The gift of cash, in the form of a card

You’re finished with Christmas shopping. You’ve bought your family and friends presents from Apple, Macy’s, Home Depot, J.Crew, Amazon and Best Buy.

And they all fit in your wallet.

We like to give gift cards. The average consumer spent $145.61 last year on gift cards, up from $139.91 in 2009, according to the National Retail Federation.

We like to receive gift cards, too.

More than half of adults surveyed last year said they would like to receive gift cards as presents, and that number is growing year over year, the federation says. (Clark Howard tip: Don’t pay full price for gift cards.)

This year, the top three most requested gift cards are from Walmart, Target and Amazon, according to, while gas companies Shell and Exxon made it onto the list at No. 5 and No. 14, respectively.

During tough economic times, utilitarian gift cards for basic necessities, such as gasoline, can be a lifeline for some people, says Luke Knowles of GiftCardGranny.

“Grocery gift cards would be great to give cash — without giving cash — and actually help them out a lot.”

You can even send gift cards to military members overseas via The cards are redeemable at Army, Navy or Marine Corps exchange facilities worldwide.

It’s also becoming more common to buy gift cards with bonuses attached.

Some Atlanta-area restaurants are offering an array of extras when you purchase a gift card this season.

Buckhead Life Restaurant Group, which includes Chops and Buckhead Diner, is giving patrons an additional 20 percent on the purchase of a dining card.

Here to Serve Restaurants, which includes Twist and Shout, will give you $20 for every $100 you spend on gift cards. You’ll find similar offers from others, including RA Sushi, Ray’s Restaurants, Smashburger, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar, Chepe’s Mexican Grill and Marlow’s Tavern.

Think you’ll receive a gift card you’ll probably never use? Consider selling it through a website like or

And new this year is Gift Card Exchange Day, an event created by GiftCardGranny for buyers and sellers to meet online at the most opportune time: Dec. 26.

According to Knowles, the purpose of the event is to encourage people to sell unwanted gift cards: A seller can immediately pocket some cash, or somebody who’d like the card can buy it at a discount.

“The average household has $300 in gift cards that’s unused right now,” Knowles says.

“That might pay groceries for some family that lives paycheck to paycheck. So if we can get the money into their hands and out of the coffers of big retailers, that would be awesome.”

– By Lauren Davidson, Atlanta Bargain Hunter

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14 comments Add your comment

mystery poster

December 20th, 2011
8:52 am

I hate gift cards, hate getting them and hate giving them.


December 20th, 2011
11:11 am

Many think (like cash) it’s impersonal, but I think gift cards are great because you get can get whatever you please when you please vs. the obligatory “Oh, thank you” for the random thing that you know you either didn’t want or won’t use.

It’s the honest way to say, I don’t know what in the heck to get you but here is some money. Take the wife out to eat, go to Home Depot, etc….whatever.

The whole concept of judging (the intent, thoughtfulness, etc.) a gift baffles me!! People, get over yourselves and just say “Thank You”!!! You aren’t that important!!


December 20th, 2011
11:15 am

In my opinion, if you are giving gift cards to family and close friends, don’t give gift cards unless they are $20 or more. If you cannot afford a $20 gift card then just buy a gift. The only people I would exclude from this rule would be gift cards for teacher’s assistants, ASP teachers, babysitters, mail carriers, cross guard, ect.


December 20th, 2011
11:24 am

I personally don’t like to give or get a Walmart/Target/Amazon gift card. I think those are impersonal.

That is not to say I don’t give gift cards at all. My brother is renovating his house, so I got him a Home Depot gift card. There is a Bojangle’s right next to my husband’s bus station, so I got him a gift card there so he can get breakfast.

The recipient still has choice of what to get, but it shows a little more thought than a catch-all gift card, to me.


December 20th, 2011
11:30 am

Gift cards are the worst gift ever, Do you know how much money is spent on gift cards thats NOT used. Its in the Billions every years. Who ever has had a gift card with 20 cents left on it. I used mind but most people throw that away. Thats Money these retailers get. Please people dont waste your money. Just give CASH, since its the same thing.


December 20th, 2011
12:21 pm

Giving a gift card – translates to “I’m not interested in taking the time to find you an appropriate gift – I’ve got better things to do. I was told giving cash was tacky, so here’s your card.”


December 20th, 2011
12:23 pm

Why give a giftcard restricting the person to that particular store? If you’re going to take the easy way out, then just give cash. Or how about tell the person – instead of each of us giving each other cash, let’s just shake and be done with it, no exchange at all.


December 20th, 2011
12:56 pm

If you want to give a gift card for Christmas, give them one that you know for certain they’ll use. Don’t just run into Kroger and buy one at random. If you know they eat at a particular restaurant on a regular basis, buy them a gift card for that restaurant. A co-worker always buys me a Chick-Fil-A gift card, because he knows full well that most mornings will find me in the drive-thru line, waiting to place my order, and grabbing a chicken biscuit or chicken minis. Either one goes with a large sweet tea.

For those that believe giving cash is impersonal: In this day and age, with the economy being in the tank, cash to most people is what a Red Ryder BB Gun was to Ralphie. I always welcomed cash, because I see it as something highly useful. If I give cash, I know it’s to help whomever I give it to. Everyone I’ve given cash to’s eyes light up like they’d received the most coveted gift in the world.

college student

December 20th, 2011
1:02 pm

Gift cards can be a good gift. I can see how they can be viewed as impersonal, but people don’t always need a gift of stuff. How about being practical.

Personally, I got too much stuff as it. I would rather have money to pay tuition, books, gas or food.

Here are some ideas:
Amazon cards for students that need to buy books for next semester, or maybe put towards a kindle.
Home repair cards for the people that are doing repairs to their home, which would help them accomplish something they are already working on.
Clothing cards for the people that like to shop for clothes.
Grocery cards for those on a tight budget would help them put food on the table.
Gas cards for those with limited income helps to put gas in the car, so they can go to work and class.

mystery poster

December 20th, 2011
1:17 pm

Do not buy gift cards for the elderly folks on your list, they really don’t understand how to use them. When my aunt cleaned out her dad’s house, she found countless unused gift cards.


December 20th, 2011
4:04 pm

In relation to college student’s comment, buy gift cards for someone you know who commutes a lot, and is unable to telecommute or use public transportation. Even if their company reimburses them for some of their mileage, it may not be enough to cover the cost of gas and/or repairs on their vehicle. I especially like the Wal-Mart gift cards, because you pay 3 cents less per gallon versus paying cash or regular credit card at any Murphy USA or Wal-Mart-owned gas station.


December 22nd, 2011
1:26 pm

There’s a book called Scroogenomics on that talks all about how we are messing up our financial lives via gift exchanging and talks about what you CAN give people that makes sense. This blog post made me think about that book. People say it makes a great gift. Oh, the irony!


December 22nd, 2011
1:27 pm

Some financially-troubled small businesses issue gift cards at this time of the year to get up-front cash that they desperately need to get by. When the house of cards folds early in the new year, they go belly-up. Beware.

[...] Of course, gift cards can make sense in some situations. I’ll give you an example: I bought an iTunes store four-pack of gift cards at a warehouse club because my mother-in-law wanted to give them to our kids. The pack was being sold for $84, not $100, so we got more than we paid out. (Atlanta Bargain Hunter: More gift card tips.) [...]