Keeping up with the Gift Cards Again

by Katy on December 20, 2009 · 9 comments

gift cardsNY Times’ Ron Leiber is one of my favorite financial writers, and his Your Money column on gift cards once again hit the nail on the head. He writes that:

“This year, nearly $5 billion of the money that well-meaning givers have put onto gift cards will go unspent . . . In the industry, this is known as breakage, and here’s what it means: If you buy a gift card for a family member or friend, there’s a good chance you’ll give a little gift to the retailer or bank that issued it as well.

How does breakage happen? People lose their cards. Or they abandon them in a drawer and assume they’re expired when they’re unearthed years later. Fees can still eat away at some of them. And people may use $46 of a $50 card and then throw it out rather than make another trip back to the store.”

I have a specific spot in my wallet where I keep my gift cards, that way I know exactly where they are, plus they’re accessible for any spontaneous shopping. And in case you were thinking that I would be someone to whom a gift card would not be an appropriate gift, I say to you, “Goodwill gift card.”

So if you have a hodge-podge of gift cards cluttering up your life, gather them up into a specific place and then make sure they don’t go to waste. The angels weep when you let perfectly good store credit go to waste.

Click here to read a 2008 column I wrote about gift cards.

Will you be giving gift cards this holiday season? Please share your thoughts 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 }

Iris December 21, 2009 at 3:53 am

I enjoy event gift-cards, especially when they’re for joint events like a theatre/museum-visit with the gift-giver.

however, shop gift-cards are just so absurd! if you can’t think of what to buy or feel that cash is most needed/appreciated, why not make a beautiful card with a banknote tucked in, which the receiver may spend in whichever shop he/she pleases?


Jinger December 21, 2009 at 5:06 am

I am giving myself a gift card to Regal Cinemas that I received from doing surveys online and an iTunes card to my 21 year old. I still have 70 cents left on a Whole Foods gift card and $17 for Chico’s which I will use up soon. I never let a gift card cent go to waste!


Shannon December 21, 2009 at 7:31 am

I only gift them when I know a person uses a specific service, like a certain spa or salon, or a the bookstore that my sweet aunt shops at who absolutely must have the brand new books in hardback. Otherwise I avoid them.


Jacquelyn December 21, 2009 at 8:34 am

I do give gift cards, but pretty sparingly. I like giving cards for things that I know people enjoy or want, but wouldn’t do or buy if I just gave them the cash. As far as my own gift cards, I keep them in my wallet as cash until they don’t have anything left on them. I treat gift cards as money, and I have frequently called or checked online to make sure there is or isn’t a balance on a card.


Meredith December 21, 2009 at 10:08 am

Like some of the others, I give them, but carefully. My father-in-law is crazy hard to buy for, so we often choose gift cards for his favourite coffee shops and restaurants, as we know he’ll use them. We received a few gift cards over the past year for clothing and book stores, and we usually save them up and use them towards Christmas shopping for our kids.
We also count ourselves lucky that my husband’s employee association provides everyone with a $35 grocery store card for Christmas, which really comes in handy at this time of year!


Lisa December 21, 2009 at 10:43 am

I seldom give gift cards. If I’m stuck for an idea, I prefer to give cash. That always gets used!


magdalena December 21, 2009 at 7:23 pm

Our Canadian coffeeshop chain (Tim Horton’s) encourages the use of the Timcard, since many of their chains don’t take debit cards. It is probably the most appreciated gift card ever! I don’t think there’s much breakage there. But if someone gave me a gift card to a department store, I’d be stymied unless it was enough to get a really great stand-mixer. That’s just a hint.


Kris-ND December 22, 2009 at 5:50 pm

I do give gift cards selectively. My sil just finished a very rough year of a double mastectomy and cancer treatment. They had to both really cut back on their hours this last year, so things are financially tight for them.

I live out of state, so I cannot come over and cook a nice meal for them. Instead I sent 50.00 in gift certs to their favorite restaurant. You have to know the person you are giving to. I know my brother. I know he would love to take his wife out for a nice meal w/o any responsibilities at all on their part. I know if I sent cash a)it would hurt his pride. He is already feeling quite low, even though he cut back his hours to take care of his wife, which is an honorable thing, and b)they would feel guilty about spending the money on themselves.

So, I sent gift cards that he can’t return to me, and can use guilt free 😉

They could both use a meal out and let somebody fuss over them, who doesn’t know she has cancer or they are having tight financial times. Just a couple who are out to dinner on somebody else’s dime 😉 lol


Jen December 28, 2009 at 12:14 pm

My husband and I went shopping with several Christmas gift cards yesterday to take advantage of some of the after-holiday sales. Instead of buying more things for ourselves that we don’t need, we decided to use the GC’s to purchase several birthday, new baby and Christmas gifts that we’ll give to our family members over the next year. It should save us a few bucks for our savings account next year!


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