Gift Cards: Practical or Impersonal?

If you’re like me, you don’t really like getting gift cards as a Christmas present. Sure, they’re convenient and are great for a gift-giving in a pinch, but I find them to be pretty impersonal when that’s all you give or get from someone. Don’t get me wrong — I do appreciate it when I receive gift cards. On one hand, I can pick out exactly what I want from a particular store, but on the other, I feel I’m missing out on the excitement and surprise of opening a present.

Mr. Saver, well, he hates opening presents and watching others do the same. Weird antisocial behavior, but that’s just him. So for him, gift cards are easy to give and get. I know a lot of other people enjoy gift cards, too, but I pride myself on giving well-thought-out gifts.

When you get a present, you always know when it’s a gift card — from the teeny-tiny bags or little box, to the slightly-thick envelope it comes in. At this point, the only element of surprise is which store it comes from.

I wonder if there will be fewer gift card purchases. Why buy a $50 gift card when you can get something that originally cost $50 for 20% off with a coupon, or cheaper on a good sale? Or get something even more expensive on a great deal, and you’ll look like a grade-A gift giver.

But for those who will be going the gift-card route, there are upsides and downsides to giving prepaid gift cards as presents this holiday season.

Easy to buy. You don’t even have to go to the particular store, as many grocery stores and drugstores carry cards from other retailers.

Keep you from giving an unwanted present. Sometimes, there’s no pleasing people. For hard-to-shop-for friends and family, a gift card may be the way to go.

Nothing to return. Did you get a video game for xBox 360 when you actually own a Wii? If you’d gotten a gift card instead, you wouldn’t have the hassle of going to the store to exchange the gift — with or without a gift receipt.

Save on wrapping paper. Many stores provide a cute little box or bag upon request.

May be construed as impersonal. Purely subjective, of course.

Can’t be used with coupons in some cases. This happens to me at Macy’s — they always claim I can’t combine their coupons with the gift card. I find it ludicrous, but it’s store policy.

Come with fees. Sometimes, an inactivity fee is charged for non-use, perhaps a few dollars a year or month after 12 months.

Expire after a period of time. Gift certificates from local stores around me are generally only usable for one year, after which they expire and are completely useless. Yeah, I know, a year should be plenty of time, but I tend to hold on to these things for a while.

Never get used. Whether misplaced or forgotten, retailers are counting on us not remembering to “spend” our gift cards. That’s money in their pockets.

Useless if the retailer goes out of business. And nowadays, there’s no guarantee the store your gift card is from will still be in business in a year!

Lead to overspending. You’ve got a $50 gift card, but want something that’s $80. You only have to pay another $30, so it’s a great deal, right? Wrong. Why not buy something that’s just $50? According to
the Consumer Reports National Research Center, nearly 65% wind up spending more than what’s on the card.

However you feel about them, gift cards aren’t going anywhere. How do you feel about them?

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