Gift Cards

Gift cards are a popular gift item especially when the giver isn’t quite sure what to buy.  But how many gift cards do you have stuck in your wallet or some place you don’t exactly remember?

Do you know the outstanding balances on them?  Some balances are so low – sometimes less than a dollar – that we just don’t bother with them any more.  Since they are the equivalent of cash, this just gives more money to the retailer.

The Problem With Gift Cards

One thing that bothers me about some gift cards is that I’m restricted to buying at a certain store or restaurant, which may not be to my taste or may not be convenient for me to get to.  Better options are cards good for an entire mall, or cards for a special interest such as Chapters for a book lover, or i-Tunes to fill up the MP3 player, or movie cards.

Related: How I Redeem Air Miles For Products

Since I never remember what the balances are, especially when it’s been a while since I have used them, I write the amount on the card with a permanent marker such as a Sharpie.  When I’ve spent it all I cut up the card, although some can be reloaded if desired.

Luckily, by law, most gift cards no longer charge fees or have an expiry date.  There are some exceptions, however.  Prepaid credit cards are exempt and some charge monthly fees.  Some cards from places such as Spas have restrictions on some of their services and may have extra charges on some treatments.  You should be aware of all charges and/or restrictions when you purchase the gift card.

Related: How To Profit From Loyalty Programs

What if you purchase something with a gift card and then return it to the store?  With a receipt, most stores will just give you another gift card for the purchase price.  But again, there are exceptions and you need to ask about the store policies.

Finally, if you really don’t have a use for your gift card, try a gift card exchange such as or even eBay.  You can recover up to 90% of the dollar value, consolidate small balances, or just swap for another card that is more suitable.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Sustainable PF on December 7, 2010 at 7:10 am

    We really need to use CardSwap type services more often to get rid of small balances and cards for stores we’ll never shop at.
    This year, unfortunately, we won’t see my extended family which has traditionally been our largest Christmas gathering. As shipping gifts ends up costing a lot we asked for cards from a home reno box store (just one) so we can put that money toward studding and drywalling our basement.

  2. Credit Cards Canada on December 7, 2010 at 7:55 am

    Yes. There’s a gift card for The Keg sitting on the cupboard from last Christmas. We really need to remember to go there soon.

  3. Steve Zussino on December 7, 2010 at 9:14 am

    I don’t see the point of these gift card websites. Craigslist and ebay have so many cards and no fees attached to them. They all have authorization codes as well.

  4. Susan on January 12, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    I agree with Sustainable, shipping is so expensive, we just buy gift cards to those living out of town. Our family actually loves it!

Leave a Comment

Join More Than 10,000 Subscribers!

Sign up now and get our free e-Book- Financial Management by the Decade - plus new financial tips and money stories delivered to your inbox every week.