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Gift Ideas: In Defense of Gift Cards

Filed under: For Any Occasion, Money

There are mixed feelings about giving someone a gift card.  Some say it’s impersonal and puts a price on a relationship.  Others think it’s practical and always appreciated.  I belong to the latter group.  I believe that getting a gift card allows the recipient to pick out exactly what they want, or helps them to have enjoyable experiences when they use it.  .  I have never received a card and was anything other than excited to use it.  To be honest, I would rather get a gift card for something I would actually use than another set of body lotion any day.

I started giving out gift cards when I looked around and realized that my friends and I have too much stuff.   We had too many stuffed animals, baseball caps, and candles of all scents.  Yet, every time I suggested not doing presents anymore, my friends always seemed a bit disappointed.   We all loved watching each other open presents too much to stop.

Since then, I’ve given and received tons of gift cards.  One birthday, my friends even chipped in to get me a prepaid Visa card.  While it might seem strange that my friends practically gave me cash for my birthday, I was touched by the gesture.  You see, they knew I was going on a trip and they wanted me to enjoy my vacation without worries about budget.  The best thing was that they all coordinated on this, so that made the sentiment even better.

It is very easy to pick up a gift card these days.  They are sold at major supermarkets, Staples, Walgreens, and almost anywhere else.   A lot of major retailers will also allow you to order a gift certificate and email it to someone. is a great site that sells gift cards to many locations and deliver it either by email or mail.  Getting a gift card in the mail would be a refreshing change from the never-ending credit card applications that I get.

I love getting gift cards for experiences and food.  I am thrilled when I receive a Starbucks gift card.  The best part is that I could go onto the Starbucks site, register the card, and transfer balances between them so I only need to carry 1 card around.  For a few dollars, Starbucks also allows you to design and personalize a card for a recipient.  I do know people who don’t drink coffee so make sure you know your recipient’s tastes.

There are a few things to consider before getting a gift card:

  • Gift cards can have an expiration date, or there can be penalties for not using the gift card by a certain time.  I’m lucky enough to live in a state where they can never expire.  Ask the store about their policies if you’re not sure.
  • Giving a person a gift card to a place they have never expressed interest in or for something that you have never seen them do is impersonal.   I’m not sure I would know what to do with a gift certificate to a camping store, other than to re-gift it.  I’m lucky enough to say that I’ve never been in that situation though.
  • Although I am a huge fan of gift cards, I think you need to be careful of the occasion and who you buy it for.   Husbands, do not get your wife a gift card for your 25th wedding anniversary unless there is a great story to it.  What might work is a gift card to a travel site like Expedia, or a hotel so you can plan a get-away together.
  • Don’t get a card for something that might come off as insulting.  I might be a bit hurt if I got a gift card for teeth bleaching.

To some, getting a gift card might seem a bit effortless.  To balance this, I always wrap the card and get a small gift to go with it.   With a coffee shop gift card, I might put it into a spill-proof cup and wrap that.  If I were giving a gift card for a manicure, I might package it with some nail polish.  Sephora makes this easy because they put their gift cards into a compact.  When I gave out movie passes, I put in into a box with packages of candy.   If I was giving one to a bookstore, I might include a bookmark.   If you are giving an electronic gift card, print it out and package it anyway.  The ideas for this are endless.

I know that some traditionalists might say that giving a gift card is like giving cash, but I would say that I love getting them.  I always think of the giver when I’m spending it, and I always call and thank them once I spent the card.  I let them know what I purchased with it and how much I appreciated their gift.   At the end of the day, I was able to get something that I truly needed, or wanted, and the giver knew that they spent their money on something that I actually would use.

This entry was posted on January 25, 2011 at 8:52 pm.