‘Tis the season for gift cards. Even though they’re plastic, if you play your (gift) cards right, you can really stretch them beyond their noted value. The trick is to treat them like cash. Would you be so quick to spend a $50 bill sitting in your pocket? Probably not.
Don’t treat a gift card any differently than you would the rest of your budget. It’s easy to splurge on a high-ticket item with a card received as a gift. However, just because you purchased a $100 shirt for $50 thanks to grandma’s generosity doesn’t mean you saved money. You still paid full price.
The smart shopper uses their gift card in conjunction with store discounts, coupons or sales. By doing so, you can quickly increase its value – even doubling it. The best example is restaurant gift cards. I never use a restaurant gift card without a coupon, menu special or promo – just as I would, if I were paying out-of-pocket. With the right buy-one-get-one free coupons, you can easily turn a $50 restaurant gift card into $100.
For store gift cards, suppress your urge for immediate gratification and wait for the next big sale or promo. Better yet, shop the clearance aisles and really stretch it. Or if you are shopping online, check Living on the Cheap’s new Store Promo Codes page to find codes worth extra discounts from major retailers. Then pay with your purchase using your gift card’s unique identification number. While you may not be able to double a gift card’s value every time, with a little patience and planning, you can definitely squeeze a few more dollars out of it.
And who says gift cards must be gifts? The holiday season is the best time to invest in yourself and your favorite retailers. Many stores and restaurants offer bonuses and/or discounts for purchasing gift cards this time of year. I save money throughout the year for November and December, just so I can purchase several gift cards from the businesses I regularly frequent. By doing so, I “cash in” on free meals, bonus gift cards or a gift with purchase.
I was going to spend money on lunch at Chipotle anyway, so why not get a few free burritos now? Most gift cards do not have an expiration date, so you can redeem them weeks or months later. (It’s especially a great idea for those restaurants you use as your go-to spot for work lunches.) It’s not a deal, if you can’t use the freebie, so be sure to review the restrictions on bonus cards first.
As a gift-giver and true cheapskate, I like to buy gift cards for others, but, truth be told, I often keep the bonus for myself as an added… well, bonus. However, I never like to see others waste money, so I often enclose coupons for the retailer or restaurant along with the respective gift card. It’s an easy and convenient reminder for my loved ones to spend it wisely.
Finally, according to Time Magazine, an estimated $2 billion worth of gift cards went unredeemed in 2012. So, if you’re on the receiving end of a gift card, don’t just toss it in a drawer or bag. Keep it in your wallet, so you’re more likely to remember to use it.
As always, I save the most money in my budget on groceries with the use of manufacturer’s coupons. (How else do I have the extra money to spend on all those gift cards?) Your greatest savings will always come from being a smart shopper in the grocery aisle. Living on the Cheap always has a great source of manufacturer’s coupons. Companies load new coupons at the beginning of the month, so now’s a good time to start checking your gift-card-giving list for who’s been naughty or nice…with their finances.