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Chances are that through the years you’ve received a dozen or more gift cards. And chances are they’re piled up in a drawer or, in the case of electronic gift cards, buried in your email inbox.
That could mean you’re tough to shop for because family members think you already have everything. So you may be poised to get even more gift cards this holiday season.
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From a buyer’s perspective, gift cards are easy to give. Virtually every type of store you step into today — big-box retailer, convenience store, discount department store, pharmacy, supermarket — has racks of gift cards, often near the cashier, for everything from coffee shops to restaurants to electronics retailers to sporting goods stores.
Why we neglect gift cards
“I was astonished to read that $15 billion in gift cards go unused,” says Danetha Doe, personal finance expert and founder of the website Money & Mimosas. That figure, from 2021, has risen to about $21 billion, according to a YouGov/CreditCards.com July 2022 survey.
“I can see how it happens,” she said. “It can be inconvenient to use a gift card. If it’s a physical gift card, you have to remember to bring it with you to the store, and if it’s a digital gift card, it can easily get lost in your emails.”
Anna Kocharian, Consumer Reports’ shopping and deals editor, echoes Doe’s rationale.
“People simply forget to use their gift cards [because] unlike ... cash, which tends to go straight into a wallet, gift cards are often saved for specific occasions or stowed away for later use,” she says. Store- or restaurant-specific gift cards can be limiting in the same way.
“Chances are you’ll hold on to those gift cards for the next time you end up at said store or restaurant,” Kocharian says. “But as more time goes by, the likelihood of using that card will decrease.”
Why it’s time to use your gift cards
If you don’t use your gift cards, or use only some of their value and forget about them, you’re leaving money on the table. Plus, you may face fees that deplete their balances. If you’ve thought of your gift cards as a rainy-day fund, now is the time to tap that cash.