Gift Cards Are Your Money

If you are like me and have a few gift cards from the Christmas you might be tempted to make a common mistake and spend them while telling yourself that it’s not really your money you are spending.    This often little change of view results in people paying too much for things or buying things they don’t really need or want since they excuse themselves with thinking the money is different.  In the end it’s still your money.

Now granted a gift card often chains you to spending that money at a specific store but it doesn’t excuse you for looking for a deal.  The second you got the card it became your money so realistically you still have to spend it with your typically frugal touch of not spending more than you have to on something.

So how can you make sure you spend it well or don’t forget about the money?  Well here’s what has worked for me.

  1. Keep the gift card handy.  If I spend the card in store I make sure to keep the card in my wallet the same as cash so I remember to actually use the money if I come across a deal (I’ve just started doing this one, but it has already been a useful tip.  So thank you readers for this idea!).
  2. Keep used cards around after.  If I use the card online I ensure I keep the card afterward for 30 days just in case you need to get a refund (A few  stores  I shop at require the money to go back on the same card it came from).
  3. Shop Online.  I often have found either better deals or something better selection online with many stores.  Also if they offer free shipping it doesn’t cost me any more money and all I have to do is wait for the item to show up in the mail or pick it up at the store.  I very often do this with books.
  4. Watch out for odd limits on multiple cards.  I’ve run into a few times where a store website won’t let me use more than two gift cards on a single order.  So I either do more than one order if I have more than a single item or try to have the cards combined in advance to avoid this issue.  Combining cards might be a good idea anyways if you got a larger number of gift cards for the same store (it take up less room in the wallet).
  5. Don’t be in  a hurry to spend it.  I often can wait for months for a good sale on something I want and the same applies with gift cards.  It takes up almost no space in your wallet so don’t rush up to spend it just because you have it.  Take your time and think about things.

So that’s my tips on spending gift cards, what has worked for you?

3 thoughts on “Gift Cards Are Your Money”

  1. For single-store gift cards (i.e. Borders book store), it is easy to get a balance update. Also, if you buy more than what you have on the card, when the cashier rings up the purchase, s/he will tell you how much you owe after the card’s value becomes exhausted (goes to zero). So if you don’t use the card’s entire value the first time, it is not a big deal.

    However, if you use a generic gift card (i.e. Visa), and the purchase exceeds the value on the card, the cashier has to first ring up the exact value of the card to lower the total amount owed for the purchase. Then you pay the difference. Not all cashiers know to do this, as I have found.

    Furthermore, to make this type of split purchase easier, I always try to use the entire original value (i.e. $25) of the card in a single purchase. This way, I don’t have to worry about keeping track of an odd amount remaining on the card for a subsequent purchase. From what I know, the cashier can’t give you a balance update on a generic card; that burden falls on the card holder.

    I find gift cards to be a pain in the butt. I still have two $5 cards for a store I rarely go to since I got them last June.

  2. You’re missing an option 😉

    Sell the gift cards for cash and invest!

    P.S. – haven’t used this service but attended an entrepreneurial conference where the owners talked about their experience at Velocity (UW dormitory incubator).

  3. I do all of those, though I’ve never run into #4. I guess I’ve either never had that many separate cards for a single store, or I’ve never tried to spend them all at once.

    I think you’re right that people can forget to hunt for sales when using gift cards because it’s not “their” money. Treat it as your money, because once the gift card is in your hand, it is your money.

    @Graham thanks for the site suggestion! I haven’t had the problem for a few years, but when gift cards were first becoming popular I’d often get them for stores I never shopped at. A site like that would have been handy back then!

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