Graduation spending to reach $5.2 billion with cash and greeting cards as most popular gifts

“Graduation is a huge milestone for students and parents alike, and retailers are ready to help make it even more memorable.”

Matthew Shay
NRF President and CEO

WASHINGTON – Consumers say they will spoil high school and college graduates this year by filling their greeting cards with gift cards and cash, according to the annual survey released today by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics.

The average person buying graduation gifts will spend $102.51, on par with last year’s $104.92. Total spending is expected to reach $5.2 billion, the third-highest number in the survey’s 12-year history following the record $5.6 billion set last year and $5.4 billion in 2016.

“Graduation is a huge milestone for students and parents alike, and retailers are ready to help make it even more memorable,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Cash might be the most popular item, but an assortment of graduation gifts from greeting cards and gift cards to clothing and electronics will tempt shoppers.”


Cash will once again be the most popular gift, given by 55 percent of those surveyed as they seek to help students with the costly transition from high school to college or college to the “real world.” Greeting cards — many of them with cash inside — follow at 43 percent, gift cards at 32 percent, apparel at 14 percent and electronics at 10 percent.


“One growing trend we have noticed year over year is the fact that peers continue to give gifts to each other,” Prosper Insights Executive Vice President of Strategy Phil Rist said. “Most prefer to give cash, along with the quintessential graduation gift card, to celebrate the new grad.”

The survey found 45 percent of those ages 18-24 plan to give a gift to graduates, spending an average of $73.87, with greeting cards and cash being their gifts of choice. However, the biggest spending, at $119.86, comes from those ages 45-54 who may have a child at home. Those in the grandparent bracket of 65 and above give an average of $107.13.

The survey, which asked 7,681 consumers about their graduation gift-giving plans, was conducted May 3-10 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.1 percentage points.

About Prosper Insights & Analytics
Prosper Insights & Analytics is a global leader in consumer intent data serving the financial services, marketing technology, and retail industries. We provide global authoritative market information on U.S. and China consumers via curated insights and analytics. By integrating a variety of data including economic, behavioral and attitudinal data, Prosper helps companies accurately predict consumers’ future behavior to help identify market behaviors, optimize marketing efforts, and improve the effectiveness of demand generation campaigns.

About NRF
The National Retail Federation is the world’s largest retail trade association. Based in Washington, D.C., NRF represents discount and department stores, home goods and specialty stores, Main Street merchants, grocers, wholesalers, chain restaurants and internet retailers from the United States and more than 45 countries. Retail is the nation’s largest private-sector employer, supporting one in four U.S. jobs — 42 million working Americans. Contributing $2.6 trillion to annual GDP, retail is a daily barometer for the nation’s economy.