's stick over, say, a Roku? I think grads would appreciate the former's support for games, especially party games like those offered by Jackbox.

You might not expect a lot of bells and whistles at this price (normally $60, often on sale for $30), but Skullcandy's 'buds can do a couple cool tricks. First, they offer three equalizer settings optimized for music, movies and podcasts. Second, they're equipped with Tile tracking, meaning you can use the Tile app to find the earbuds if they go missing.

Beyond that: Bluetooth 5.0, sweatproof design and your choice of five colors. Not bad for $30.

CNET hasn't reviewed the Sesh Evo, but the 'buds scored a decent 4.3 stars from over 11,000 Amazon buyers.

I consider this one of the all-time great gifts, because it's insanely useful and works well most of the time. (I also think it's better than Apple's new AirTags in many respects.) Find your misplaced phone or find your misplaced keys all via one simple device. It's well worth the price.

Speaking of which, it's not uncommon to see the Tile Mate on sale for $20, and you can often get price breaks on multipacks.

It's the rare student apartment that would have room for table tennis, but this set makes any table suitable for pingpong. Just extend the spring-loaded net and pull out the paddles. I've tried similar sets on a few different surfaces, and the end result was always the same: super-fun impromptu table tennis.

If this sells out, Amazon sells roughly 10 million copycats -- some more expensive, but many priced $30 or less.

Small living spaces demand small appliances. The top-rated, super-popular Dash Mini Maker (it made CNET's list of the best waffle makers) is a perfect graduation gift, with a compact design and impossible-to-beat price: It used to sell for $15, but now appears to be permanently marked down to $10. You could buy three and still come in under $30!

A smart bulb is hardly a necessity for the modern graduate, but it sure could be fun as a grad gift. Kasa's dimmable bulb, equivalent to a standard 60-watt, allows for just about any color, and it supports voice control via Alexa and Google Assistant -- no hub required.

Note that it normally sells for around $18, but is currently listed at $15.

Forget the whimsical, obvious choice -- Dr. Seuss' Oh, The Places You'll Go -- and give a grad something of actual use: a book that teaches the basics of saving and investing money. Because, let's face it, few high school or college programs give kids the knowledge they need. Elements is a relatively slim 208 pages, so it's not as intimidating as some money-advice books.

This article was published previously. 

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