Can We Just Skip Gift Cards This Christmas?

I haven’t done any of my holiday shopping at this point, but I’m going to declare a new theory of relative proportion at Your Smart Money Moves today.    My theory is that the amount of gift cards you buy from stores increases with direction proportion to the number of days you are away from Christmas Day.    Let me explain.   If you are truly a good planner, some of you have been shopping for gifts during the course of the entire year.    You may have used the game plan of going shopping on Black Friday or Cyber Monday with a complete naughty and nice list of what presents you were going to get for each person in your family.  There’s a group of you that either this week or the next will lug yourself to the indoor and outdoor malls to pick up all the holiday presents.   As each day looms closer to the actual day or Christmas, it creeps up slowly on you that you really don’t have any gift ideas or any notion whatsoever for that matter what the loved ones in your life want for Christmas.   So the closer the day of Christmas approaches, the easier it becomes to say to yourself, “I don’t know what they would really want (and I don’t want to pick out the wrong gift), so instead I’ll just get them a gift card and they’ll love it!”

Here’s the news flash Moms, Dads, Grandparents, and siblings alike.  We don’t like gift cards!    In 2006, the financial services firm Tower Group estimated that $80 billion dollars would be spent on gift cards and over $8 billion would not be redeemed. (source nytimes.com) A survey by Marketing Workshop, Inc. found that only 30 percent of recipients use a gift card within a month of receiving it, while Consumer Reports estimates that 19 percent of the people who received a gift card never used it all. (source: nytimes.com).   Stores love it when people purchase gift cards because they know that most consumers will either spend more money in their store when the cards are redeemed or the cards won’t ever be used by the consumer.  Either way it’s a win except for those of us who actually receive these as our stocking stuffer.

First of all, nobody within your family coordinates gift cards.   After all of the packaging is unwrapped, what you end up with is six different store gift cards all with minimal values that don’t really get you an amount necessary  to buy something meaningful that you like.   Second, your loved ones don’t estimate the time and gas money it will take to go to all of those stores.  If you have to travel all around town, you could end up spending a tank of gas just to get to all of your shopping destinations.    Third, you’ll be faced with the mass attack of shoppers all trying to get to these stores to go shopping with their gift cards which means you are likely to wait to spend the gift card until the spring or summer.    Last, by that time occurs prices may be higher and if you wait too long your card could lose value or cost you extra fees.    Thanks a bunch Santa for my eight store cards!   How I relish spending an afternoon in Game Stop or in Target watching my kid pick out six more things they don’t need.

Here’s the advice for Your Smart Money Moves readers.    Get a game plan this week and figure out what your family wants and buy them some presents.    If you know that procrastination is going to set in and you are a last minute shopper, then cold (I mean warm) cash will do just fine.    It’s better than the Clark Griswold Jelly of the Month club and you know it won’t go to waste even if it means you treated your brother or sister to a fine meal instead of a Nike sweat suit.    Just don’t give me any gift cards this Christmas!

Written by:

Ted Jenkin, CFP®, AAMS®, AWMA®, CRPC®, CMFC®, CRPS®

Co-CEO and Founder of oXYGen Financial, Inc – The Leaders in Gen X & Y Financial Advice and Services

Ted Jenkin  is one of the foremost knowledgeable professionals in giving financial advice to the X and Y Generation.

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About the author  ⁄ Ted Jenkin @ Your Smart Money Moves

Ted Jenkin @ Your Smart Money Moves


My friends and family all think I’m a workaholic, but I say I’m just a guy that loves to help people do better in life.

My mother is still the only one that calls me by my real name Theodore Michael, my wife calls me Teddy, but for the rest of you it is just plain old Ted.

Ever since I was a little kid, I always loved money and being an entrepreneur. In fact, I still have cassette tapes of me talking to my grandmother at the age of five and my mother tells me all the time how much I played with money as a kid...

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Ted Jenkin is a frequent guest columnist for the Wall Street Journal and Headline News Weekend Express. He is the co-CEO of oXYGen Financial. You can follow him on LinkedIn @ www.linkedin.com/in/theceoadvisor or on Twitter @tedjenkin.

Securities offered through Kestra Investment Services, LLC (Kestra IS), member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advisory services offered through Kestra Advisory Services, LLC (Kestra AS), an affiliate of Kestra IS. oXYGen Financial is not affiliated with Kestra IS or Kestra AS. Kestra IS and Kestra AS do not provide tax or legal advice.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and may not necessarily reflect those held by Kestra Investment Services, LLC or Kestra Advisory Services, LLC. This is for general information only and is not intended to provide specific investment advice or recommendations for any individual. It is suggested that you consult your financial professional, attorney, or tax advisor regarding your individual situation. 

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  • Avatar
    December 5, 2012

    I think Wu-Tang sums this up nicely… “Cash rules everything around me”

    The thing with giving cash instead of cards is people feel like it was less personal and thoughtful. They either have it on them or pulled it out somewhere.

    Giftcards seem to be more sentimental – even though they really art. Perhaps its the name associated with it.

    What if we started calling if Giftcash… maybe that would make it more personal.

    I personally dont mind giftcards as long as they are somewhere I would go, or you can trade them with your friends/family or sell them to people.

    They become like trading cards.

  • Avatar
    December 5, 2012

    I saw that $8B number earlier this week. Isn’t that ugly? Remember that Superman movie where Richard Pryor was skimming all the 1/2 cents off transactions? Imagine if we could skim a little off of that $8B….

  • Avatar
    December 6, 2012

    I think that you hit the nail on the head. The best tip is to buy Christmas and holiday gifts all throughout the year and not just during the holidays. I love paying attention to what my wife says that she likes throughout the year, buying them on the sly, and then saving them for Christmas.

  • Avatar
    December 7, 2012

    LOL, you sound like the opposite of my grandparents. My wife and I have tried for years to get them thoughtful gifts. But they have money and everything they want. Last Christmas they told us at Thanksgiving that they don’t want any gifts from anyone. Instead, they’d rather have restaurant giftcards and then let them take us out to dinner (to basically spend more time with them). I thought that was a great idea and we’ve done it ever since!

  • Avatar
    December 7, 2012

    This is how my wife and I see it. Cash says I didn’t care about your gift, whereas the gift card is one step above not caring.

    I still have some gift cards from last Christmas that I haven’t spent all of yet.

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