Since consumers are going to spend an estimated 31 billion dollars on gift cards, I thought a few rules might be helpful. Andrea Woroch wrote this excellent piece on gift cards that I thought you could benefit from.
Once considered impersonal, today gift cards are perceived by millions of consumers as practical, convenient and the perfect holiday gift. In fact, gift cards continue to top holiday wish lists for the eighth year in a row with expected spending on these plastic presents to reach a record high. According to the National Retail Federation, shoppers plan to shell out over $170 on gift cards this year, with overall spending to exceed $31 billion.
Though buying a gift card is easier than ever these days, it's important to be as thoughtful with your purchase as you are with other items. To help you in this process, I've listed everything you need to know about giving gift cards, including how to save money (of course!).
Redeem rewards for free gift cards.
Most credit cards allow users to redeem their rewards for gift cards, and some offer deals on specific cards throughout the year. This is a great option for gift giving since it won't cost you anything extra. If you don't want to give a gift card, you can still redeem your rewards for one and use it to offset the cost of a different gift. Remember to give yourself plenty of time to receive the cards, as it can take a week or so to get them in the mail.
Get them for a discount.
There's no sense in paying full price for a gift card when you can easily save 5 to 30-percent off the face value. Shop for cards through GiftCardGranny.com and save 11-percent off cards to Starbucks; 26-percent off cards to Ann Taylor; and 11-percent off cards to Home Depot. You can also buy gift cards in bulk from Costco and Sam's Club and receive a discount. For example, Sam's Club is offering a 3-pack of $25 gift cards, plus a free $10 gift card, to Outback Steakhouse for $71.98.
Watch for promotional "gotchas."
Some gift cards that come free with select purchases are not true gift cards and might have expiration dates and usage restrictions. For example, Staples is currently offering a free $5 Promo card with purchase of $25 in eGift cards. However, that Promo card is only valid through January 31 and must be used via Google Wallet for redemption. The free gift cards currently available with select purchases from Target, on the other hand, appear to be the real deal. Ultimately, it's always good to read the fine print before using or re-gifting these cards.
Some still come with fees.
The CARD Act of 2009 did away with pesky fees and rapid expiration dates for most gift cards, but there's an important exception. Bank gift cards like those offered by VISA, MasterCard and American Express still carry fees of up to $4.95. When you're not sure what gift card to give, these bank cards may seem like a good choice, but that extra fee is an unnecessary expense when cash is just as useful. If cash feels too impersonal, consider getting creative with your presentation and turning the bill into an origami masterpiece.
Daily deals can be gift cards.
Giving the gift of an experience is increasingly attractive in our culture of mass consumerism. Daily deals are a great method of offering someone a day at the spa, a golf outing or an evening at the newest restaurant. A gift card of sorts, these vouchers should also be reviewed carefully before purchase, as expiration dates most certainly apply and restrictions can quickly derail your plans. For example, a friend nearly purchased a daily deal for a chiropractic exam and massage, only to learn she had to pay for a consultation before redeeming the voucher.
They make the perfect present in a pinch.
Whether you were surprised by an unexpected gift from a neighbor or coworker or you missed the shipping deadline to get that package to a loved one who lives across the country, virtual gift cards are the perfect present to give in a pinch. Most retailers offer electronic gift cards which can be ordered online and sent directly to the recipient's inbox. Whatâ€™s more, many of these can also be printed from your home computer for an instant gift. Keep in mind, you don't have to be limited to department stores or big box retailers. The online gift card options are endless and available for movie theaters, spas, hotels and even airlines.
Get creative with the packaging.
Choosing the right gift card for the recipient is part of making it a personal gift. However, you can take it one step further by getting creative with the way you give it. For instance, a spa gift card could be given in a gift basket filled with a few at-home spa products like bubble bath and body lotion. A gift card to a favorite coffee shop can be paired with a festive mug and peppermint stir sticks. Putting effort into your presentation will make your gift card even more well received!
They're not always the best gift.
As the ultimate "I don't know what else to buy" gift, it may seem surprising that gift cards aren't always the best idea. If you don't know the recipient's shopping preferences (online or offline), or have no idea if a store or restaurant is located in their area, it's probably best to get them something else. In these cases, gift baskets of gourmet food or a subscription to a favorite magazine or newspaper might be a better alternative.
Andrea Woroch is a nationally-recognized shopping expert for Kinoli Inc., who helps consumers live on less without radically changing their lifestyles. From smart spending tips to personal finance advice, Andrea transforms everyday consumers into savvy shoppers. She has been featured among top news outlets such as Good Morning America, NBC's Today, MSNBC, New York Times, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney and many more. For more information, visit AndreaWoroch.com or follow her on Twitter for daily savings advice and tips.