Gift cards remain one of the most wanted gifts, no matter the occasion. Even though they’re plastic, if you play your (gift) cards right, you can really stretch them beyond their 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 out-of-pocket (thanks to the $50 gift card you received) doesn’t mean you saved money. In fact, 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 the 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 Store Promo Codes page to find codes worth extra discounts from major retailers. Then, pay using your gift card. 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 starting in mid-November through the end of December. I save money all year-long, just so I can purchase gift cards during the holidays from the businesses I frequent often. By doing so, I “cash in” on free meals, bonus gift cards or gifts with purchase.
If I was going to spend money on lunch at Qdoba Mexican Eats anyway, why not get a few free burritos in the process? Most gift cards do not have an expiration date, so you can redeem them months or years later. (It’s especially a great idea to buy gift cards for those restaurants that are your go-to spots for work lunches or family dinners and redeem the bonus offers after the first of the year.) Remember, 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 bonuses 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 the gift card wisely.
Finally, it’s estimated $2 billion worth of gift cards go unredeemed annually. So, if you’re on the receiving end of a gift card, don’t just toss it in a drawer. Keep it in your wallet, so you’re more likely to remember to use it.
If you received a gift card from a retailer you don’t like, consider selling it on the many websites which buy unwanted gift cards. However, be warned, you may only get half the face value. For a bigger cut, you can sell it on eBay. Best of all, don’t assume there’s nothing you want from the retailer. Check out its website or stop by one of its locations and peruse the aisles — you just might find something you like and get the gift card’s full value. If not, consider shopping for a gift for someone else and pay using the “unwanted” gift card. In the end, you’ll save money by not having to pay for a birthday or wedding gift out-of-pocket.
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. And make sure you check out the list of 60 gift card offers.
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