8 ways to get the most out of your gift cards

OK. Quick show of hands. How many of you received a gift card from someone this Christmas?

My lenses are a little foggy, but I’m guessing most of you raised your hands. USA Today reported recently that gift card purchases were expected to reach an all-time high of just under 30 billion dollars this year.gift cards

Personally, I enjoy receiving gift cards. It’s fun to get the opportunity to basically go on a “free” shopping expedition. The downside of gift cards though is that many go unused. The Wall Street Journal reported on a study that suggested 41 billion dollars in gift cards went unspent between 2005 and 2011.

So if you received a gift card this Christmas, how do you make sure you get the best use from the card?

1. Watch for sales

One way to maximize the value of your gift cards is to wait for sales. If you can purchase that item on sale and use the gift card at the same time you might turn that $25 gift card into a $30 or $35 card depending on how good the sale is.

2. Online coupons

Google the retailer and coupons and see what you find. Try to combine the gift card with a coupon to get the most out of your card. Just be careful to check the fine print. Sometimes coupons or cards may have restrictions placed on them. Generally, though you should be able to use a coupon and then pay with your gift card.

3. E-bates

I love the EBates service. Basically, you just go to Ebates.com, and then click on the retailer from there. It will automatically redirect you to the retailer’s web site. You then do your shopping just like normal, and EBates will send you a rebate on a percentage of your purchase. It’s really that simple. Percentages vary by retailer, and not every retailer is available through EBates, though there are hundreds of the most popular retailers that are. If you can manage to combine these first three items you could get a great value out of your gift card.

4. Sell your card

If you receive a gift card for a store where you don’t frequently shop, consider selling your card. Two of the most popular sites for doing this are E-Bay and GiftCardGranny.com. You might not get the full value for your card. Folks buying at those locations are usually looking for a deal. But something is better than leaving them unused.

5. Re-gift it

Another option if you receive a card that you don’t really want is to simply re-gift it. If you don’t regularly shop at the retailer but you know someone who does, re-gift it and let them have the pleasure of using it.

6. Give it to a charity

Depending on the nature of the card, a favorite charity might be able to make great use of it. Give a grocery card to a nearby food pantry or a retailer card to battered women’s shelter for example.

7. Don’t spend it all at once

Check the rules of your card, but in most cases you don’t have to spend the entire amount of the card in one purchase. If the item you want to buy is less than the amount of the card, don’t fall into the trap of buying something you don’t really need just to make sure you “use up the card”. In most cases if you have a $25 card, for example, and you buy a $20 item, the card will simply maintain that $5 balance that you can use at a later time.

8. Don’t wait too long

Lastly, in spite of all of the items listed above, be careful about waiting too long. Generally, it is recommended that you use the gift card within a year to be guaranteed the full value. Check the fine print of your particular card, but some cards are reduced in value if you hold them too long. The other consideration is if the retailer happens to go out of business, your gift card will likely be worthless.

If you received a gift card this Christmas, take advantage of some of these tips to maximize the value you receive from it.

Do you prefer receiving a gift or receiving a gift card?

Photo credit: 401(k) 2013 (Creative Commons)

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