My ears perked up when the use of gift cards was mentioned on a WNYC Lenard Lopate radio program this past November. David Pogue, journalist and bestselling author of how-to books, was there to discuss money saving tips (some kind of pre-holiday joke). I became interested because many of my clients have a vast collection of gift cards given to them by well-meaning family and friends, who are not aware of their giftee’s challenge in utilizing such a gift or possibly their lack of interest in the particular store.
Mr. Pogue was not a fan of gift cards. He pointed out that Consumer Reports claims 25% of all gift cards will be lost or never used. The store is happy when the cards are not used at all, but they also win if the purchase is less than the value of the card, as well when the purchase goes over the original value. In all three scenarios, the store comes out ahead. That means those who loose are both the gift giver and receiver.
When working with clients, we often find gift cards in random piles or multiple locations. They end up this way because deciding what to do with such items that have no commonly identified “home”, feels awkward, uncertain. So no decision gets made and cards are left behind and forgotten. Of course, when we do come across them, the common response is, "I was wondering where that went".
So, assuming the receiver is happy with the card and intends to use it, a plan must be hatched. As mentioned, a "home" needs to be decided upon. I like the card cubby, a neat little wallet that serves as a home for gift cards. But then where is that wallet kept? One method is to keep the wallet in the car, so not to forget to take them along. However, then there has to be a way for incoming cards to make it into the wallet and one needs to remember to lock the car. One client had her car broken into and the thief cherry picked the gift cards from her card cubby. To decide where you'd keep gift cards consider what they feel similar to. Is it money, so you'd keep them where you keep other financial items? Is it something you want to grab n go with, so you'd keep them in a drawer of other misc items you'd take with you? Does a desk drawer make sense? This is your subjective choice.
The simple fact that now there is a home for the cards, helps one remember they exist. However, to put them to use, as your gift giver intended, you need to decide what you want to buy and when. Leaving it up to spontaneous chance, may not get the desired result.
All this is logical, right? But in our over committed world, these seemingly small actions can feel big and daunting and therefore get pushed to the side.
I like one clients approach. She used her cards to shop for holiday gifts; a reasonable way to “re-gift”. Who would know? There is another way to get value from the cards, so they don’t go unused. Cardcash.com and cardpool.com are two online sites that will give you approximately 80% of the value of the card. With cash in hand, you get to choose where you spend it…or not.
So do you have a plan for all those gift cards you and your family received over the holidays? Do you really want to 'gift' that card’s value to the store or do you prefer to honor the person who gave you the gift, by using it for yourself?