Shopping for Just the Right Gift

The clock is ticking, and you’re on the hook to find just the right gift this holiday season. Perhaps you’re shopping at the last minute; maybe the giftee is really picky; or, if you’re like I am, maybe you just don’t feel like dealing with wrapping paper! Regardless, a gift card or certificate may seem like a great solution: it’s a quick buy for you and it presents plenty of options for that person on your list.

Take your pick: choose among traditional gift cards from retailers and restaurants, bank gift cards that can be used anywhere the brand is accepted, e-gift cards, and certificates from promotional coupon sites. As you go shopping for gift cards, remember to read the fine print before you buy. Yeah, time is precious and you may not have enough of it to read the details, but there are a few important things to look for:

  • is there a fee to buy the card?
  • are there fees when someone uses the card?
  • is there an expiration date?
  • are there rules about when and where someone can use the gift card or certificate?

There could be additional restrictions if you buy gift certificates on promotional coupon sites. Say you buy a gift for a friend on a promotional coupon site — $15 for $30 worth of food at a particular restaurant. The promotional value of $30 may expire in a few weeks, but the certificate still may be worth $15 for another year. Maybe there are other limitations: for example, the certificate might be good only Mondays through Thursdays for lunch at a specific location. Would your friend be able to use the certificate for the full value under the circumstances?

If you’re buying a gift card in a store, inspect the card before you pay. Check that none of the protective stickers have been removed, and that the codes on the back of the card haven't been scratched off to reveal a PIN number. If something looks off, let the merchant know and grab a different card.

Just FYI: vendors go out of business, whether they’re online-only companies or long-standing brick and mortar stores. If you buy a card from a company that happens to be on the verge of going out of business, the card may be worth less than you anticipated — or worthless altogether. I just found a gift card to a bookstore that went bankrupt; I’m using the card as a bookmark!

Along with the gift card, give a little extra — some good advice about using gift cards effectively. And don’t forget to give the giftee the original receipt, too. It will help them verify the purchase in case the card is lost or stolen. Meanwhile, here’s to a happy and stress-free shopping experience for all!

Leave a Comment

Comment Policy

This is a moderated blog; we review all comments before they are posted.  We expect participants to treat each other and the bloggers with respect.  We will not post comments that do not comply with our comment policy.  If a submitted comment includes a link to a commercial website, we will delete the link and post the comment. We won't edit comments except to remove links.

We won’t post:

  • spam or off-topic comments
  • comments that contain vulgar language, personal attacks, or offensive terms that target specific groups
  • sales pitches or promotions
  • comments that contain clearly misleading or false information
  • comments that contain personal information, like home addresses

Comments submitted to this blog become part of the public domain. To protect your privacy and the privacy of others, please do not include personal information. Also, do not use this blog to report fraud; instead, file a complaint.

If you have questions about the commenting policy, please contact us.

Read Our Privacy Act Statement

It is your choice whether to submit a comment. If you do, you must create a
user name, or we will not post your comment. The Federal Trade Commission Act
authorizes this information collection for purposes of managing online
comments. Comments and user names are part of the Federal Trade Commission’s
(FTC) public records system, and user names also are part of the FTC’s computer
user records system. We may routinely use these records as described in the
FTC’s Privacy Act system notices. For more information on how the FTC handles
information that we collect, please read our privacy policy.