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by Joanne Guidoccio


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While gift cards may be the perfect solution for that hard-to-please friend or relative on your list, they are a better deal for the retailers who issue them. For many consumers, receiving a gift card is like getting a discounted price on a preferred item. As a result, they do not pay too much attention to the sticker price and may even go on a mini shopping spree, spending more than the face value of the card.

More alarming is the amount of spillage on these cards. According to Brian Riley of the TowerGroup research firm, "U.S. consumers have left more than $41 billion on unused gift cards purchased since 2005." In Canada, the average household has over $300 in unused gift cards, according to www.cardswap.ca. Why are so many consumers not using their gift cards?

It is so easy to toss these cards into drawers, especially during busy holiday seasons, and forget about them. Some cards are lost. Other cards expire. Some retailers declare bankruptcy and the cards are no longer valid.

To get the most from your gift cards, consider the following suggestions:

  1. Read the fine print on the card. Check for an expiration date and information about transaction fees. Is there a return policy? If you use the card to buy a gift for a friend, will he be able to get cash back?


  2. Write down the card's ID number and the customer-service telephone number on the card's back. If you have access to a copier, photocopy both sides of the card.

  3. Organize your gift cards. Set aside a special place in a drawer or filing cabinet for gift cards. Record the expiration dates for each card on a calendar. Alternatively, you could create a separate folder in a spreadsheet program to keep track of these dates.

  4. Register your cards. If they are lost or stolen, the balance can be credited to a new card. Also, you qualify for rewards discounts or freebies with certain gift cards. For example, when you register a Starbucks gift card, you are eligible for a free drink on your birthday.

  5. Take your cards with you when you go shopping. You are more likely to use them if you have them on hand.

  6. Do not save your gift cards. Use them within thirty days, and you will cut back on the probability of losing or forgetting about these cards.

  7. Regift the card if you do not intend to use it.

  8. Sell your card at websites like www.cardswap.ca where you can receive up to 92 percent of its cash value.

For 31 years, Joanne Guidoccio taught mathematics, computer science, business and career education courses in secondary schools throughout Ontario. Her articles, book reviews, and short stories have been published in newspapers, magazines, and online. She has bachelor's degrees in mathematics and education and a Career Development Practitioner diploma. Visit her website at www.joanneguidoccio.com

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