Six Steps to Help Kids Redeem Gift Cards
Thanks to some very generous family members, my kids frequently have gift cards to spend. They love the freedom of picking their own gifts, but sometimes the joy has turned to frustration. I’ve learned that you have to help kids redeem gift cards or the gift they received can turn into a shopping nightmare.
Follow these steps to help kids redeem gift cards without the tears (yours or theirs).
Confession and Disclaimer
When my kids were too little to shop for themselves, I pocketed the gift cards in my wallet and used them to buy kid essentials. I never spent the money on myself, but I certainly used it for practical items such as diapers, school shoes, or snacks for their lunches. Only when the kids got old enough to remember they’d received a gift card did I include them in the shopping. The steps below are for kids who are old enough to shop for themselves and young enough to still take mom’s advice.
1. Plan Ahead
Before we head to the store, I have the kids make a list of the things they need and want. Having a gift card is literally like being a kid in a candy store. But a store full of possibilities can be overwhelming when the gift card is not likely to cover more than one or two items.
As we write the list, I chime in with all the things they’ve been asking me for as well. (“You’ve been whining about new Sunday shoes even though the ones you have still fit. Add that to the list.”) It’s interesting that when kids are faced with deciding whether or not to spend their own money on something they’ve been BEGGING me for, some of the most ardent “waaants” fall off the page.
Reminding the kids of the things they’ve talked about serves two purposes. 1. The kids are more likely to pick something they really want or need. 2. If they don’t pick the things they’ve pestered me for, I can
throw it back in their faces gently remind them that they chose not to spend their money on certain things and neither will I.
2. Be the Voice of Reason
The next thing I do is help the kids go through the list and weigh how important each item is. (“I know you want new pants, but there are only two weeks left of school. Would you rather have new shorts?”) It’s important to think through the items on the list because the gift card is not likely to cover all of it. Paring down the list before you shop helps the kids focus before they’re faced with too many choices.
3. Stick to the Dollar Amount
Along with identifying top desires, it’s also good to remove items the kids may not be able to afford. Discuss the dollar amount of the gift card so there are no surprises once you get to the store. And I always have the kids bring their wallets in case they can’t live without something that costs more than the balance of the gift card.
4. Pick a Good Time and Be Patient
Despite all of your pre-planning, the kids will still want to browse. Let them. Be patient. Else they are likely to grab something in a hurry rather than check an item off the list. And then it will be YOUR FAULT that they didn’t get what they wanted.
5. Turn Over the Spending Power
Ultimately, the gift card is theirs to spend. So if, in the heat of the shopping moment, something random jumps off the shelf and into their dazzled eyes, I acquiesce. I’m here to teach, not control (though my teenage daughter would disagree). I sometimes secretly enjoy that they learn the value of quality versus quantity, short-term fun vs. long-term benefit, and stretching dollars as far as possible without using my money for the education. As I’ve let my kids make their own choices, they’ve become more discerning shoppers, making better decisions with each successive gift card.
6. Suggest Saving or Offer Bailout.
Walking away empty-handed can be disappointing. But my kids have made rash buying decisions in the past and regretted it later. The buyer’s remorse has, on occasion, helped them make the mature decision to come back to the store another day or try using the gift card elsewhere. If the gift card they have is one that I might use (e.g. Target, WalMart), I sometimes offer to cash the gift card out for them. But that’s not the first option and the bailout isn’t available at stores I don’t shop (e.g. GameStop, Toys R Us).
Helping kids redeem gift cards is not only necessary because kids are increasingly receiving gift cards, but is also a great lesson in budgeting. Since mom frequently pays for nearly everything with a debit card, my kids don’t fully grasp that the card in my wallet has a limit as well. When I explain that my debit card is like a gift card—it won’t work if I exceed the limit—the reasoning makes sense.
And because we’ve been very conscious and conscientious about shopping with gift cards, I’ve seen my kids become quite discerning as well. My daughter always looks for a deal before buying anything. And all of my kids have used their gift cards to buy practical items such as socks, post-it notes for school, highlighter pens for homework, and even toiletries. It’s not always fun to languish with an indecisive shopper, but I can see that doing so has been worth the effort.
Happy Gift Carding!
~ Gift Card Girlfriend (GCG)