Why I Love (and Hate) Gift Cards

Have you ever had that someone that is impossible to shop for? Either they already have everything they want or you know they won’t like anything you get them. We all have these kind of people in our lives to shop for – and for most of us – gift cards are the solution.

This year I had an amazing strategy around gift card giving. You see, we have our cousins. They are probably just like your cousins. We would play together as little kids and things would be joyous. Anytime a major holiday (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter) would roll around, our families would unite and you could anticipate who exactly would be there.

Then life started to happen.

And by “life started to happen,” I mean they started popping out babies left and right.

Is so-and-so going to be there?

No, she’s visiting her boyfriend’s parents this year.

Boyfriend? Is she still with the Army guy?

No, the other one.

The other one?

Yea – you remember the red-head?

Oh yea, I thought he was married?

With one-too-many of the above conversations taking place over the last few years, it’s really hard to have any expectations when we all get together now. Because of this, it’s nearly impossible to buy gifts.

Should I get so-and-so anything this year?

Good Question. Did she get you anything last year?

I can’t remember. No, no – I don’t think she was even there.

The Strategy

With all this in mind, I prepared myself as best I could this year. I went to Target and loaded up on gift cards. I wrote “From: A Blinkin” on each of them, but made sure to leave the “To:” field blank. I kept them all in my pocket and only pulled them out as I received a gift. A perfect exchange if I may say so. The hand-off resembled that of a drug dealer shaking hands with a boy in need of booger-sugar.

Disclaimer: I won’t give a gift-card to someone I love, unless they specifically ask for one.

Why I Hate Gift Cards

I just spent 300 words describing why I love gift cards and how they managed to save me this Christmas season. Now I’ll explain why, in economic terms, gift cards make no sense.

For some reason, sliding cash in cards is about as trashy as a mullet on a man or a tattoo just above a girl’s tail-feather. But why?

Cash is so useful. Cash is accepted everywhere. Why would anyone ever trade a form of currency widely-accepted for a (cuter) form of payment which is narrowly-accepted? I could understand if $10 cash got you $20 at a specific store but an even-trade doesn’t make sense. (I actually purchased a $50 restaurant gift card for myself for a $60 value – this makes sense)

The other reason I don’t like gift cards is because they force people to spend. If someone receives $25 cash, they have the option of saving this $25 or buying something worth $25. They can also purchase something for $20 and save the remaining $5.

Unfortunately, you can’t buy something for $20 with a $25 gift card. Psychologically, we can’t let this $5 just sit there. It has to be used. So typically, a $25 gift card will cause the recipient to spend their own money.

Versus a physical gift or cash – a gift card mainly benefits the giver.

Having said that…thanks to everyone who gave me gift cards. I love them :)

Written by A Blinkin

A Blinkin

Hunter, aka A. Blinkin, is the blogger behind Funancials. His experience in banking, lending, payments and investments has earned him the title of “Personal Finance Guru.” In addition to helping people with their finances, Hunter enjoys crunchy tacos, spending time with his wife and puppy, and writing in third person.

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  1. says

    I’m not entirely sold on the idea of giving gift cards as gifts…except for little kids that way the parent(s) can go to the store with the child and let them see what they like. Or in the case of someone who just moved, you can give a gift card to the home store and they can stock up on the junk they want for their new place. Well, guess gift cards can make pretty decent gifts in some instances after all.

    And, if you don’t like yours, you can always try to sell it for 75-90% of the value or use it as a giveaway prize. Or if it really sucks, you can use it as a coaster!

    • Anonymous says

      haha – the coaster idea may be questionable but I really like the idea of the giveaway. The giftcard goes un-wasted and you pick up a few visitors at the same time.

      Although I hate “rules-of-thumb” …maybe a good one would be not to give a giftcard to someone older than you, but younger is okay.

  2. says

    You can also give Visa or AMEX gift cards… these are basically cash in plastic form. :) I actually just gave some cash this year, I had a friend that got married, bought a house, and had a baby so I just thought cash would be best as I had no clue what they needed the most. :) I also dislike giving “things/stuff” to people as it might just sit and collect dust… or even end up at a yard sale… 😉 Cash maybe somewhat impersonal but it’s very practical :)

    • Anonymous says

      I actually looked into these but they all had fees on them – which REALLY didn’t make sense. Why would I pay $54.95 for $50???

  3. Anonymous says

    I hate gift cards. Just give me cash! I view a gift card similar to cash as a gift. Both are thought less one is just comes with terms and conditions. lol

  4. says

    I probably received 500 or Amex/Visa gift cards this season and another 50 in starbucks…LOVE THEM. I don’t see the “forcing one to spend” as a negative. It may be the giver’s intent to force the givee to go buy something for themselves not just stick it into an account.


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