I have a secret love affair with gift cards. The reason I say “secret” because, in many ways, gift cards have a dark side. Yes, I love to receive them–I get to go purchase whatever I most desire! I’m not alone; Consumers are expected to spend more than $50 billion on gift cards this year.
The dark side? They are the least imaginative gift possible. Giving a card is wonderfully convenient for the last-minute shopper, but does not reflect the giver’s inherent knowledge of the receiver–knowing what one might delight in says volumes about your intimacy. Not terribly intimate of the receiver? Giving a gift card maintains that distance by ensuring the receiver learns very little about you, the giver.
Secondly, gift cards are almost always made of plastic–not at all eco-friendly. What’s more, they are often lost, or worse, used until the last few dollars or so. Billions of dollars remain unspent every year on gift cards, and the companies that issue them are the beneficiaries of this unspent credit. When cards are not used, the value can sometimes decline, due to fees and other charges, making the cards a bigger gift for the retailers than the recipient.
A study conducted earlier this year for Consumer Reports found that 27% of gift card recipients have not used one or more of the cards, up from 19% at the same time last year. And among consumers with unredeemed cards from last season, 51% have 2 or more. (Not me! I go right out and spend them.)
In a study by ConsumerAffairs.com, only 33% of a representative sample of 1,004 adult Americans know that typically $-7 dollars of every card goes towards a fee the retailer pockets, and sometimes are subject to monthly fees as high as $4.95 as early as six months after purchase. And, only 54% are aware that 6 to 12 months after purchase, some of these gift cards (such as Visa, MasterCard and American Express) charge a monthly fee.
Remember, if the card balance gets so low that there’s nothing to buy, ask a merchant to do a split-tender transaction. That involves using the remaining card balance for part of the transaction and another form of payment for the rest. One the entire balance has been spent, don’t throw the card away just yet. Some merchants require it for returns.
Buying Gift Cards on Discount
That said, I admit I will gladly accept–and fully use–a gift card any day, being sure to recycle the plastic when I’m done with it. And, like most people, I like to get a great deal! There is a terrific new aggregate website called GiftCardGranny.com which serves as the most comprehensive listing of discount gift cards on the Internet. “A lot of people don’t know you can buy gift cards at less than face value,” says Luke Knowles, the website’s founder. “You can save a lot of money over the long term using that strategy on items you use on a regular basis.” Check out the Gift Card Granny blog, offering articles with tips related to buying and selling gift cards.