The Great Gift Card Debate

Caribou Gift Card

The gift card debate: are they annoying, easily forgotten about gifts, or are they amazing, wonderful gifts? How to get the most out of your gift cards.I love gift cards and have no problem remembering to use them, so I was surprised to learn that many people really can’t stand them.

Are they annoying, easily forgotten about gifts, or are they amazing, wonderful gifts? Click To Tweet

Common Problems

  • People forget to use them. Companies make a fortune off of this.
  • People use them, except for a small random amount that remains. Think of how much money companies make if they sell 10,000 gift cards and every person leaves up to $1.50 unused.
  • I once received one as a gift to a restaurant where the nearest location was 4 hours away. I gave it to a friend, but there are ways to sell them in this situation.
  • Some say that giving a gift card forces the recipient to spend more at a particular store, and maybe even a store they’d never shop at. For example, they receive a $25 gift card to Old Navy, and are now obligated to spend more than $25 to use the full value of the gift card. I can see how this would be an annoyance, but it doesn’t bother me much personally.

I happen to be on the pro-gift card side of things. I redeem points from many rewards programs for gift cards to places I frequent, such as Target or Amazon. To me, an Amazon or Target gift card is the same thing as cash since I shop there so much and they have everything. Here are some tips for maximizing your gift cards:

Maximize Your Gift Cards

  • Don’t forget about them. Carry them in your wallet or with your coupons. Take a little inventory now and then. Here’s my current inventory:
    • Home Depot: $100
    • Starbucks: $27.99
    • Caribou: about $17
    • iTunes: $40.08
    • Amazon: $10
  • So this means I essentially have $195.07 to use. This means I can save $195 in other places. How? Onto the next step…
  • Whenever I need something, I consider my gift cards. For Christmas I received a gift card to Kohl’s and then I needed new jeans…so I went to Kohl’s. Right now I need a replacement bulb for my garage flood light. Instead of choosing the local hardware store, I’m going to choose Home Depot and use my gift card.
  • If you receive one to a place to you can’t access, or just are not interested in, you have a few options:
    • Regift it, if you’re comfortable.
    • Sell it online at a place like
  • When giving a gift card, really consider places the recipient visits on a regular basis.
  • When you are in a position to choose gift cards (when redeeming rewards points for example) choose places you shop at regularly. Treat them like regular cash instead of a “treat” and you’ll end up saving on your regular expenses.
  • Some places have gift card deals, especially around the holidays. For example, they may say something like, “Get $25 in gift cards for only $20.” Proceed with caution. There are only a few situations where this is a good deal:
    • If it is at a place you frequent on a regular basis.
    • If it would make a good gift for someone. (Even if you don’t need a gift right at this moment. As long as they don’t expire, you can save by shopping for gifts year-round.)
  • Keep in mind, you can use iTunes gift cards to send albums or movies as gifts.

Redeeming rewards points for gift cards has allowed me to have a small Starbucks habit without touching my bank account. Every year I earn about $200 in Amazon gift cards from my credit card rewards program. Redeeming the same points for flat-out cash would probably only earn me about $140. So $200 from Amazon can be used for gifts, groceries, home goods, pet food, anything. That’s $200 in savings essentially. (Caveat: Credit card reward programs are only a good deal if you pay your balance in full every month. Otherwise it’s not worth it.)

What do you think? Are you for gift cards? Or would you rather do without? How do you use gift cards to save on regular expenses?

Caribou Gift Card

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