Did you receive gift cards this holiday season? Every year, millions of dollars in pre-paid gift cards go to waste, meaning they’re never redeemed. Learn the best ways to use gift cards so you don’t lose that money.
Are you guilty of that? I’ve done it over the years! I even have a particular place I keep all gift cards so that they don’t get lost, but then I don’t remember to put them in my purse before heading out to that specific store.
Note–this post was originally written and published in January 2014. It has been updated in May 2023.
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Gift cards are like little treasures, so it’s important to keep them secure to avoid any unwanted surprises. Treat them with the same care you would give cash.
Store them in a safe place where you can easily find them when you’re ready to shop. And before you forget, try these strategies:
5 smart ways to use gift cards
Set a date
It can be as simple as that! Set a date on your calendar for a dinner out, lunch with a friend, or a shopping trip at a specific store.
I do that and then find coupon codes or printable coupons to use along with the gift card’s value. The sooner you use the card, the less likely you are to misplace or forget it.
Know your state laws
Each state has slightly different gift card laws, all put in place to protect you as the consumer. Go look up your state at State Gift Card Consumer Protection Laws. You may just be able to get cash for your card!.
In California, for example, you can receive cash for any gift card with a balance under $10. In Maine and Montana, you can cash in cards under $5.00.
Regift by purchasing gifts
If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of directly regifting a gift card, plan to use your gift card to purchase gifts for upcoming birthdays or future holidays.
In a way, you’re replacing the money set aside in your budget for that purpose, then you can take the cash for yourself.
This is what I do when I receive a coffee shop gift card like Starbucks, since I don’t drink coffee.
If you do this, be sure that the original amount is on the card! If you received it with the little receipt that tells you the amount on it, and you haven’t used the card, you should be fine.
Sell or trade
Back in 2014 (when this post originally published), there were several online sites where you could sell unused gift cards for a percentage of their value. Those no longer exist!
I often see people in my neighborhood Facebook group or Mom of Multiples Club looking to sell or trade their gift cards. I would ONLY do this with someone I trust.
Don’t be one of the many who let gift cards go to waste. That’s your money!
More ways to save
There are lots of simple strategies to help you stay on budget as a busy family. Here are some of our most helpful: