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What are the Best 18th Birthday Presents?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 17, 2024
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Different cultures have different milestone birthdays, generally falling somewhere between 13 and 18. In the United States, although the "Sweet 16" is a hallmark year in many young women’s lives, the 18th birthday has long been important for members of both genders. It is at 18 that a person in the United States is considered a legal adult, able to partake in most adult activities that are closed off to children, and no longer a ward of their parents or the state. As a result, 18th birthday presents are often particularly special, and they should reflect this transitional time from adolescence into adulthood.

Many people turning 18 are also about to head out into the world on their own for the first time, either to college or to live independently. Great presents can take this into consideration, and highlight this new-found independence. At the same time, gifts that are practical can be welcome, giving the person celebrating his or her birthday something that he or she can use in starting a new life.

For example, if the person is heading to a new dorm life at college, 18th birthday presents may take the form of some sort of furniture or appliance for that new dorm. A couch, table, mini-fridge, cooking set, television, or any number of mid-sized gifts the person may not have already but will need can help celebrate this special day. Presents given on the 18th birthday are often more expensive than earlier presents, and they may be more so than those given for later birthdays, so gift givers should expect to spend a bit more than they normally would. At the same time, many excellent gifts in this vein can be found for those on a budget, simply by checking classifieds or visiting vintage or thrift stores in search of funky but hip décor.

Some people choose to purchase presents that somehow celebrate one of the new freedoms the celebrated person is gaining with his or her new age. In the United States many things cannot be sold to those under the age of 18, and some of these things might be purchased by friends as a way of celebrating. Lottery tickets, for example, cannot usually be purchased by those under the age of 18, so a cheap and fun present can be a collection of scratcher tickets. The sale of both cigarettes and pornography is generally prohibited to those under 18 years of age as well, so many people choose to buy an assortment of these items as a bawdy, gag gift. Similarly, a more costly present could include a trip to go to a casino.

Finally, as turning 18 is a time of great transition, gifts to celebrate the day can offer an opportunity to look back at the life being left behind. People with a skill for scrapbooking may wish to compile a scrapbook that looks back at the person's life, and those with computer skills might set up a multimedia presentation highlighting the past. If prepared with love and care, this can make for a keepsake that the person celebrating a birthday will treasure forever.

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Discussion Comments

By shell4life — On Feb 24, 2013

I think that all expense paid trips are the best 18th birthday present ideas. When a kid turns 18, he or she likely has a couple of summer vacation months ahead before having to start college, and this may be the last chance he or she has to take advantage of freedom and the chance to travel.

My parents paid for me to go to Florida for two weeks with a friend. It was the best time I've ever had on vacation, because everything was free!

By OeKc05 — On Feb 23, 2013

The best ideas for 18th birthday presents are the most expensive ones. Usually, only close relatives are willing to spend a lot on these gifts, but they may be the best ones that the new adult will ever receive.

A lot of kids I know got cars for their 18th birthdays. If the kid doesn't already have a car, they are definitely going to need one to either go to work or to college.

Another great expensive gift is a laptop computer. It costs a lot less than a car, but it is something that is very useful and often necessary for everything from taking notes in class to paying bills online.

By Kristee — On Feb 23, 2013

@kylee07drg – It depends on the state that you are in. I know that Mississippi doesn't allow people under 21 to even enter the casinos, because waitresses walk around offering you drinks for free, and they don't check your ID.

However, there are some states that let anyone 18 and over gamble. You just have to check the state's laws before you plan the trip.

By kylee07drg — On Feb 22, 2013

I'm not sure if a casino trip would make a good 18th birthday gift. Don't you have to be 21 in order to get into a casino? Even if you could get in at age 18, you probably wouldn't be allowed to gamble if you were under 21.

By Ivan83 — On Dec 06, 2012
Let's be honest, what does an 18 year old want more than cold, hard cash? They are young and their tastes are weird. In my experience, it is better to give teenagers money so they can just go out and buy what they really want. It may be boring, I know, but it works and I think the kids end up appreciating it more.
By backdraft — On Dec 05, 2012

Is it common to give people special gifts on their 18th birthday? Is that a thing now? I always thought of 18 as more of a legal than a personal milestone. I'm not quite sure how you would celebrate it.

By vigilant — On Dec 05, 2012
I think one of the best boys' 18th birthday presents is a tent. That is what my dad got me and I used that tent for over 15 years to go on dozens of different camping trips.

It was a good 18th birthday present because it was a symbol of my independence. Even though I didn't move out of the house for another year, the tent represented a place of my own that was separate from the home I shared with my parents. I was a really thoughtful gift and, like I said, I got a ton of use out of it.

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