Op Ed

De-Vilifying the Gift Card

When I worked in retail, one of the things I heard almost every day of the holiday season was “I don’t know what to get for _____, but I don’t want to just give him/her a gift card,” as though a gift card was the gift equivalent of cat poop on a stick. I love gift cards, and I’m here to tell you why. 

1. It’s like getting three gifts in one. I have been known to indulge in a little retail therapy when I am feeling blue, but one of the drawbacks of mood shopping is feeling guilty afterward for spending the money. When someone gives you a gift card, you get to open the initial gift, enjoy some guilt-free shopping and you get whatever you buy with the card – three gifts in one!

2. They work for any age group.  Kids actually enjoy getting gift cards because it puts them in control. What kid doesn’t secretly dream of walking into a store and hearing “OK, pick out whatever you want” (within reason, of course)? Not only that, but they get to learn some lessons about the value of a dollar as they try to figure out what item(s) fit into their budget.

3. It’s a great way to help someone who may be having financial difficulties. If you have a friend or family member who is having money troubles, a gift card for somewhere like Wal-Mart of Target is a way to give them a little help without making them feel like they are getting charity. Since these stores sell everything from fun stuff to daily necessities, they can use the card for groceries and toilet paper if they need to. You may not think that milk, eggs and Charmin make a great gift, but when you are broke, being able to get what you need is a wonderful feeling.

4. You can support local businesses. Even if you live out of state, you can still help people shop local. A lot of small businesses don’t have a gift certificate option on their website, but if you call them they will be more than happy to work something out. My dad wanted to get me something from my favorite glass shop, but they don’t do gift cards. I asked the owner and she told me to have my dad call her, he’ll pay over the phone and she’ll send me the gift certificate. Apparently they do it all the time.

The biggest complaint about giving a gift card is that it’s “not personal.” Well, neither is something you grabbed in desperation at the last minute because you couldn’t think of anything else. If you want to make it more personal, put some thought into the presentation. Got a coffee lover on your list? Try a new travel mug with a Starbucks card inside. Busy parents? Go for a restaurant gift card and a home-made coupon for babysitting services. Teenagers? I suggest an iTunes card and a some funky earbuds (those things get lost more often than socks, a new pair always comes in handy). When in doubt, Amazon is always a winner. They have everything and who doesn’t love getting packages in the mail?

By [E]SaraB

Glass artisan by day, blogger by night (and sometimes vice versa). SaraB has three kids, three pets, one husband and a bizarre sense of humor. Her glass pendants can be found at if you're interested in checking it out.

14 replies on “De-Vilifying the Gift Card”

I kind of hate gift cards, but I hate that I hate them.  I hate them because according to something I heard on NPR awhile back, a shocking amount of people don’t use up their gift cards, and so you are basically paying the company for nothing.  And also, if the company goes under, you’re screwed.  So I kind of hate them.

But I looooooooooooooove giving them and getting them, so this article makes me feel a lot better.

Amazon gift cards are the best!  Especially for a kindle fanatic like myself.  I HATE when people try to buy me a book.  I know it’s bratty, but if there’s a book I want so much that I’m going to buy, believe me when I say it’s already bought or pre-ordered.  I’d prefer the gift card to fund my habit in future, thank you.  I also love the Amazon GC because law books are EXPENSIVE.  And it’s nice to save a little cash in the semester-ly hell that is book-buying.  It’s like it was said above, “It’s a nice way to help someone who’s having financial difficulties.”  Honey, there is not a grad student on this earth who is not having “financial difficulties.”

I have to admit, the whole gift card process seems funny to me.  Someone’s giving you money with the caveat that you can only spend it in one place.  I get it though: It’s a safe compromise between knowing someone likes that store (which makes it personalized) and having to pick out clothes or a book or whatever other gamble you’re trying to avoid.

I have a couple of family members who just refuse to get gift cards. They have good taste in the clothes they pick out, but inevitably something doesn’t fit. I’ve had to put a moratorium on pants, since I have yet to have a single pair of gifted pants fit besides stretchy yoga/lounge things, so now it’s just a parade of sweaters. Nice sweaters, but it’s still an adventure sometimes.

I love getting gift cards (so long as it’s a store I actually shop at, unlike the Laura Ashley certificate my grandmother gave me when I was 12 or so). I’d much rather get those than cash, because then I get a bonus shopping trip out of it. Cash just goes to boring stuff like groceries; even if I get a card to someplace like Target I can pick out something fun along with the necessities.

That’s exactly how I am. One year for Hanukkah I asked for a gift certificate to get a massage, and my parents gave me cash intended to go towards the massage instead – but I saved it and then eventually spent it on gas. A gift card helps ensure that I will actually treat myself, like the giver probably intended.

I was just talking to my mom and sister about this. Mr. Furious is difficult to shop for because he’s pretty picky and the things he wants but doesn’t get for himself are usually things that are pricey and he wouldn’t feel comfortable accepting them as a gift.  I hated to suggest and Amazon gift card because it does seem impersonal. But it’s something he would actually use, as opposed to the subscription to The New Yorker that I got him that he never read one issue of.

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