Get the Most out of Gift Cards

A great way to save money is to use up that old stack of gift cards you have shoved in the back of the junk drawer. We all have at least one or two that come to mind. Some with the standard $20 or $25 balance, maybe a couple lucky ones with $50 or $100, and then those annoying ones with only $0.47 or $2.91 left. I know I have a Best Buy gift card with $.97 on it. The product of a good shopping trip performed months ago, by not wanting to come out of pocket when buying myself a (most likely) useless birthday gift. Gift cards are a practical way to get through that tight budget. Whether it be cashing them out or buying something small to keep their balance, it will save you a buck or two.

First, you are encouraged to compile all your gift cards in one location and put them in the car you drive most. For example, each of my gift cards are in an old wallet in my glove box. That way when I am out and need to stop for a meal or gift or unexpected purchase, I can consult my gift card wallet and pick something that will cost me little to nothing! In the past, this method has helped me not only stay organized, but paid my way when I was out of the house, broke, and hungry.

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Next, do a quick google search on local gift card laws. For example, some states allow the charge of inactivity fees if one hasn’t used their gift card over the past year. This is a big loss to you, the consumer, since someone worked hard to save up the money to buy a gift card for you. Letting the value decrease due to inactivity is a big waste. I once received a gift card for a hotel in Las Vegas. I didn’t make it out to Vegas over the first 12 months and a $8 fee was charged to my gift card, reducing the balance. This was pretty upsetting to me, considering I was down before I had even used it. If you live in a state that allows inactivity fees, make sure you do your research to ensure you’re doing what you can to preserve that balance.

Finally, a great way to unlock some extra money is to cash out your unused gift cards. While you’re investigating expiration dates and inactivity fees in your state, you may as well research cash redemption laws. California Civil Code §1749.5(b) provides for any gift certificate with a balance less than $10 to be redeemable in cash. This is great news for those low balance cards. All you have to do is visit the retailer with your gift card and tell them you want cash instead. Voila! Instant cash!

In short, the best way to get through a month of budget-friendly Top Ramen is to throw a gift card in the mix. Whether it be for a meal while you’re out, a friend’s birthday present, or just some extra cash, gift cards will keep you on track and then some. And make sure to do your research so you’re not losing someone else’s hard earned money!

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