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 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: July 24, 2017 @ 2:22 pm
About Philip Taylor

Philip Taylor, aka "PT", is a former practicing CPA, blogger, podcaster, husband, and father of three. PT is also the founder and CEO of FinCon, the conference and community dedicated to helping other financial influencers and brands. He created this website back in 2007 to share his thoughts on money, hold himself accountable, and to meet others passionate about moving toward financial independence.

PT uses Personal Capital to keep track of his financial life. This free software allows him to review his net worth regularly, analyze his investments, and make decisions about his financial future.

PT keeps a portion of his emergency fund in Betterment, the automatic investing tool that makes investing super simple. Betterment focuses on what matters most: savings rate, time in the market, investing costs, and taxes. PT recommends this service to anyone looking to get started investing for themselves.

All the content on this blog is original and created or edited by PT.


  1. Cash has always served me well. It’s only a taste less thoughtful than a gift card.

  2. I like getting gift cards…Amazon, Gap, Starbucks, and Hobby Lobby….bring em’ on. Only I can can pick out the perfect gift for me.

  3. Jason @ One Money Design says:

    PT, good stuff. I like gift cards for office gifts. They are a great way to show appreciation to coworkers. Good reminder on not buying them for significant other. 🙂

  4. I think gift cards are a great idea. I buy them at the mall kiosk so the recipient can use it at any store in the mall. (Go to a BIG mall). Sure the mall adds a few bucks, but the variety is worth it.

  5. I personally like them. I always ask for gift cards because this way I know exactly what I am getting, and it’s something I want from a place I actually shop at.

  6. PT,

    I use my semi used generic cards to pay off recurring monthly bills: