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Don't toss them in a drawer: from restaurants to retail, the best ways to maximize your stash of gift cards

Most popular gift card categories
Posted at 3:12 PM, Jan 04, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-04 17:12:58-05

From your outfit and dinner to your rideshare home, gift cards can pay for an entire evening out… if you don't forget about them. First introduced in 1999, gift cards are a holiday staple, with both digital and physical sales booming.

The National Retail Federation estimates each shopper purchased 3-to-4 gift cards this holiday gift season, spending more than $166 dollars each. Add to that, Bankrate found that Americans are holding about $23 billion in unused gift cards and other store credits.

"It's money at the end of the day. So, whether you're spending it now or spending it later, you're gonna be spending it."
Anna Kocharian

So how do you keep track? Anna Kocharian is the shopping editor for Consumer Reports. She shared some tips to help you get the most bang for your buck. "Create a running list of all the gift cards that you receive," Kocharian said. "The most important thing when you receive a gift card is to treat it like cash."

Next, stay on top of your balances. Once the money on the card gets low, you can re-load or re-group. "For certain cards like Visa, Amex or Amazon, it's always easier to reload those," Kocharian said. If it's brand specific, she suggests you remember your balance and take advantage of it instead of letting the money go to waste.

According to the NRF, the most popular gift cards right now are for restaurants, bank-issued cash cards, department stores, and coffee shops. If you have multiple cards to the same business, you can combine the funds so you're not juggling a bunch of duplicate cards.

While most people are happy to receive gift cards, you may have been given a card to a business you never visit.

If you don't plan to use the card, Kocharian suggests giving it to someone else or paying it forward. "You can always donate the gift card," she said, although she doesn't recommend attempting to recoup the value on the re-sale market. "You want to steer away from that," Kocharian said. "Make sure your donation is going to a trusted source."

If you follow these tips, it won't be hard to make the most of your gift cards.