Don't Save Your Gift Cards For Special Occasions

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If you received a gift card for the holidays and you haven’t used it yet, why not? Maybe it’s a logistical issue—like, you got a card for a store or restaurant that you haven’t yet had time to visit in person—but maybe you’re consciously (or unconsciously) holding on to that gift card because you want to save it for an event as special as the one in which it was given.

As Soo Youn explains in The Lily, many of us fall into the trap of “occasion matching” our gift cards. If we received a gift card for our birthday, for example, we won’t want to spend it on just anything; we’ll want to save it for something that feels like a true birthday treat.

Soo Youn quotes UCLA professor Suzanne Shu:

“People delay using gift cards because they want to use them at the ‘right’ time,” Shu said. “For example, if someone received a gift card from Starbucks, they might think that they’ll save it for a special splurge rather than using it on their everyday coffee.”

The trouble is that no individual coffee feels special enough—and when that special occasion does turn up, we’ve either forgotten we had a gift card to use or forgotten where it is.

If you do want to use your gift card to treat yourself, buy that treat as quickly as possible. (Even with restaurants; just make the reservation and go.) Otherwise, go ahead and spend your gift card the very next time you end up at Starbucks, Target, a retailer that accepts Visa, you get the idea.

Gift cards are the one type of currency that should burn a hole in your pocket, because if you forget about them, lose them, or don’t get a chance to use them before they expire, you might as well have thrown an otherwise thoughtful gift directly into the garbage.

(Not to mention that, as I wrote last year, hanging on to gift cards is like giving the company that issued those cards an interest-free loan.)

And if you don’t use up all the cash on a prepaid gift card, see if you can use the last few bucks to buy an Amazon gift card—which will automatically apply to your next purchase, no matter what the occasion.


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