The Shuffle: How To Make The Best Out Of Those Gift Cards.

 

A version of this writing appeared on Nerdwallet.com, Money.com & NASDAQ.com.

Every year a staggering $1 billion in gift card balances remain unused according to www.cardhub.com.

No wonder retailers love them. They rack up the sales.

Consumers get shortchanged by their own actions!

This year it’s time to be smarter and maximize the use of gift cards.

Here’s how:

Spend the entire balance at once. Consumers want their gift cards to last as longer as possible. We have a strong tendency to ‘hoard’ balances until we forget the card, lose track of the balance or the card expires.

Unlike having a saving or spending discipline, this is your time to SPLURGE.

splurge

Spend the entire balance at once. At a single location. Make a list of what you plan to purchase and go for it.

Go over the line. Here I am a money guy advising you to spend! Don’t attempt to be too cute and come in at or under the limit of the gift card. Remember your goal is to spend every dollar and not add to the $6 billion in unused balances. Set a boundary. I recommend 10-15 dollars above the limit to assure you’ve fully exhausted the balance.

Employ a smartphone partner. Through the free RAISE app you can sell your gift card balance (for a discount). Also, before you shop a favorite retailer check RAISE first to see if discounted gifts cards are available.

For example, I had a client find a $100 gift card to Home Depot for $65.

What a deal! Use gift cards year round to shop.

Request or send eGift Cards. Trash the plastic! EGift cards are electronic gift cards delivered through e-mail, text, social media or mobile applications. Most digital gift cards can be used in stores.

They’re easy to send, receive, and most important your balances can be tracked real time which means you’re more likely to spend your balances in full.

Check out www.giftcards.com, a comprehensive hub of information on how EGift cards work, how to personalize them, how to redeem and which ones top-ranked.

Set your own gift card expiration date. Forget the expiration date mandated by the issuer (yes, gift cards may have expiration dates). Set your own. I suggest no longer than one month from the date the gift card was received otherwise the odds of a balance going unused forever increases greatly.

Once your personal expiration date has been reached, sell your balance at www.cardcash.com. Recently, I reached a personal expiration with a $50 Kohl’s gift card. I sold it for $41.

Just follow three steps to get an offer, submit your gift card information, receive money once the order is confirmed and the card’s balance is verified. Quick and easy.

Over $138 billion is spent annually on gift cards. Sales are expected to grow at least 6% annually through 2017 according to the latest CardHub statistics on the gift card market.

So, a gift card balance should never go to waste again.

Not on your watch, anyway.

on watch

Sometimes the Gifts you Seek…

The van was rust. Well, mostly rust. Rust colored.

rust

When the 1984 Dodge “classic” stopped, the squeal from metal on metal, lack of brakes, compelled me to look out my driver’s side window. The piercing noise caused me to wince. And it pissed me off.

Sitting there, in my car, at a Valero, rummaging for change, texting a friend, I can see this bag of Detroit bones, held together by some form of metal miracle, had stopped perpendicular and was there just for me.

Oh joy.

I knew I was lingering at the auto vacuum/air oasis, off in a corner, way too long. It’s that time of year when idling more than three minutes anywhere attracts beggars like a gunshot on “The Walking Dead,” attracts well, the walking dead.

“Sir, are you going to use the air?”

I grimaced – Wondering what the catch was. He continued.

“If you are, can I please pull in behind you? I just want to use the air you don’t use. My tire is really flat and I don’t have enough money to pay for air. I just used my last dollar on gas.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m here to use the vacuum.”

The little black man hobbled away politely. I pulled my eyes away. Before I did I noticed the blue handicap parking tag dangling from the rearview window. Figures. I continued a text where I left off…

*****************************************

Recently, I visited a friend at her fashion boutique. She was showing me a couple of gifts received from a friend. Simple gifts to say the least. I sort of stared at them as they occupied the floor space of a back office.

First was a wine-bottle lamp. Complete with cute burgundy lamp shade.

Second was a, how can I describe it, a real Charlie Brown-type Christmas tree. It was centered in criss-crossed wood and black tape secured it to the base.

photoWell here it is.

I  looked down. I stared again. I raised my eyes. We looked at each other. I shrugged. Overall, it’s been a strange holiday season. Gifts given, others taken away. Some still linger like ghosts which thrive in the white of tiny Christmas lights. And when they twinkle another gift of pain has been successfully delivered. Happy holidays!

drunk christmas A reasonable alternative to holiday parties.

This time of year, gift giving is in. The rest of the time, we truly don’t give a damn. Most of the year we gift heartache, turmoil, disappointment, but in a strange way, aren’t they gifts too? Not pretty. No ribbons. Like receiving a gift of soul shrapnel you swallow and then your inner self shits blood for days.

And blood for days can lead to blood for months, years, decades. As long as your memory remembers the pain. You bleed. Yet, there’s a blessing in this blood. When you step back, there’s always a release and then joy in the blood of bad gifts. Sooner or later you clot, or die. Decide.

Random Thoughts:

1). Wrapped in every life lesson, even a bad one, there is a gift. It doesn’t feel that way at first. Over time, as your heart takes the pain to dull throb, you begin to analyze the true reason behind the offering you received.

2). Wrapped in every small gift, there’s a big message. The best gifts you can share are also the least expensive. They are created from thought, kindness, rememberance, respect, bonding. We’ve lost the ability to communicate. We’ve found a way to cut people out of our lives through electronic channels. We say goodbye using e-mail and text. Our voices are dead. Bring the gift of your voice back. Empathize. Be human again. Talk. Discuss. Debate. Converse. True gifts. Gifts of self. Gifts of thought.

3). Gifts can be taken away in a moment. A special gift received can be taken away when you least expect it. Pulled from you. Taken. Never forget a gift of a moment, especially now that you realize it may quickly disappear.

4). All gifts from ex-lovers, ex-friends, ex-inner circlers (is that a word, who knows) should be trashed, donated or returned. Or a combination of the previous. Charitable donations are preferable, you may receive a tax deduction. Make someone else happy from your grief. You’ll feel fulfilled. Trashing is fun too if you can smash the sentiment first. A combination always works best for me.

5). Watch the re-gift. Never re-gift the pain, disappointment or baggage you’ve received from another or caused to yourself. Never re-gift an image of what you think another person should be, just because you believe it should be. Never re-gift guilt, betrayal. Start fresh and gift good things.

6). Never forget: The gifts you seek or want, are most likely the gifts you don’t need. You just think you need them. Time will prove how what you want or desire may actually be poisonous to your soul (there’s that bleeding thing again.)

Back to the vacuum and the car mats. The hobbly man pulled in behind me, obviously to use the air. He got out of the rust bucket. He began to wobble over to me. Here we go again.

“Sir, I just wanted to thank you for the two dollars for the air. You’re a real life saver. Nobody really cares about people anymore, so thank you. I didn’t think you were going to give me anything.”

“I wasn’t. I changed my mind,” I admitted. I went back to the mat-sucking business aware that my vacuum time was about to run out.

“Hey, I really like your car. Your car is my dream car.”

I stopped and looked him in the eyes.

“My car is your dream car?” I said, sort of amused. “A 2009 Nissan Maxima is your dream car?”

“Oh yea, it’s a beauty. I had a Nissan a long time ago. Those things really move. Well, have a good day sir. God bless.”

For a measly gift of two-dollars, I was given a gift. A gift of perspective. The realization that I should be thankful for what I have in the present and not sorrowful for the gifts I lost.

My dollar ran out.

I didn’t care anymore.

I stood there.

I felt a breeze on my face.

Awaiting the next gift.

ugly gift