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Gift cards. The holiday gift-giving frenzy is coming upon us. I've trimmed my list of 'people to buy for' a lot over the years, but it's too easy to add people to it. And then there are obligatory service tips that are expected this time of year. Seriously, I know this lament comes from a place of privilege, but the list of people I need to give an extra tip to, or a cash gift of some sort, who are not members of my family (blood or chosen) seems to grow a bit every year. Gift cards seem like a great solution to this problem.
But they're not!
I recently came across a blog post by Barry Ritholtz, an economic journalist, from last year where he says:
Nothing says “I am both thoughtless and inconveniencing” like a gift card. They let the recipient know that you couldn’t be bothered actually picking out a present, so here is a cash equivalent — only so much less convenient than the crisp paper kind of cash. And, you can only spend it in one place.
How much do gift cards suck? Each year, $5 billion in gift cards go unclaimed, forgotten about or lost. That’s how much people value them — they throw away $5 effen billion dollars worth every year!
And, it's true. I have been given gift cards, even to places I occasionally frequent, and forgotten about them, not used them, let them expire. All because I'm busy and just cannot seem to put 'use giftcard' into my ToDo lists in an effective way. Moreover, I've bought gift cards for people in the past, and actually had one sitting in a drawer languishing (and losing value) because I never ran into the person I wanted to give it to when I had it, and then time passed, the holidays were over, and there it sat!
Spouse and I were just talking the other day about what we're going to give our son's teachers for the holidays. And first we thought about gift cards. We won't get them cutesy apple-themed trinkets, because everything I've read suggests that teachers have enough of that sort of thing. We decided to just give them cash along with a mini-photobook of our kid. And we'll do cash, instead of gift cards, heeding Ritholz's suggesetion:
4) Best of all: Just give them the damned cash. Hey, its gonna be worthless in a few years anyway — you might as well start giving it away now, while it still has some value!