8 Ways to Use Unwanted Gift Cards

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Much of what you hear in the news about gift cards revolves around changes to the law (see CARD Act), prohibiting companies from slowly draining the value of unused gift cards. But I don’t think we’d need these rules so much if we did a better job of picking out the right gift cards and using the ones we have.

If you have unused or unwanted gift cards, here are a few things you can do:

  1. Keep gift cards in your wallet. Stashing gift cards at home may prevent you from losing them, but is also likely to prevent you from using them. I keep gift cards in my wallet, next to the two things I reach for most often–my cash and my debit card.
  2. Use an automatic reminder service. Download a gift card app to your cell phone. You can use it to check gift card balances and get reminders when your gift cards haven’t been used for a set period of time. I use Tango Card and it’s been a big help.
  3. Re-gift unwanted gift cards. I wouldn’t re-gift a partially used gift card that’s about to expire, but there’s no shame in passing on a new one. Last year, my husband received two gift cards to one of our favorite restaurants. We kept one for date night and gave the other to his parents for Christmas. Doing so helped us knock down holiday expenses and ensure both gift cards got used.
  4. Buy gifts with unwanted gift cards. Think about upcoming birthdays, baby showers, weddings and other gift-giving events on your social calendar. Use the gift card in your wallet to buy a traditional gift for the recipient.
  5. Cash it out. There are an increasing number of online sites that will exchange gift cards for a discounted dollar amount. After carrying a $20 gift card in my wallet for over three years, I decided to cash it out instead. A week later, I received a check for $15.
  6. Donate it. At least one of the sites I explored also gave me the option to donate the gift card to a charity. You could use a service like that or simply mail your unwanted gift card to a shelter in your area. At my school, the fundraising committee is always asking for donated gift cards that they can either auction off or bundle into gift baskets.
  7. Give it away. Just give the unwanted gift card to someone for no good reason. If you’re not going to use it yourself, might as well give it to someone who will. I’ve done this before and it feels pretty good.
  8. Switch it. If your unwanted gift card is for a store that sells gift cards to other stores (think gift card kiosk), you can actually buy a new gift card with the one you have. For example, I had a Toys R Us gift card left over from Christmas. Toys R Us sells gift cards to restaurants, movies, department stores, and so forth. I bought a gift card to a sandwich shop using my toy store gift card. It’s an easy swap and you get full value from the gift card.

Though the gift card you received might not be as wonderful as the giver had hoped, you should still find a way to use it. Otherwise, it’s no different than getting an ugly sweater and throwing it in the back of your closet. The giver intended for you to enjoy yourself and have choices. Now you do.

Don’t want to work that hard to use an unwanted gift card? Take the easy way out and exchange your gift card for cash.


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