I Never Give Gift Cards. Want to Know Why?

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Presents or gift cards? I always choose the presents. Want to know why?

I know most people prefer to give gift cards for holidays and birthdays.  It certainly is faster and easier than choosing a gift for someone and in some cases, I do think they make sense.  But just as a common practice I almost never give gift cards or money.  

There’s a big difference between a cash-based gift and a regular gift.  I thought about this recently when I was in my kitchen using one of my cutting boards.  I realized that the knife and cutting board set I was using had been a gift.  A lady I worked for had given it to me – more than 30 years ago.

I have a few gifts like that – just a handful.  But for some reason, they are very memorable and meaningful to me.  I remember that manager’s name, I remember unwrapping that gift.  I even remember I was NOT very excited about it – I was about 22 at the time and not the least bit interested in cooking.  But I’ve kept it all these years, from apartment to apartment and house to house, and now I’ve used it hundreds of times.

I’m sure there are other managers who’ve given me gift cards or cash bonuses of some kind.  The thing is, I can’t remember any of them, or what I bought with them.  My mother-in-law was the same way – she didn’t like to shop, so she always gave us cash or gift cards.  I have no idea what I bought with them, but now that she’s gone, the only gifts I remember is the small handful of carousel horses she gave me.  I still have them out on display, decades later because they remind me of her.

Yes, gift cards are convenient and you can get what you really want with them, but it just has a different feel.  They turn into just money and it doesn’t feel any different than the other money you have.  Whatever you buy with it, doesn’t feel like a gift, it just feels like every other “thing” you’ve bought.  While a personal gift says “I see you”.  When you take the time to pick out a special gift for someone, even if it’s not a perfect gift, it says that you took your time and energy to select something unique to them.  And maybe they’ll end up keeping it for 30 years….

How Many Gift Cards go Unredeemed?  About 20%  Is that a Good Deal?

There’s another more pragmatic reason why I don’t buy gift cards.  Stores love to sell gift cards because only about 80% of the gift cards are ever used.  The other 20% is all easy profit to the store.  Have you ever lost a gift card?  Thrown it out with the wrapping? Stuck it in a drawer and forgotten about it?  Sometimes you use part of the balance and figure the rest isn’t worth bothering with.  Sometimes, gift cards expire.  I’d rather buy gifts for my loved ones than buy gift cards for the store’s benefit.


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  1. I prefer shopping for ‘real’ gifts for people, too. But, I have to admit, I often prefer to receive gift cards. Especially when I was a young mother, and we were on a strict budget… getting a gift card that I could spend on just me was a real treat.

    1. That’s one of the ways where gift cards are sometimes a good choice. I usually pick them for teenagers too because they are almost impossible for buy for, but everyone else gets “real” gifts.

  2. I totally agree that real gifts are best for those close to you. However, I always give gift cards to teachers and other people I don’t know as well. I know my families meant well and of course I always appreciated the sentiment but I received so many monogrammed bags and lunch boxes, fancy cups/mugs, scented lotions and candles that I had to give much of it away. Of course, my friends and family loved being the beneficiaries of these things but I always felt bad about it.

    However, I totally get your point and there are a few gifts that I was given that I still use to this day 🙂

    1. That’s true. I always tried to avoid getting those trite types of gifts for teachers. I usually would buy books or posters for the classroom – they seemed to enjoy them.

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