• When I think about buying someone a gift I usually want to do something special and take the time to really find something that will let them know how important they are to me or to my family. Then, inevitably, I get busy and don’t have time to look around or think about what gift that person would really want. So, ultimately I try to size them up as best as I can and think to myself, “Okay, I know that Joel likes to play tennis…so, I’ll run over to Sport Authority and get him a quick gift card to let him know that I was thinking about him.” We’ve all gone through this before.  Unfortunately, it may turn out that Joel is a tennis fanatic and only wants to buy his gear from a specific pro tennis shop that only has a presence in some small isolated community, or maybe he gave up tennis altogether. Now what?!  My top ten gift card pet peeves, which have led me to boycott giving and dread getting them, are:

    1. 1. Limits me to a Specific Company – Unless you buy a generic Bank Gift card (which has its own problems listed below) I’m stuck having to spend my money entirely at that specific retail company. This poses several problems such as; they may not carry the brands that I prefer or, as is often the case, there isn’t a store in close proximity to where I live.
    2. 2. They get Lost or Stolen – It’s just one more item that I have to worry about and keep tabs on. Between my cash, credit cards, personal items and random kids’ stuff I have enough things to carry around in my purse. Therefore, my gift cards are often misplaced or left lying around (in my car, office, other purse, etc.).
    3. 3. I Forget to Bring It – On several occasions, I’ve found myself near a store, where I just wanted to jump in there to pick up a few items but realized that I left my gift card at the house. So, it takes preparation for me to remember to bring it or what usually happens is that I just decide to pay for it because it’s not worth the hassle of going back home. Most of the time, I have no idea when I’ll be able to get back to that store.
    4. 4. Susceptible to Fraud – I’ve gone to stores before, excited to use my gift card and picked out exactly the items I can buy to use every last penny of that gift card, only to find out, at the register, that it had a zero balance or was never activated properly. Who needs the headache of tracking down all the paperwork and contacting the individual who gave you the gift card? Furthermore, someone may have lifted the code from your card and already used the credit. Or even if it is just a genuine administrative glitch, either way, it’s a pain and can be extremely time consuming.
    5. 5. Complications using it Online – There may be restrictions or problems using the gift card if you choose not to use the entire amount. How will they issue you the balance of credit left on your card, will you have sufficient funds, will they accept the card without a signature or do you have to create a log-in and password, etc.?
    6. 6. Company is Holding My Money – Why would I let anyone hold on to my money for me? I’m perfectly capable of holding onto it myself (for the most part). They are earning interest off my money and then can benefit even more so if I end up not using the card altogether. I’ll keep money in the bank and use it when I’m good and ready. I think I’m old enough!
    7. 7. Added Fees – Not only are they holding my money as described above, but many companies (especially bank cards) charge a fee (about 2%). Go figure! I’m giving them my money and my business and they’re charging me a fee for that. Therefore, be careful to read the fine print before you purchase or you may be giving a gift to the bank in addition to your intended recipient.
    8. 8. May Expire / Company Dissolves – Be aware that some gift cards have expiration dates, which you may not have realized when you originally made your purchase. Secondly, you’re taking all the risk by counting on the company being around in the future. I still have gift cards from Borders, none of which are honored by any other establishment, now that Borders has closed their doors for good (or bad as in my case). I’m either in denial or just holding onto them for historical purposes. Yet I keep them still with some dim hope of using them somewhere someday.
    9. 9. Left Over Funds or Pay out of Pocket – What do I do when I no longer need to buy anything else at that store or if the item is overpriced? Why would I want to pay a higher price for the exact same item or possibly have to pay out of pocket? Even though, technically it’s not spending my own money, I still hate to overpay. Besides, right now, it is my money! So, I’m forced to buy frivolous items that I really don’t need or end up saving it for another day.
    10. 10. It’s Not More Personal – As much as we’d like to think that it’s better than giving cash or a check, the truth is it’s not. It shows that you did not have the time to make something or buy a personal item. It screams, “I didn’t know what to get you so I found this quick fix.” Save yourself the gas and time. In this case…Cash (or check) is King! You think that cash is impersonal, but put a note in saying: “Joel- Enjoy shopping for Tennis supplies, or treat yourself to something you may not have otherwise purchased.”  Now it’s as personal as that Sport Authority gift card with more flexibility and less hassle.

    Long ago I realized that the only people who really appreciate gift cards are the suppliers and retail stores. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to get any gift and will show my appreciation. In the past, I have buckled and have given them when I feel the pressure of having to get someone a gift on the specific day of their special occasion. And if I’m attending a celebration in their honor, the guilt of thinking, “how can I show up without a gift?” But all that has stopped! For the most part, gift cards are just more of a hassle than they’re worth.  I’d rather give cash or simply wait a few days after their birthday or special occasion (though not my first choice), to get or make them something more personal. It’s not the end of the world! Let them know that you didn’t forget about them and that a gift is forthcoming. Sure, it’s better if you had prepared, but don’t sweat it.  Getting a gift late is getting a gift after all of the other presents have been opened and forgotten about- so it’s possibly more exciting; and you will still convey the message that they are important to you!