Gift Cards Are NOT Free Money!

gift card tips, gift card ideas, gift card tipsGift cards are not free money. Even the most frugal and budget minded spenders sometimes view gift cards as different and throw out all the spending rules they usually adhere to. But to get the very most out of their gift cards, they need to be thought of what they really are, cash in a different form.

My son received multiple gift cards to his favorite sports equipment store for his birthday. We went to the mall one afternoon, he went to the sporting goods store, I set off to get some needed items from some other retailers. When we joined up again awhile later he showed me what he had purchased. Some of the items he purchased he needed immediately as we were beginning playing in a softball league together. Other items were discretionary items that he didn’t need right now.

“Were any of these items on sale?” I asked.

“No. But I figured since I had gift cards, I’d buy them anyway. They didn’t cost me anything,” was his reply.

It was time to give my son a lesson in getting the most out of his gift cards. When I shop using a gift card, I apply all of the same rules as if I was shopping with cash.

Wait For Sales

Memorial Day is just around the corner, and things are going to go on sale. He could likely get more for his gift cards if he had waited a few weeks to see if any of the items he bought would go on sale. Gift cards work on sales!

Order Online

Before buying anything, he should check if the item is less expensive through the retailer’s online portal, OR if he can find an online coupon code that would make it less expensive. Gift cards work online too!

Use A Waiting Period

Before I make any discretionary purchase, I usually wait at least 24 hours to allow for extra contemplation. If I still want it after the waiting period, I go back and get it. If he had done this and decided against any of the items, he would still have a gift card balance to buy something else!

Gift Cards Don’t Expire

This isn’t quite true, as some gift cards may incur inactive fees after awhile.  But he certainly has weeks, months, if not years before that would happen. If there’s nothing he really wants right now, he could save them for a later shopping trip.

Gift cards are not free money. Someone paid actual cash for the gift cards. While the purpose of the gift is for the recipient to get something they want, or maybe even splurge on something a little more expensive than they would normally buy, one should always follow practices that result in getting the very most possible out of them.

As a final note, if you’ve come to this posting because you want to find some free money, consider checking out Stephanie Battista’s article on how to start a self hosted wordpress blog – blogging isn’t free, but it can be a decent source of side income.

How about you, Clever Friends, do you view gift cards as free money, or do you apply your same rules of spending to them to get the most you can out of them?

Disease Called Debt

About the author

Brock Kernin


  • Good thinking! Gift cards are “almost” free money and if you’re clever enough, it’s possible to take even more advantage of them 🙂
    The bad part though is, I rarely get any gift cards… bummer!

  • I absolutely agree that purchases made with gift cards should be viewed the same as purchases made with cash, despite upgrading my coffee earlier this afternoon because I was paying with a gift card.

    It’s a great point that gift cards work online, and that there are often coupons or discounts available online that aren’t available in store.

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