Love Them or Hate Them, Make the Most of Gift Cards this Holiday Season

gift cards

The holiday shopping season is upon us. Many consumers will be heading out stores soon to find the best deals on stuff they want or stuff they want to give others. “Stuff” has it’s place in this gift-giving season, but gift cards are actually one of my favorites items to give and to receive for most situations. I like gift cards because they’re a consumable gift and they take some of the hassle out of shopping. Gift cards aren’t without their downside though. Some people aren’t a fan of them, calling them restrictive and impersonal.

Whether you love them and give them out, or hate them but still get a few, here’s a few tips for making the most of your gift cards this holiday season:

Giving Gift Cards

If you’re the type that loves to give out gift cards, check out these tips:

Choosing Between Generic Card or Store Brand Cards

There are two basic categories when it comes to gift cards. Those that are basically like a prepaid credit card (generic), and store-specific cards. What type you get depends on the type of person you’re buying it for. The most hard to shop for group of people, teenagers, are also the one’s who would be most likely to want a generic gift card or even just cash. Any other person and you run the risk of seeming too impersonal. So, if you go generic, make sure it’s for a teenager.

For most everyone else, a store-specific card would be appropriate. Do your best to match the store with what you know about the person. If they’re a reader, give them an Amazon.com or book store gift card. If they like sports, consider a gift card to a sport apparel store, or to a ticketing website, where they can find tickets to all types of sporting events. Gift cards for consumable experiences (movies, restaurants, events) are always best in my opinion. I love gifts that don’t clutter up someone’s house.

However, please be careful what store you purchase your gift card for. Stores that go out of business or go bankrupt might not honor the card after a certain point. So aim for cards from stable companies.

Also, it’s important to note that some generic gift cards often come with fees. Stay away from these types.

Don’t Buy Gift Cards for These People

Unless they ask for it, I wouldn’t suggest getting a gift card for your significant other. This is the one person in the world that you should know exactly what to get and not resort to a card. Additionally, you wouldn’t want to get young kids a gift card either. Kids enjoy unwrapping actual gifts. Lastly, people who don’t go online or out that much wouldn’t have much use for a gift card either.

Use a Gift Card to Inspire

Gift cards can be used to inspire a person into certain actions that you or they desire. For instance, if you know someone who never takes the time to treat themselves, consider giving them a gift card to a spa or ice cream shop. Know someone who talks about learning a musical instrument or being more physically active? You can get gift cards for music lessons or sports/active programs.

Look for Kickbacks

Some gift cards come with an incentive for the person doing the giving. Last year I bought a $25 restaurant gift card, and received my own $10 card for free. It was for a place that I frequent, so I felt like it would be put to good use. You might consider this even if you aren’t giving the card away.

Receiving Gift Cards

If you receive a gift card this year, keep these points in mind:

What to do with Gift Cards You Don’t Want

Let’s say you get a gift card that you didn’t really want. For instance, you’re not a coffee drinker and you get a gift card from Starbucks. What a waste, right? Well consider these options:

  • Re-gift the card to someone you know is a coffee drinker.
  • Browse the various gifts, music, and food at your nearest Starbucks. There may be something besides coffee that you’ll like.
  • Use one of the websites that will allow you to trade for a different card or send you a check for your unused gift cards.

Use Them or Lose Them

Unfortunately, some gift cards come with expiration dates. So make it a point to place all your gift cards in a highly visible spot so that you’re sure not to forget about them and let them expire.

Have any other tips related to gift cards? Share them in the comments below.

Photo by litandmore

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Last Edited: November 10, 2009 @ 3:04 am
About Philip Taylor

Philip Taylor, aka "PT", is a husband and father of two. He created PT Money back in 2007 to share his thoughts on money and to meet others passionate about managing their finances. All the content on this blog is original, and created or edited by PT. Read more about Philip Taylor, and be sure to connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, or view the Philip Taylor+ Google profile.