Over Christmas, I received at least 10 gift cards from friends and family. Home Depot, World Market, Whole Foods, Starbucks… I’m a lucky girl.
I know some people hate the idea of gift cards because they’re “impersonal” or “easy”, but I love having a wallet fat with plastic*. It helps lessen the post-holiday blues when you still have your cake.
Gift cards are also a great way to save money, if you go about it in the right way. Here’s how I use them to my advantage.
BUY GIFT CARDS AT A DISCOUNT.
Think about where you shop regularly. Do you like to go see movies on the weekend? Do you do all of your food shopping at a single grocery store? If you know your shopping habits well and have cash to spare, you can save some serious money by buying discounted gift cards to your favorite retailers.
Where to buy discounted gift cards? Here are two of my go-to places:
1. Plastic Jungle: Plastic Jungle is an online marketplace where you can buy, sell or exchange gift cards. It’s a truly genius idea; I wish I’d thought of it myself. The concept is pretty simple:
A seller comes to Plastic Jungle looking to get cash for a gift card that they can’t or don’t want to use. Most often, they received this gift card as a birthday present or holiday gift from a well-meaning relative. It’s a nice gesture, but the seller doesn’t shop at this store often because there’s no location close to home or the merchandise doesn’t suit their taste. Whatever the reason, they’d just rather have cash, and Plastic Jungle makes them an offer. The seller accepts the offer, happy to have $45 in cash instead of an unusable $50 gift card.
Plastic Jungle then sells the gift card at less than face value to eager buyers online. Depending on the popularity of the retailer, a buyer can save up to 35% on the purchase. Best Buy gift cards, for example, are a pretty hot commodity, so they’re selling at just 6% less than face value. The Limited, on the other hand, appeals to a much smaller demographic, so their gift cards are available at 28% less than face value.
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, right?
2. Membership Reward Sites for Major Credit Cards: Does your credit card offer cash back or membership rewards? I have an American Express card- the Blue Cash Everyday- that returns a certain percentage of every purchase to me via reward dollars. As the dollars accumulate, I can either redeem them as “cash” against my credit card statement or spend them on gift cards and merchandise online. 90% of the time I just take the cash, but if I spy a good deal for a gift card I know I’m bound to use, I jump on it.
STOCK UP WHEN THERE’S A GOOD PROMOTION.
During the holidays or peak shopping months, retailers often offer special promotions on gift card sales. For example, a retailer might offer you a $10 gift card to spend on yourself when you purchase a $50 gift card for a friend. Here’s the secret: they don’t care if the $50 is for your friend or not. If you shop at this store often, buy the $50 card for yourself. Maybe even buy two. Paying $100 for $120 is a good deal, if you know you’ll use it later.
In December, Stephen and I stopped by the Alamo Drafthouse movie theater to buy a gift card for my aunt. Before we paid, the cashier filled us in on their holiday promotion: for every $50 purchased in gift cards, receive a free $10 voucher for food or drink (Alamo Drafthouse theaters offer full service, in-theater dining during shows). We probably see a movie there once or twice a month, always ordering dinner or lunch, so we took advantage of the promotion and stocked up.
USE GIFT CARDS AS A BUDGET TOOL.
I, like many people, adore Starbucks. Well, let me clarify. I adore coffee and espresso drinks. Starbucks just happens to a) make a pretty good latte and b) position themselves on every street corner, so they tend to be my go-to stop when caffeine cravings strike.
As much as I love Starbucks, I don’t love the expense. To reign in my spending, I follow two rules, one of which involves a gift card.
Rule 1: I make coffee at home Monday through Friday. Obviously, I allow myself a little flexibility if I’m on vacation or traveling during the work week, but for the most part, I hold strong. It saves me money, and it gives me something to look forward to at the end of a long week. I like that it’s a special treat. If I gave into the craving every day, it would lose some of the enjoyment factor.
Rule 2: I only pay for Starbucks with my Starbucks card. Every month, I add $15 to my Starbucks reward card. If you don’t have one, a Starbucks rewards card is just a Starbucks gift card that’s been registered under your name online.
$15 might not sound like much- depending on your order, that amount covers around 4 to 7 drinks- but since I’m only drinking on the weekends, it works for me. Budget more or less per month, depending on your preference. Just be strict with it. If you blow through your allowance before the 20th, lesson learned. No more Starbucks for you until the 1st.
I hope you find these tips helpful! Just be smart and only buy gift cards to retailers where you know you’ll shop frequently. Otherwise, it’s a total waste of cash!
*Not crazy about a fat wallet? A friend just told me about the gyft app for Android and iPhone. Use it to store gift cards on your smart phone.