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So Santa C. left you a gift card in the stocking. Some consider it a hollow gift that displays no forethought — but we do not subscribe to the particular vein of thinking: we love gift cards. What they really are is someone giving you exactly what you wanted, just on a sort of time delay, and allowing you to do the mini shopping-spree yourself. We consider it a happy time that comes just after birthdays and holidays.

There is a danger with the gift card, however — happy trigger finger syndrome. It’s that feeling you get the day after receiving the card that has you standing at the gates of whatever store is on the glossy front of the card and ready to spend it. There are two paths to wise gift card spending.

The first is to save the card for emergencies and cash it it when you really need it, sort of like a project parachute that can be deployed at times of great need. This is, however, the least satisfying method of spending for many and often not high on anybody’s list.

Instead of just buying your way out of trouble, one might opt for the second method of wise spending: the educated, tactical strike. Careful product research teamed with patient waiting for that perfect deal — then, like a coiled consumer-cobra, you strike all at once and obtain the perfect tool at low cost to the amazement of your friends and family.

Both those methods are smart plays — Confucius himself couldn’t find fault with those spending plans. You and I both know it’s more fun to run to the store and lay down gifted plastic plus a little extra to get something we’ve been eyeing but hesitant to bring home. Resist the urge: try to hold out.

I’m about 50/50 on that myself.


15 Responses to Editorial: Gift Card Spending

  1. Matt says:

    Good points, but if 10% (or so) of gift cards are never redeemed then is it a bad investment? I like to get and give the gift of cash… it’s never lost and it’s always the right size, style, color, etc.

  2. Moose says:

    I snagged enough Home Depot gift cards to comlpetely pay for a Makita 12″ compound sliding miter saw. HUZZAH!

  3. Mike Perry says:

    Just don’t wait so long they expire. (I realize some don’t)

  4. dazrin says:

    I love Amazon gift cards, but others aren’t so great. I can get almost anything on Amazon and I shop there all the time, but with other types it is hard for me to accumulate enough to use them on what I want.

    I tend to get a mix of “needs” and “wants” from gifted cards. I believe that is the intent of gifts in general – sometimes it is to help you with something you need and sometimes it is to get you something you never would have gotten for yourself otherwise.

  5. Eric R says:

    I get them from time to time, and the urge to go get something right away is tough to fight off.
    The last time, I did wait, and thank goodness, because I needed some project supplies and was broke.
    Bingo! Gift card to the rescue !

  6. Dutch says:

    Other great use is for example, scraper, aply viller and of course burglary

  7. Dan says:

    I used them in college to get into the parking garage for free. Campus security sold parking cards but never programmed any, the gates just accepted anything with a magnetic stripe.

  8. Andy says:

    I just about got a Joann Fabric gift card in a white elephant gift card exchange, but ended up with a Menards gift certificate instead. Going to call that a big-time win.

  9. Gary Z says:

    From a political/economic stimulus stand point I think the government should have passed out gift cards to the American public instead of bailing out GM and others to stimulate the economy. Just think if we all got gift cards to Lowes, Menards, Rockler, and the establishment that sells our favorite adult beverage and spent the usual 10% more, our shops would be full of tools, our spouses would be happy we were working on projects and people would be needed to build and sell stuff. Thus stimulating the economy. Win Win in my book.

  10. Steve says:

    I’m not a fan. I’ve had difficulty (because of poorly trained cashiers) redeeming them. I have a $100 Sears gift card in my wallet right now. There are half a dozen other places I’d rather spend that money. Cash spends everywhere.

  11. assen says:

    And when you’re done buying and have a bit left over on the card…

    Did you know that you can take those leftover gift cards and give them to people in need? There is a website called, giftcardgiver.com that tells you how to do just that.
    Here’s all you do:
    Write how much is left on your card using a permanent marker.
    Place the card in an envelope and send it to:
    Gift Card Giver
    PO Box 17920
    Atlanta, GA 30316
    100% of the money goes to helping people in need. So take some time to send in your leftover gift card today.

  12. jesse says:

    Is this a tool site or a consumer advocacy site?

  13. Jerry says:

    People seem to have zero understanding when they give a gift card. Usually from a store that they really like assuming you will like the same store. Or maybe a store they know you shop at (HD for example) but they don’t stop to think that maybe you just shop there because you are buying tools/materials for a job for someone else. Tools and such are great but if you have them because it is your job, I see getting a tool to be the equivalent of giving your wife a new vacuum or a new range for the kitchen. Isn’t that sort of like saying, “Happy Holidays, now get to work!” If you really cannot find the “just right” gift for someone, cash is far better than a gift card. I can spend it at the store of my choice.
    Speaking of gift cards, the new law says that if you have less than five bucks left, you can get cash for the leftover. But wait! This does not apply to all those holiday gift cards you just got. It only applies to those purchased after January 1, 2012.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Those are certainly great gifts for handymen/contractors. Wish I had gotten those instead of chocolates…

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