Gift Cards

Remember that fancy gadget you gave Uncle Louie the Luddite or those lard cookies you gave gluten-intolerant Aunt Agatha. They backfired, big time. The truth is that Christmas can be a season for a lot of gifting backfires.

So how do you avoid the risks? One way: Stick to gifts that are consistently safe. I’m not talking about your famous, family recipe fruitcake. I’m talking about gift cards, the perfect present for hard-to-buy-for people. Gift cards are like cash. They entitle recipients to buy what they really want. And gift cards seldom get returned or regifted like gadgets, cookies or fruitcake.

In addition to making great gifts, these cards can also ring in a season of financial common sense.

For instance, if you’ve accumulated a pile of credit card points and rewards you can often redeem them as gift cards. Discover, Chase and Citi among others offer this as an option, although each card is different and should be explored for special benefits. Additionally, there a way to save money on gift card purchases at supermarkets (see #19).

If you don’t have a rewards credit card but still want to get a little extra out of your holiday purchases you can pick up your cards at places like Kroger or eBay. At Kroger, purchases accumulate fuel points that give you savings at the pump. At eBay, you can select from an array of top retailers cards at discounted rates.

So to avoid Yuletide disasters, consider these top 10 picks:

1. A personalized Visa gift card

Visa gift cardThe major complaint with gift cards is that they seem so impersonal. has solved this problem by allowing you to create your own unique gift card – you can even upload a photo of yourself or your family and include a message printed on the front. This card offers the most options to your recipient because it will work anywhere Visa is accepted, and the personalized photo will ensure it’s a gift they will remember forever.

2. gift card

amazongiftcardAmazon offers an unbeatable selection of items plus free shipping on orders over $35. A gift card here is like a pass to millions of options; from food staples to smartwatches you can find it all at Amazon. For last minute shoppers they offer instant gift cards that come as an email, or you can order early and get a physical gift card to wrap and put under the tree.

3. Apple Store gift card

ME061If your loved one doesn’t already have the iPhone 6s, you can bet they want it and this way they will be able to pick out their own. Apple gift cards can be redeemed in-store and online for all things Apple-related so this gift card will also work for the replacement charger they’ve been needing or even a beautiful new case to show off their style.

4. Etsy gift card

etsygiftcardEtsy is the go-to place for unique, hand crafted gifts you can’t find anywhere else. If you’re looking for a gift for a crafter, artist or anyone who appreciates having one-of-a-kind items this is the card to buy. They can use the gift card to buy everything from hand-spun yarn to a personal portrait of themselves or their pet. If your giftee can’t find what they want, they can always pick an artist and use the gift card to commission a new piece. The sky’s the limit at Etsy and your loved one will definitely find a piece they can treasure forever.

5. iTunes gift card

itunes gift cardGive the gift of music this Christmas and your loved one can enjoy their downloads all year long. This is a great gift for teens or anyone you regularly see with headphones on because they can pick out exactly what they want and you know they are going to love it. ITunes has over 26 million songs to choose from so whether they love Elvis or Eminem, your gift card is going to cover it.

6. Google Play gift card

googleplay-cardWhat if your giftee doesn’t have an iPhone? Then chances are they have an Android phone and a Google Play gift card is like an all-expenses-paid pass to fun. It will work on everything from apps, to books, to music and even games. This gift card will open up millions of options and allow your family and friends to pick something that perfectly suits their taste.

7. Home Depot gift card

the home deposit gift cardTools are a go-to gift for guys every year, but how many screwdrivers does your dad really need? If you give him a Home Depot gift card (or Lowe’s, if that’s his store) he can pick things out himself, plus you’re giving him the experience of walking through the aisles with money to burn; and lasting home-improvements he can enjoy all year round.

8. Victoria’s Secret gift card

50_victorias_secret_gift_cardIf you want to give her something she’ll love don’t be afraid to pop into Victoria’s Secret for a gift card and something sweet to wrap it in. In this situation, gift cards are almost always your best bet because you’re not trying to guess at her size or personal taste and you’re giving her a store full of options to choose from. Victoria’s Secret also offers some excellent after Christmas sales online so she can use the gift card right away and get some great deals.

9. Starbucks gift card

starbucksNo one likes paying $6 for a cup of coffee, even though we all love the coffee! In fact it’s one of the first bits of financial advice you’re likely to hear if you’re trying to cut back: Make your coffee at home and save a latte money. If you give Starbucks gift cards to the coffee lovers in your life they can go and enjoy their favorite treats without feeling guilty about the high price of their habit.

10. Facebook Game gift cards

Nearly everyone is on Facebook and most of us have played a game or two only to realize that there can be some expense if you want to upgrade your farm in Farmville or purchase more BingoBlitz credits. Facebook game gift cards will let your loved one buy all the virtual currency they want to across any of the thousands of Facebook games available. No matter what they play you’ll have them covered and you’ll give them a whole lot of holiday fun in the process.

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  • Brandon W.

    Ms. Kaelin doesn’t understand that all gift cards are not the same and that gift cards are not necessarily a good gift choice. A significant number of gift cards, more than $1 billion a year, go unused (lost or the retailer goes bankrupt) and many retailers have devious ways to penalize people who use them. At the top of that list is Home Depot (“HD”). If you’re like me, when you go shopping for a tool or a pipe flange (and you’re not a plumber), you’ll buy a couple of different ones, take them home, and the figure out which one works. If you pay with a gift card and return any unwanted items, HD will issue you a “store credit.” When you use those “store credits” to buy a couple of other wrenches, and try and return any or all of them, you may run into a stone wall and told the items are non-returnable. LIttle known to consumers is that HD, among other large retailers, has hired an Orwellian company named the The Retail Equation (“TRE”) running their entire return program. TRE, using secret logarithms approved by HD, can arbitrarily reject any return, even if the product is unused, you have the receipt, and a valid I.D. No one at the HD store, including the store manager, can override a TRE rejection. So buying an HD gift card can be one of your worst gift choices. Restaurant gift cards are a better choice (no return issues since the product is consumed). And sending “e” (electronic) versions instead of a physical cards means they won’t be lost. Finally, going retro with a crisp, new $50 or $100 bill, inside a funny gift card is guaranteed to put a smile on anyone’s face and gives the recipient total freedom to splurge on whatever they want.