Awesome Lasting Gifts for an 18 year-old guy?
February 18, 2009 3:09 PM   Subscribe

I have two "significant events" upcoming for my son; he will turn 18 in mid-March and graduate from high school in May. Looking for great gift ideas that will stand the test of time.

I'd love to find the perfect gift(s) that he would think awesome now, but would also last a long time (if not forever) and become sentimental possessions for him in the future.

He dresses in jeans and t-shirts, loves to read (but doesn't love school), is an avid XBox player. He doesn't have, nor has never worn a watch, but he does have 2 rings (a high school class ring and a ring that belonged to his grandfather), so another ring probably wouldn't fill the bill.

As a single mom with prom, graduation, birthdays, etc, coming up, my budget is limited; probably no more than $100-150 for each gift (less spendy, but still awesome would be fantastic!) Any great ideas of gifts you've given or received? Know anything so crazy cool any guy would love to have it? Thanks, MeFi!
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit to Shopping (52 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
My only advice: experiences are better than things
posted by mpls2 at 3:15 PM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

My mom was so awesome about birthday gifts in my teens - she was a single mom on a budget, so I would get one significant gift for my birthday each year, usually a creative tool of some kind. An electric typewriter (I was an English geek, and while I had a computer I didn't have a laptop - okay let's just say it was the 90s, people still used typewriters alright? :)) was the best one, and gave me a significant leg up in my teen writing career. She gave me graphics software one year. She always looked for something that would be useful and encourage my passions, and I was able to use the gifts for years after.

So, what are his dreams? What are his hobbies? Does he use student-grade tools for something where a professional tool would really improve what he's able to create?
posted by annathea at 3:17 PM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Filson bags. Timeless.
posted by Roach at 3:22 PM on February 18, 2009

Filson link here.
posted by Roach at 3:22 PM on February 18, 2009

This may sound odd in this day and age of electronic doodads but I got one of those big full color Atlases when I graduated from college. It has been really nice to have over the years.
posted by fenriq at 3:22 PM on February 18, 2009

Maybe this wouldn't apply, since he favors jeans and tshirts, but...if he has something formal like prom coming up and you want something that will stand the test of time, have you considered something like a very nice set of cufflinks? They're very much a "grown up now" gift, and when he does have special occasions that require a nice shirt throughout his life, he will have something timeless to wear that will remind him how much you love him. That said, the other suggestions re: practical tools to do what interests him are great.
posted by teamparka at 3:29 PM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is certainly beyond your budget and is likely to only last a couple of years, but if he's going off to college, he really will "need" a laptop. A desktop might do, but if he has no computer, he'll be unlike 90+ percent of his peers and, in my opinion, be at a disadvantage. If you're going to be buying him a computer by August anyway, maybe make it one of your two fall gifts and kill two birds with one stone. If this isn't applicable, nevermind.

Somewhat over your budget, but an Amazon Kindle could be a pretty cool gift if he likes to read.

Seconding annathea's comment. What does he like to do?
posted by zachlipton at 3:29 PM on February 18, 2009

On review, I like sarabeth's cufflink idea. I'm a french cuff geek and really enjoy casualish shirts I can wear with jeans and a nice pair of cufflinks. You would probably need to get him one or more shirts as well. On the other hand, his 18-year-old boy brain may scoff at the idea of receiving any sort of clothing as a gift.

(oh and I'm a 20 year old college student for context)
posted by zachlipton at 3:32 PM on February 18, 2009

You say he loves to read. Does he have a favorite book? You can search for editions that are signed by the author via's advanced search. Prices vary, of course.
posted by Mizu at 3:32 PM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

This doesn't quite meet your durability requirement, but what about a good bottle of wine or scotch, or other quality alcohol? Even though the gift itself is consumable, a developed palate will last a lifetime.

When my brother turned 18, I got him a mixed six-pack of really good beers. I knew he was going to drink a lot in college (he goes to a very fratty college), and I knew that it was overwhelmingly going to be horrible beer used for pong, so I wanted to make sure that he knew what good alcohol tasted like before he went off to drink Keystone Light for 4 years.

He really enjoyed the present, both for its contents and for the acknowledgment that even though he wasn't of drinking age, he was an adult and was going off on his own.
posted by foodmapper at 3:33 PM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Get him one thing that he'll think is awesome right now -- a pretty nice leather jacket, or some Xbox crap, or whatever.

Then get him one thing that he'll shrug off and forget about until he turns 30 and then feels deeply ashamed he didn't see the value earlier. I'd suggest some sort of small, custom-designed stained glass thing.
posted by Damn That Television at 3:36 PM on February 18, 2009

You say he's never worn a watch, but that needs to change. He's an man, and men wear watches, so get him a nice one.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 3:38 PM on February 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

A little out of your price range, maybe, but a nice digital camera? If he likes to write, a lovely blank book and a pen could work too.
posted by darksong at 3:39 PM on February 18, 2009

posted by greekphilosophy at 3:40 PM on February 18, 2009

To expand on mpls2's advice, when I graduated high school, my folks bought me a AAA membership, and 'sponsored' a driving trip across country to visit Devil's Tower, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, etc etc. I will never forget that trip. of course I like driving cross country.

And as anti-advice, I'd say whatever you do, don't buy your kid a savings bond as a grad present. I felt somewhat insulted, like my mom didn't think much of my future earnings capacity. I recognize now, she was probably trying to make a point about savings, but a gift isn't the right time for that, imho. Whatever you get, it should express your confidence in them.
posted by nomisxid at 3:41 PM on February 18, 2009

My mother got me a fountain pen when I graduated high school. I thanked her, brought it to undergrad and put it away until I started penning postcards and letters to friends during break.

She got me another one when I graduated college. I took both pens with me to med school, and wrote letters to my family and friends, during school and break. For school and the clinical rotations, though, I favored the faster-writing ink pens that drug reps give out, because hey, free pen!

When I completed my residency training, she got me another one. I write letters and postcards for friends and family, and write patient notes with it, too.

Fountain pens are a terrible mess. You have to refill them often. You have to buy ink. You get ink stains on your fingertips and clothes. I love them for all of this, and am reminded of how thoughtful my mother is and how much I love her, how important it is to take my time when I write anything, and to think things through, and how incredible it is that I can carry and use something daily that I was given years ago.

Those drug rep pens? They write too fast. I take my time when I write my patient progress notes, because I should carefully consider what I put down on someone's medical record. I should carefully consider the medical issues surrounding the patient. I should think about the patients themselves and give them all the time I can offer.

And the same can be said for any letters I write to friends, or lovers, or family. Considered, fluid, and meaningful.

The ink problem is kinda fun. There's a bunch of fun inks you can use with fountain pens! Let him find reason to use the pen, or encourage him by asking him to write you a letter sometime after he graduates, to let you know how things are going. You can start it by penning a letter yourself to him.

Let me know if you'd like some suggestions for your price range. There are many styles available.

posted by herrdoktor at 3:42 PM on February 18, 2009 [7 favorites]

I'm just gonna add that my brothers have gotten me crapmugs for years. We have this... habit or getting the ugliest mugs we can get. I've got one from a long time ago with my name writting in a ghoulish font. It's an ugly mug. It's a crapmug. I use it every other week, after I rotate through the other crap mugs.

But I don't use the Backstreet Boys mug. That stays in the top shelf, wayyy in the back.
posted by herrdoktor at 3:44 PM on February 18, 2009

Straight razor. Seriously. A good one will last several lifetimes. If he has a son, he can pass it on to him. It'll take awhile for him to get the hang of it, but nothing will make him feel like more of a badass than shaving with a straight razor.
posted by AaRdVarK at 3:45 PM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Does he have any interest in traveling? When I was in high school, I begged my parents to give me money to travel when I graduated. That didn't come to pass during that graduation. But when I graduated college three years later, I finally got a check for 2k that my mother gave me as she was pulling out of my driveway after college graduation. She told me that she knew I really wanted it. And I broke down in tears, and went to Italy a bit later, and it was a monumentally important experience for me.
posted by greta simone at 3:45 PM on February 18, 2009

Get him a pen.
A nice one, a fountain pen, that he can use to write with. He might be a laptop user in college, but he's also going to need to do lots of writing with implements on paper, and a good pen is a wonderfully thoughful gift.
In your price range you can pick and choose from a range of pens that will last decades.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 3:46 PM on February 18, 2009

This isn't the most interesting gift idea out there, but for my most recent birthday (my 20th) my parents opened a retirement savings account for me and put a little bit of money in it and encouraged me to invest. It's probably not the kind of thing that would make many kids say "Wow, cool!" but I'm super grateful even though it's not something that I can show off or make immediate use of. it will definitely stand the test of time!

I also think trips and photos are great - some of my favorite memories of graduation and prom are the (extremely cheap!) road/camping trips I took with my friends - and the fact that my parents let me go! You could possibly book a night or two at a nearby campsite for your son and some of his friends?
This is less lasting, but a digital camera might be a good gift that he can use to take photos of his last high school events.
Maybe you could take him on a day or weekend trip somewhere he would be interested in, or the two of you could do something 'extreme' like skydiving, or bungee jumping (depending on what you're into!). One of my friends went skydiving for her 18th birthday and I thought that was a great idea.
posted by sarahj at 3:46 PM on February 18, 2009

+1 mpls2. A friend of mine sent her son to Burning Man for his 18th birthday (something she knew he would be very happy about). I thought that was pretty amazing.
posted by adamrice at 3:49 PM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding the "experience" comments, when I finally made it to art school in my mid-twenties, my mom paid for my airfare and gave me $1k toward my tuition. It was astonishing to me (I told you, she was a single mom, a gift of several thousand dollars was not something I expected or even considered a possibility) and made my experience so much more significant.
posted by annathea at 3:52 PM on February 18, 2009

39 years ago when I graduated from high school, my parents gave me luggage. Don't do that.
posted by netbros at 3:52 PM on February 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you are creative, you might want to put his 18 years into a personalized book.
posted by leigh1 at 4:01 PM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

A wallet may sound uncool, but these are sexy wallets that I have pre-ordered for myself:

Lots of style, lasts a long time, and it sounds like they match his style.
posted by jpeacock at 4:21 PM on February 18, 2009

A nice pocket knife? If you search askme you'll find some recommendations. Maybe check a site like Uncrate for other ideas.
posted by erikgrande at 4:25 PM on February 18, 2009

When I graduated, my mom framed the posters and programs from my senior year drama performances. They're still in my old room, but someday when I'm not moving every six months I will be really excited to hang them in my house and have positive memories of high school.

Also, seconding the travel suggestions.
posted by easy_being_green at 4:36 PM on February 18, 2009

Dammit, erikgrande beat me to it. Not the latest leatherman - those are cool, but a good pocket knife - just a single blade, with a clip - is timeless. I don't carry mine when I'm working office jobs, but you can bet I'm carrying it everywhere else. I bough mine for myself when I was 19, and I've still got it 15 years later.
posted by notsnot at 4:39 PM on February 18, 2009

Congratulations to him!

What will he be doing after high school? Will he be going to college? If so, what will he be doing over the summer? Something that reflects the new era in his life might be nice.

I went on a year-long youth exchange after high school and my family gave me luggage for the trip. I absolutely loved it and still use it, but if your son isn't looking forward to travel, then luggage may not be a good choice.

Has he mentioned anything he might like for such a gift?
posted by wiskunde at 4:41 PM on February 18, 2009

I've been given pens before for 'special occasions.' While I still have them all, I never use them.

Not everyone likes having a wristwatch. Besides, a cellphone will show you the time of day, too.

If he's not into wristwatches, maybe a nice pocket watch on a chain? (The Swatch site is horrible flash so I can't link directly, but they make decent watches that look nice.) I don't know about your culture, but perhaps a solid gentleman's pocket knife? My dad got me started when I was young and nowadays, I'm hardly ever without one.

I'd go for $300 towards airfare to someplace that he'd like to go, although it'd by necessity be less of a surprise thing.
posted by porpoise at 4:46 PM on February 18, 2009

In addition to gifts (and there are a lot of great answers above), you should consider writing (hand-writing, preferably) a letter to him for his graduation. My grandma wrote me several wonderful pages and I got it when I finished college, and it's something I'll keep and cherish forever. Tell him some things about when he was little, especially if there was something he found challenging (zipping up a coat? riding a bike?) and how he eventually figured it out through sheer determination. Tell him some things about you from when you were his age. Tell him that you love him. If you're the kind of person who draws silly little pictures, draw silly little pictures. He may brush it off and kind of act like it's lame or something (or not, I don't know your kid), but it will mean something to him.

p.s. 2nding a watch.
posted by phunniemee at 5:01 PM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Our son's a musician; we got him a good black suit for highschool grad, and a tux for college grad. The other thing we did for his college graduation (just dropping a flea in your ear, because this worked out so great); we put aside $20 a month for the entire time he was in college (well, most months) enabling us to give him a check for $1,200 as a college graduation gift.
posted by nax at 5:19 PM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Dittoing leigh1's suggestion of a personalized book. In a turnabout, my daughter made such a book for me of the trip we took together after she got her MA. The bonus was that she got 2 for the price of 1, (maybe you can find a deal like that online) so we each have a spectacular, beautifully bound coffee table book with thick glossy pages, with her brief humorous remarks as the text, detailing every memorable moment of our trip .

Your son may not want one of his entire life (naked baby tub pictures are not coffee table material for most young adults ; o ). However, high points of his high school career, and maybe major family gatherings...whatever will be meaningful to him over the years will definitely stand the test of time.
Here's a link w/ a review of several companies who produce these books.
posted by mumstheword at 5:44 PM on February 18, 2009

For my 18th, my parents gave me a watch, 18 years later I still have it and love it. The cuff links are a good choice as well, if he's off to college there'll be some balls or functions he can wear them at. The letter is an excellent idea, I had several of these from my father and keep them still.

Experiences are also great as the memories stay with you. For my 21st, I chose not to have a party (which my sister had done), but asked instead for the money to be put towards a summer kayaking in the Alps with my Uni canoe club. Now that's a memory that will last a lifetime, as will the friends.
posted by arcticseal at 5:48 PM on February 18, 2009

What I want for college graduation: A copy of Oh! The Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss with a nice message from my parents written inside.

I can't remember what kind of gift I received for graduating high school but I do remember how happy my parents were to come to the ceremony and how proud they were of me.
posted by thewestinggame at 5:50 PM on February 18, 2009

A nice blazer.

It doesn't have to be anything too fancy, but can help him make a solid impression with women, during job interviews, and generally in any situation where jeans and a t-shirt are the norm.

Really, I'm 23 and have no idea why I didn't purchase one of these things sooner.
posted by clearly at 6:39 PM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

seconding art as well as an really nice atlas.
posted by micklaw at 6:45 PM on February 18, 2009

I'm a huge fan of gifts that you can engrave to mark a momentous event--pens, wrist or pocket watches, jewelry, decorative wood or metal boxes, etc. It's something formal and special, not a standard birthday or holiday gift. I'd go the engraved fountain pen (or other engrave-able formal gift) route unless he really wants a trip somewhere, or there's something else very specific he's been wanting.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:55 PM on February 18, 2009

My parents bought me a crystal whisky glass for my 18th. Miraculously, it's still with me now -- I'm 41 -- and I still use it. It's just about the only thing I've managed not to lose/break/throw away during all the moves I've made since then. I'm not big on sentimentality but I'd be very upset if it broke. WRT other suggestions upthread: personally, I don't think clothes are a great idea, but I do agree with the cufflinks suggestion.
posted by littleme at 7:04 PM on February 18, 2009

He doesn't have, nor has never worn a watch...

Seriously, a watch. He's a man now. Buy him a watch. Even better than buying a new watch, see if anybody in your family has a vintage watch (Omega, Rolex, etc.) that they don't use, or that doesn't work, and get it serviced and brought back to life. A watch is seriously the gift that keeps on giving, and a good one goes with any outfit and any personality and will last a lifetime.

I recently had my dad's old Omega Seamaster Automatic serviced. It was a pretty expensive exercise, but only about a fifth of the value of the watch itself and a far better idea than just buying a new one. It looks great, keeps time like clockwork (!), and I feel good wearing it.

Watch watch watch. ZOMG!

Outside of that, maybe something just as useful, like a Leatherman? He might be like "Gee, thanks" to start with but if he's at all interested in anything whatsoever he'll soon find a dozen uses for it and will find it indispensible.

Away to college? Or is he, like, maybe moving out of home soon? I know when I first moved out I sure as hell appreciated my folks chipping in for some kitchen stuff, towels, things of that nature. If he's going to go on studying then I'll also add my voice to the chorus of people recommending a good shoulder bag.

$150 would also get him a really, really classy wallet that will last forever. Simple, black leather. Accept no substitutes.

I'm not quite so keen on sarabeth's specific cufflinks suggestion but, with formal events possibly on the horizon, $150 would get a kickass tie from a big name designer, and a good tie should be a staple of any man's wardrobe. Teach yourself the half-Windsor knot so you can show it to him.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:13 PM on February 18, 2009

I was also going to suggest the straight razor, badger brush, soap dish and the whole nine yards. My boyfriend (25) requested and received the set for Christmas and loves it--wishes he had started with it earlier. And yes, it makes his bathroom look bad ass in a way a Gillette can not accomplish.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:20 PM on February 18, 2009

A lovely chess set and board.
posted by taff at 7:46 PM on February 18, 2009


(or a dog)
posted by mr. remy at 7:57 PM on February 18, 2009

Definitely pocket knife. Schrade or Buck if you want classic, Kershaw or Spyderco for something more modern. Straight razors are cool and all, but there's a pretty good chance it'll never see use.
posted by electroboy at 8:08 PM on February 18, 2009

Response by poster: Wow, what great ideas, y'all. I knew I was asking the right folks. Too many good suggestions to favorite one or two. I'll be pondering this over the next couple of weeks, but I'm sure I'm on the right track now. Thanks!
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 8:13 PM on February 18, 2009

My brother never owned a watch until he got one for graduation in 1996 from my parents. He still wears it every single day. It's a nice watch from Swiss Army, but it's not very dressy as it has a brown leather band.
posted by santojulieta at 8:59 PM on February 18, 2009

A straight razor is badass, but a nice double-edge safety razor (plus brush/bowl/soap) is more likely to get used. I wish I'd had one in college--disposable blade cartridges are seriously expensive, compared to DE blades.

Nth-ing the pocketknife advice. I've carried a multitool for the last 10 years, and a pocketknife for years before that. It's so incredibly useful that even if you don't get him one, you should tell him to get one for himself.
posted by hades at 12:13 AM on February 19, 2009

I'd like to add my support for the following:

- A double edge safety razor instead of a straight razor. And you will still have money left over for a shaving brush and stand.

- A really really nice pen. A Mont Blanc or similar. Although, when he becomes a college student, there is a good chance he could "lose" that pen within the first week.

- A wallet. Coach makes an unbelievable money clip with room for 3-4 cards/IDs that is about $60 and has a lifetime guarantee. I've had mine for 8 years and I love it.

- Books. A first edition of one of his favorite books would make a great gift. The best gift I got when I graduated high school was "Oh! The Places You'll Go!" by Dr. Seuss. Corny/cheesy? Absolutely. But the message is timeless and appropriate for a high school grad.

Good luck!
posted by LouMac at 7:04 AM on February 19, 2009

For high school graduation I got a very nice SLR camera. There's nothing like the shutter click and film advancing.

Also, suggesting binoculars. That was what my dad got for his high school graduation and they're still in good shape, 38 years later.

Pocket knife not so much. Wouldn't do a wallet. A pen may be nice if he's into writing, I wouldn't have liked it. Don't do concert tickets, that's too short. A watch MAY be a good idea. I dropped $200 on one that I bought IN switzerland when I went after high school, but I only wear it when I dress up for Easter and Christmas; my phone covers my time needs.
posted by phritosan at 7:34 AM on February 19, 2009

Something that says "adult" (and also "it will be hard to break me") that doesn't have to be used now -- so a pocket watch or a good pocket knife (Benchmade, or old Case) are fine. I agree that it should be able to sit in a drawer for a long time and then get rediscovered. Maybe a nice leather stachel bag?

The tough part is that somethign nice enough and durable enough will probably cost like sin. :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 9:00 AM on February 19, 2009

I really like foodmapper's idea. Buy him some decent beer. The idea that alcoholic beverages are food that should be appreciated and enjoyed rather than chugged for the sake of proving one's manhood or to escape from problems will prove to be more valuable than any item you could get him.
posted by andythebean at 6:59 PM on February 19, 2009

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