If you're like 93% of Americans, you've either given or received a gift card this holiday season.
It's no wonder that gift cards have become the go-to gift for those we hold near and dear, as well as others we hardly know. Buying a gift card allows the recipient to choose something they actually want, yet it shows that the giver put at least a little bit of thought into the gift.
However, it can be overwhelming to suddenly have a wallet full of random gift cards. Before you start to spend your bounty, you should first investigate how to get the absolute most from every single one of your cards.
Like, follow, subscribe and then download the store's app
National stores will almost always have a social media presence that you can work to your advantage. This means that you can discover discounts, especially if you're a new customer. So "like" them on Facebook, "follow" them on Twitter and then subscribe to their emails to get the most bang for your buck. Don't forget to download their app to your smartphone and allow push notifications for maximum buying power.
Search for promo codes
Always do an Internet search for the name of the store plus "promo code" before you shop either online or in person. This simple trick will lead you to sites such as RetailMeNot, which boasts that it has "500,00 coupons for 50,000 stores." Always updating, these discount websites will usually lead you to codes for both discounts and/or free shipping.
Shop through a cash-back website
Websites such as eBates and TopCashBack function to unlock sales, as well as give you a percentage of your purchase back in the form of cash. Although many stores offer just a small 2% to 6% percent back, other stores can be as high as 40%. It's worth it to spend a minute or two to check and see if your gift card can earn you at least a couple of dollars.
Investigate if other stores will accept your gift card
Many national companies are part of a corporate network, which means that their gift cards can be used at multiple other stores. Here are just a few examples:
- A Gap gift card can also be spent at Old Navy, Banana Republic or Athleta.
- An Olive Garden gift card can be used at Longhorn, Bahama Breeze or any other Darden restaurant.
- A Safeway gift card can be used at Tom Thumb, Von's, Randall's, Carrs and Pavilions.
- A Kroger gift card can be used at Fred Meyer, Ralph's, Food4Less or Smith's.
- A Land's End gift card can be used at Sears.
- A Cinemark gift card can be used at Cinéarts, Tinseltown or Rave Cinemas.
The list of gift cards that allow for purchases from multiple retail outlets is seemingly endless, so make sure to both read the small print on the back of your card as well as click on your store's website to investigate before choosing where to redeem your card.
Time your restaurant visits carefully
If you're lucky enough to possess a restaurant gift card, you might want to consider sitting in the bar instead of the main restaurant. Happy hour menus are usually much more budget-friendly than standard entrees, and that can allow you to stretch that gift card until it begs for mercy. Either check the restaurant's website or call your specific location to clarify happy hour times and any restrictions.
Sell or swap your card
If you've received a gift card that's simply not to your liking, you still have some great options. Websites such as Gift Card Granny, CardCash, Cardpool and eBay allow you to sell your gift cards to recoup most of the original cost. No, you won't get the full amount of your gift card, but at some point it's better to get something rather than nothing. Want to trade for another gift card rather than sell it? That's an option as well.
Know your balance
That gift card from great aunt Ethel might be for a mysterious amount, but it's easy to figure out the actual value. The small print on the back of your gift card will almost always have the website and/or phone number to clarify the gift card balance. If you're already in the store and unsure of your card's balance, any cashier can easily swipe the card to provide this information.
Base your purchase on the value of the card
This may sound like an obvious tip, but it's not exactly the most financially responsible practice to justify a $300 purchase based on a $50 gift card. Sure, it's normal to up spend a gift card by a couple of dollars, (and retailers count on you doing this) but unless that large purchase was already within your planned budget, it's best to keep this spending rationalization in check.
Save your gift cards for a vacation treat
Gift cards can be a great way to keep vacation costs down, especially when your wallet holds cards for movie theater chains, restaurants or coffee shops. Investigate ahead of time how close you'll be to your gift card's retail location, as well as whether it might work with a corporate partner.
Do your own gifting
Whether you're shopping for others or straight-up regifting, gift cards are a great way to decrease your spending.
Be aware of any limitations
Although the 2009 Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act did away with the most fraudulent gift card practices, there are still some mice type pitfalls to be aware of. Some states allow for a gift cards to decrease in value if left dormant for a full year, and certain purchases such as lottery tickets, cigarettes or alcohol may be prohibited. In other cases, some retailers may not allow for gift card usage in their outlets. Be sure to so call ahead to pin down the rules and regulations.
Whether you received one or multiple gift cards over the holiday gift-giving season, be sure to make the most of them. If you're deliberate about how they're spent, you can easily increase their value using the above tips and tricks. Whatever you choose to do with your gift cards, just make sure to remember where you put them and then spend with intention.
Read more: Clark Howard's no-giftcard gift certificate