What Student Debt Crisis? Survey Says We’ll Spend $5 Billion on Graduation Gifts

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A new survey shows that Americans will collectively spend more than $4.7 billion on gifts for students graduating college or high school this year. For some perspective, our country’s collective student loan debt has cracked the trillion-dollar mark and shot past totals for both credit-card debt and car loans. According to student loan education site FinAid.org, our student loan debt is growing at a rate of about $2,853.88 per second. 

Of the nearly 9,000 people who responded to the National Retail Federation’s 2012 Graduation Survey, conducted by BIGinsight, more than a third say they’ll be giving graduation gifts this year — the highest percentage since 2007. On average, they’ll spend $99.94 each, which is actually a few pennies higher than the 2007 average, and a significant departure from the five-year low of $88.01 they spent in 2009.

What are new grads getting? Cash is the perennial front-runner; around 58% say they’ll give greenbacks. Just over 40% say they’ll give cards. More people are giving pricier gifts than that, though. The percentages of people giving clothes, electronics and gift cards have all recovered and have even surpassed pre-recession figures.

(MORE: 60 and Still Not Out of Student Loan Debt: Seniors Facing $36 Billion in College Loans)

A breakdown by age indicates it’s most likely parents who are giving most generously. People in the 45-to-54 year-old age bracket are giving an average of $110.47 this year. People in the Northeast and those making over $50,000 also tended to be most generous.

Yes, it’s possible that some recipients who get cash will funnel it toward their student loan debt, and gifts of clothes have their place. Mark Zuckerberg might be able to get away with wearing a hoodie everywhere, but a newly minted grad scrounging for that first entry-level job definitely can’t. But even though $5 billion is a drop in the bucket next to the whopping total of our outstanding student loan balances, it’s a little surprising to see the amount being spent on what are largely discretionary gifts.

(MORE: 6 Common Misconceptions About Financial Aid)

For new grads, maybe those new Uggs or that Xbox are consolation prizes for having to move back home with mom and dad after the diploma has been collected.