Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Curse of the Gift Card

The phenomenom of the gift card has revolutionized gift giving occasions. My cousin Jaena and I had a conversation awhile ago about the gift card, and she said she loves receiving them as gifts - she says it is like getting a gift twice (once when you receive it and then again when you use it.) I, too enjoy receiving a gift card, and I have given my fair share of gift cards as gifts, but I have mixed feelings about both giving and receiving them. I have had two gift card mishaps in the last couple of weeks, and these experiences prompted me to post on this topic.

The Pros of Giving a Gift Card
Gift cards bail out those of us who have to get a gift for that person who has everything. My dad is one of those people. He has everything he needs; he buys most of what he wants; what he wants and doesn't buy for himself is too expensive for me to get him. Sometimes instead of a gift card, we will do tickets to something (which is kind of like a gift card/certificate.) Case in point - my dad was on vacation during Father's Day and his birthday. Great, I thought, I have an extra three weeks to figure out what to buy him. He has been back now almost a week from vacation, and I still have no gift for him. So I've decided last minute to buy 4 rounds of golf from Arbor Trace so we (dad, Doug, Jason, me) can go golfing during family camp this year (hope he doesn't read this blog before I get a chance to do this.) This "gift card" will be great because I will get to benefit, too! Another time a gift card is great is when you need an immediate gift. I find these times are plentiful during the Christmas season with work parties, sunday school parties, extended relative get-togethers, etc. I also like giving gift cards if I need to top off a gift - say the limit is 25.00, I have bought a 20.00 gift, so I can add a 5.00 Starbucks card to make it complete. Then it's almost looked at as a bonus. Finally, the gift card is a great way to tell someone "thank you." It's a gift that isn't expected, and when the person uses the card, they will again feel appreciated.

The Cons of Giving a Gift Card
Sometimes I feel guilty giving a gift card. I'm afraid the person I am giving it to will think that I didn't care enough about them to put a little thought into their gift. The impression could be "On the way to my birthday party, you realized you didn't have a gift, so you ran into Sirloin Stockade and picked up a card." Or, "You don't really know me well enough to get me something I would like, so you got me the generic restaurant certificate that anyone could use." I try to get a gift card that corresponds with the person's interests, but some people would rather receive an actual gift. I have given my fair share of gift cards, and hopefully none of the receivers of my gift cards have had negative feelings towards them. Another con is that the receiver knows exactly how much you have spent on them. Hopefully in the gift exchange, I have given them as much or more as they gave me!

The Pros of Receiving a Gift Card
I love receiving gift cards (or cash, for that matter.) I am not a person who has to have an actual gift to know you care (unless you are my husband on Mother's Day, Birthday, and Anniversary.) I frequent many restaurants that I normally would not due to the gift card. Jason and I just went to the Outback last week on a gift card. We have a gift card to the Cheesecake Factory that we need to use. I probably wouldn't go to the Cheesecake Factory without a gift card because of the expense, and if we did, I would not feel right about ordering a 7.00 piece of cheesecake. But with a gift card, I don't have to deal with guilty feelings. Gift cards to restaurants in town are also a blessing. There are some nights that I just don't feel like cooking, or with our schedules it is more convenient to eat out - we save our in town gift cards for these occasions. I have also received grocery store gift cards that are much appreciated. I do coupon shop out of town, but only rarely do I get coupons for meat, milk, and produce. I use my grocery store gift cards for these items. For anyone out there reading this who is getting me a gift this Christmas, I really need a car wash certificate - one that includes interior, too :).

The Cons of Receiving a Gift Card
As mentioned above, I have had two gift card mishaps in the last couple of weeks. The first is a common gift card mistake - not keeping the receipt on a previously used card, and therefore not knowing the balance that is left. We received a 25.00 gift card to Bob Evans for Christmas. Last week, Jason called and asked if the girls and I wanted to meet him for lunch. I asked him if we had any gift cards, and he told me about the Bob Evans card - so obviously, that is where we went. Because of the gift card, we even let the girls get their own kids meal, they split a clown sundae, AND Jason and I split dessert - the cost of the meal...24.00. Well, we were close, we'd have to pay tip, but hey, we got dessert. Then the bomb dropped when Jason went to pay the bill. Apparently, the Wuertley family had already eaten at Bob Evans since receiving the gift card, and the balance was a whopping 3.45. Bad, bad gift card mistake.

The second common gift card mistake - not staying within the gift card budget. I received a 5.00 Starbucks gift card as a thank you (thanks, Jil!) and was quite excited, because I never go to Starbucks because of the cost. Jason was with me when I decided to use the card, and I felt it would be rude for me to get a drink and not him, and I really didn't want to share, so we each ordered a drink. Final cost...almost 7.00. The smart gift card play would have been for me to go to Starbucks alone, get a drink and a muffin, and make sure I break even. Another smart move would have been to not get the drinks with the girls in the car, because we ended up having to share with them. Going over the gift card budget is okay if you are using the card on an item/meal you would have purchased anyway, but if it is an "extra," the smart play is to stay within the budget.

The final con of receiving a gift card is when the worker has not properly activated the card, and then when I go to use the card, the balance shows 0. This happened to an East of Chicago card I received, but the situation actually turned into a positive, because in the end I received my full gift card amount + breadsticks.

It's good to post again - these camping trips are hindering my blogging! It was nice to see a couple of new posts, though (Holly, very cute dog - that's the kind I want if we ever get one, and Jenn, just checked your blog and saw you've returned!) and catch up on the comments. We have a big game tomorrow night - I'm sure there will be something to post about after it.


Blogger Jim and Jaena said...

Yea! A new post! So many thoughts on gift cards...lots to think about, Deb. I, like you, worry that people may think I have not put as much thought into a gift card purchase. But, in fact, it is usually the opposite: I have thought so much and not been able to come up with an amazing idea besides a gift card, then I have wrestled with what kind of gift card to get, what amount, etc...

Your gift card mishap at Bob Evans was hilarious (ok, maybe not so funny for you, but really funny to read about.)

BTW, did you know that you can actually register your Starbuck's gift card so that if it gets lost (or stolen), you can call and they will cancel the old card and send you a new one with your balance on it. I was impressed when I heard about that service!

July 10, 2006 9:04 AM  
Blogger Jim and Jaena said...

Oh, I forgot to say that (in my opinion) you needn't have felt obligated to share the Starbuck's gift card with Jason. After all, you were the one who "earned" the card by getting up, getting ready, and driving in from camping to sneak in the back door of the church and fulfill your nursery obligations. :)

July 10, 2006 9:32 AM  
Blogger Hummel Family said...

yep, I remember the East of Chicago incident! I felt terrible! I learned a lesson that time...glad they gave you a new card and breadsticks!

July 11, 2006 11:38 PM  
Blogger Deb said...

No problem JoEllen! I almost didn't use that example for fear you might feel bad about it. It worked out great - I got bonus breadsticks out of it!!!

July 12, 2006 12:17 AM  
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July 19, 2006 8:44 PM  

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