Gift Card Dilemma

by Katy on December 10, 2008 · 10 comments


Gift Cards
With the holidays right around the corner, it’s inevitable that most of us will be receiving a gift card or two.


This gift can be a welcome addition to the gift stash, but it isn’t that way for everyone.


This gift giving solution can become a gift giving problem if the recipient is trying to keep to The Compact, (buy only used). 
I received this letter today from a reader:


You may have addressed this before I subscribed to your blog – which inspires me daily, by the way!!! but as a piano teacher, several of my 30 students give me gift cards to department stores.  I don’t want to “waste” their gift by not redeeming the card.  On the other hand I’m trying to buy only used – if at all!!  I seem to have everything I need already.  Any advice from you or your subscribers about how to thoughtfully use these cards?   
Peace, Blessings, & Joy!

For me, this issue is mostly academic, as my family is not too gift card-ey. But I know that many families rely on gift cards for that hard-to-buy-for population. 

Just because you’re doing The Compact doesn’t mean you can’t buy anything. Socks and underwear get the green light, as well as consumables. There are no hard and fast rules with The Compact, so I would suggest using the gift card conscientiously.

Where was this product made?

How much non-recyclable packaging comes with this item?

How much use will I get from this?

Is this a need or a want?

Another great option with gift cards is to pass them along to someone in need. A domestic violence  shelter could use the gift cards to help a client buy much needed items. (When a woman leaves an abusive situation, she usually has to leave most of her possessions behind.)

It doesn’t have to be an organized charity. Many of us know people who are struggling right now. A nice gift card  can mean they could either get themselves something special, or use it to do their own holiday shopping.

My husband used to get free $6 Starbucks gift cards from his old job. I would use these as teacher gifts, or as a tip when getting my hair cut at the beauty school. (I once gave an unwanted McDonald’s gift card to a homeless gentleman, who was so happy to receive it, that it brought me to tears.)

What suggestions do you have for Bev? (Besides offering to trade places with her!) Please share them in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeremy December 10, 2008 at 2:30 am

It’s a shame you can’t just take them into the store and get them turned into cash, but you could do that on Ebay if necessary.

Still the easiest thing to do with these is pass them on as gifts.


CanadianKate December 10, 2008 at 6:34 am

I don’t have this problem so am not sure if this works, but could you buy something at the store and then return it for cash?


Mary C December 10, 2008 at 7:56 am

I would totally do the charity thing. We have an organization here that buys coats and school uniforms for kids in need. Most department stores stock school uniforms. I also love the women’s shelter idea. Our local homeless shelter has a job readiness program that helps people with resumes, job interviews and wardrobe. Another good place for gift cards.
Bev, you are awesome in your commitment. I am sure whatever you decide will be an excellent choice.


AnnMarie December 10, 2008 at 8:30 am

Any gift cards I’ve used then returned the item–the money was put back on the gift card.

I love the donating idea. Also, you can resell them through a variety of gift card buying websites.


Stacee December 10, 2008 at 8:58 am

I of course agree with the donating idea, but if you find you are in need of something that someone is selling on craigslist or some of your local sale groups – perhaps you could offer to trade the gift card for the item.

Check the expiration dates online for each card (some companies only allow you to carry a balance for x amount of months/years) – and keep them yourself to give as gifts to others (birthdays, anniversaries, etc).


GLM December 10, 2008 at 2:32 pm

What bothers me about gift cards is that you either lose money on the card or go over at your own expense. That, to me, is a horrible gift.

The problem that I run into is that when I say I shop at here and here, my family says “what do you want from that store?” And I really DON”T feel like telling them my dress size!!


Cheryl December 10, 2008 at 6:30 pm

I like the donate the gift card idea. I would photo copy it and print the online screen shot of the amount so you can take it as a charitable contribution.

If I do receive them I wait for the 50-80% off sales before redeeming…


Susan Lee December 11, 2008 at 7:34 am

Maybe a local animal shelter could use the cards for dog food, toys, bedding, etc. from a store that carries that sort of thing. (ie. Target, or other big box stores) Shelters are in desperate need of supplies because, in this horrible economy, people are surrendering animals left and right and they don’t have the money to support all these animals. Donations are way down too.

Sometimes, outside of local Health Departments where women and children get their WIC checks and/or Food Stamps, you can find a appreciative recipient who truly needs things for their family.

Hope this helps.


max December 12, 2008 at 11:30 pm

8 BILLION dollars in gift cards went unused last year! Those cards are not the same as cash–which is basically what gift cards replace–as cash can be spent anywhere, doesn’t come with expiration dates, and isn’t a consumer-based loan to a big corporation. Try and spend gift cards you get right away as stores are going out of business right and left. In short, gift cards are terrible gifts. If you can’t give a thoughtful gift, give money. Cash matches everything. If you get a gift card try and buy something that is functional for you or a charity–buy clothes and donate those to a homeless shelter for example.


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