First Person: Putting Our Gift Cards to Use

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I know that there are some people out there who really don't like getting gift cards. And I'll admit, depending upon the company or organization the cards are for, they may or may not be the greatest gift ever received. However, in most cases, I don't mind getting gift cards.

Now I'm not the kind of guy that's going to go out and just blow a gift card (which I view as much the same as cash) on frivolity. I look to use gift cards for items that I might spend cash on otherwise, making them quite useful to our family in getting things we need rather than just wasting their balance on stuff we'll never or rarely use.

Food and Necessities

When I was a kid, my uncle always used to send me cash for my birthday or holiday gifts. He got tired of me always putting it in the bank though and never using it to buy anything fun. Therefore, he switched over to giving me gift cards, and in fact, still does, so that I would be forced to use the money for something fun. Yet I still manage to foil his plans.

Since he sends me $100 gift cards for Wal-mart on my birthday and for Christmas, I head over to the local Wal-mart and use the card to purchase groceries and other necessities. While we might splurge on a few items or name brands we might not typically buy otherwise, we tend to exercise restraint, and view the card much the same as we would cash, and in turn, save ourselves $200 of our own money each year on groceries and other necessities.

Gifts for Others

My wife used to get pre-paid Visa gift cards for completing extra projects at work. Some years she accumulated nearly $400 worth of such cards, which made for nice little bonuses. Rather than just going out and blowing them on fun stuff though, we'd often save them and use them for our holiday spending. This way, it was really like we were buying the gifts for free since we were using the gift cards rather than our own cash.

Home Repairs

When we owned our home, some of those gift cards my wife received from work also went for home repairs. Soon after our home purchase, our in-laws would sometimes give us gift cards at Christmas for a local home supply store at which we could purchase tools, maintenance items, and yard supplies for our home.

It always felt a little bit better making a home repair or upgrade when using a gift card that didn't deplete our own savings.

Items we can Re-sell

One time, I somehow ended up with a Blockbuster gift card. We aren't big movie renters, and we typically don't like buying movies unless we know we'll be happy watching them over and over again. However, at the time, Blockbuster was running a special, letting people buy five movies for $20. I figured that even if we watched the movies once and didn't want to keep them, at four dollars a piece, it was about like renting them, plus we had to use the gift cards on something anyway, and we could sell the movies we didn't want to keep back at a book/movie resale shop and make a few bucks in cash.

Outside the Box Ideas

We recently had some money left over on an old Best Buy gift card. It wasn't much, only $12.31, but it was something. Rather than go out and buy a compact disc or something we really didn't need, I had an idea. Since we have a pay-as-you-go cell phone (largely for emergencies) that had a low balance, I though we could save some money and put the gift card to use. We therefore bought a $20 "top-up" card for the phone (which we needed to do anyway), using the gift card and a little extra cash, saving ourselves $12.31 of our own money in the process.

A few months ago, I got a $10 gift card of sorts from a local hardware store. We needed absolutely nothing from the hardware store, but that didn't mean I wasn't going to use the gift card (since it had an expiration date). Therefore, I stopped by the hardware store and bought some AA and AAA batteries.

With a young child in the home and another one on the way, batteries are something we almost always have a need for, so getting some free batteries is great, plus they're small, easily stored and have a long shelf-life.

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