Gift cards are a convenient gift, but they don’t have to be a lazy one. I have always had a mixed opinion of gift cards (see an earlier blog here). It seems they are often given without much thought about the recipient. That may be why every year, billions of dollars in gift cards go unused. Nonetheless, there are times when a gift card is a good idea.

Good reasons to give a gift card:

  • The intended gift requires sizing/customization (ex. clothing)
  • You are gifting an experience
  • As a universal “emergency gift”
  • If a relative or close friend has spoken of financial distress and would appreciate a grocery store or prepaid card
  • It is impractical to travel with or ship a package

Make your plastic fantastic. Read my tips on how to give a gift card thoughtfully this holiday season:

  1. Choose a card they’ll like: Choose a card to one of the recipient’s favorite retailers. Save the generic coffee shop gift cards for emergencies or acquaintances.
  2. Avoid embarrassment: Unlike traditional gifts, gift cards have a face value. For that reason, it can be embarrassing when you show up to a group gift exchange with a $20 card, while someone else has gifted a $40 card. Naturally, we should gift within our means. With a gift card, however, the difference in cost is apparent and the recipient of the lower amount can’t help but feel scrooged. If you do buy a gift card for the office Secret Santa, choose one at the top of the spending limit to avoid embarrassment. Even then, however, some competitive colleagues may outspend you.
  3. Know who’s barred from getting a card: Are you planning to tip with a gift card? Many public sector and corporate employees can only accept symbolic amounts, or none at all. Inquire about the rules before gifting.
  4. Choose the right amount: An industry survey found that 65% of gift card users spend 38% over face value of their cards. Some of this spending may be a result of inadequate gift card amounts. A $50 gift card to the movies is generous, but that same amount would not go very far at a fancy department store. Make sure the recipient will be able to purchase something with your card.
  5. Include a note: Like any other present, gift cards can be given in style. Whether put in a nice envelope or a decorated box, they should also have a note attached. The note should mention the amount loaded onto the card, as well as a suggestion of what it can be used for. For example, a $20 gift card to a $10 cinema can say “movie for two”. Don’t forget as well to include your best holiday wishes – happy holidays!


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