It's the season to give and when we don't quite know what that gift should be, we get a gift card. That way, the recipient can choose their own gift, right? Gift cards are big business, amounting to an estimated $90 billion dollars in spending annually. If you're that recipient of a gift card this year, there are some tricks to get the best bang for the buck. Here are six ways you can get the most out of gift cards. (For more, see Why Retailers Love Gift Cards.)

IN PICTURES: 5 Money-Saving Shopping Tips

  1. Don't Forget
    Before all else, don't forget you have that gift card in the first place. Did you know that up to 10% of all gift cards are never used - putting billions into retailers pockets, for free! Even if you have a gift card to some place you don't like to patron, avoid feeding this money pit. Put the gift card in your wallet - maybe in front of your credit or debit card, so this money doesn't slip your mind.

  2. Don't Blow It
    That gift card is free money, right? It's with this mindset that a lot of people spend with gift cards anyway: when paying with gift cards, an average 20% more is spent on an item. Don't fall into this trap of feeling like you're spending free money - this gift card represents your cash now. Spend it like you would dollars in your wallet.

  3. Catch a Sale or Coupon
    So how would you spend that gift card money if it were your cash? We all like a sale, so be sure to wait for one to get more bang for your gift card buck. January is a good time, but don't be afraid to wait a little longer if you know you'll need, say, clothes for summer. Look for coupons for your gift card retailer - just because you're using a gift card doesn't mean you can't get a discount, too. Consider signing up for email notifications from the gift card retailer, so you can pounce when your gift card money gets you the best value.

  4. Shop Online
    Most retailers now have an online presence, so be sure to check the web. Deals are often better online, and selection of sizes and such wider, as items come straight from a warehouse. Be sure to do a quick internet search using your retailer name and "coupon code" to make sure you're not missing out on an extra discount. (For more, see 7 Tips For Shopping Online Safely This Holiday Season.)

IN PICTURES: Debunking 10 Budget Myths

  1. Trade It
    Can't find any use for your gift card at all? Maybe you got a spa service but hate that sort of thing, or got a dinner at a steak restaurant when you're a vegetarian. Think of making a trade; there are many online gift card trading or selling services, where you can still get some cash value for your off-the-mark gift card. Make sure you check the fine print and what cash value you'll get for giving up your gift card.

  2. Donate It
    Still can't find any use for that gift card? Consider donating the value to charity. Some gift card trading websites like Plasticjungle.com allow you to choose from a list of charities to give your gift card balance to - making your gift card balance a great gift to an organization in need. Your gift may even be tax deductable as a charitable donation; check your gift card exchange service for details. (For a related reading, check out The Top 5 Most Charitable American Cities.)

The Bottom Line
Don't squander your gift card balance just because you weren't the one forking over cash. By using a sale, coupon or even an online trading service you can make sure your gift gives you what you really want, because wasn't that the point of the gift card in the end? Above all, don't feed the billion dollar gift card money pit retailers love - it should be your gift, not theirs.

For the latest financial news, see Water Cooler Finance: FBI Insider-Trading Bust.

Related Articles
  1. Entrepreneurship

    How Does Glamsquad Work and Make Money?

    Learn about what Glamsquad does and how it makes money, including why the rise of the "Uber culture" has made this new luxury beauty business so popular.
  2. Investing

    Top Websites to Start an Online Business

    The Internet offers nearly endless ideas and opportunities for new businesses. Here are some great resources to get your online business up and running quickly.
  3. Economics

    Understanding Forward Integration

    Forward integration happens when a business takes over functions that were originally performed by its partners farther down the supply chain.
  4. Stock Analysis

    What Puts the Dollars in Priceline's Bottom Line?

    The Priceline Group is more successful than it may appear and is on track to enjoy tremendous profits down the road.
  5. Active Trading Fundamentals

    How Groupon Makes Money

    Find out how Groupon makes money, including a rundown of how Groupon works and what benefits it provides to the businesses it partners with.
  6. Personal Finance

    How Express Scripts Makes Money

    The pharmacy benefit manager claims to lower prescription drug costs for consumers, medical providers, and health insurance companies and makes a tidy profit along the way.
  7. Stock Analysis

    Will Jet.com Revolutionize Shopping?

    Jet.com has arrived and will look to steal market share from Amazon over the next several years. Will it be successful?
  8. Personal Finance

    Why Best Buy Failed in China

    Best Buy entered China with much fanfare in 2006. The Minnesota-based retailer exited quietly last year. What went wrong?
  9. Personal Finance

    Don't Underestimate Kroger's Retail Power

    The grocery chain Kroger has been growing stronger thanks to strategies such as holding down costs, acquisitions, and a focus on convenience.
  10. Credit & Loans

    Why Cash Will Never Be Obsolete

    As long as the banking system remains strong and so many Americans remain unbanked, the United States will not have a cashless society.
RELATED TERMS
  1. Fast Fashion

    Definition of "fast fashion."
  2. Transaction Authentication Number ...

    A one-time code used in the processing of online transactions.
  3. Mail Or Telephone Order Merchandise ...

    A regulation that controls businesses that sell products over ...
  4. Online-To-Offline Commerce

    A business strategy that draws potential customers from online ...
  5. Card-Not-Present Fraud

    A type of credit card scam in which the customer does not physically ...
  6. Online Shoplifting

    The theft of goods from an Internet-based merchant.
RELATED FAQS
  1. How can I invest in electronic retailing (e-tailing)?

    Electronic retail is one of the fastest growing segments of the economy. Every year, more people are choosing to purchase ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. What countries represent the largest portion of the global retail sector?

    The United States and China are the world's largest and second-largest retail markets, respectively, by total retail sales. ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. How has electronic retailing (e-tailing) changed the consumer discretionary goods ...

    Electronic retailing has changed the consumer discretionary goods sector by increasing price transparency and product information. ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. How does stock evaluation of an electronic retailing (e-tailing) business differ ...

    Stock evaluations of electronic retailers differ from brick-and-mortar businesses in that e-tailers have higher growth rates. ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What is the correlation between a coupon rate and the convexity of a given bond?

    Generally speaking, convexity decreases as yields increase (geometrically, the yield curve tends to flatten at higher yields). ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. Who are Nordstrom's (JWN) main competitors?

    Nordstrom (JWN) is a high-end retail sales department store offering fashion, shoes and accessories for men, women and children. ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Trading Center
×

You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!