Organizing Tip: Use Those Old Gift Cards to Buy This Year's Gifts


Let’s talk holiday organizing. This one little holiday organizing tip is going to save your bacon. Where are your gift cards?

Three times last week we turned up ToysRUs gift cards. You remember that ToyRUs went out of business, right? I’ve seen Borders bookstore gift cards. Forever21. Payless Shoe Stores. There’s a long list of retailers that just don’t exist anymore, but we are still finding gift cards in our clients’ homes.

Why do clients keep and rarely use gift cards? Research shows that spending cash affects a different part of our brain than spending money using a credit or debit card. Even people who feel physical pain when they spend cash will still spend between 20 percent – 100 percent more if using plastic. Somehow credit cards don’t feel as much like money as the green stuff. To take that a step further, I believe some people think gift cards feel even less like money than credit cards.

Gift cards (which do carry a cash value) often have the same size and shape as store club cards (a.k.a. frequent flier cards), which don’t have a cash value, and they get mixed in together at home. They also kind of look like little pieces paper, which is where we find them mixed in, most often.

That must be why my team and I see gift cards stuffed in home office drawers and kitchen cubbies, at the bottom of tote bags and even filed away in filing cabinets. Gift cards don’t get used, trapping your money like a caveman trapped in ice. A small pile from a recent organizing job holds approximately $200 worth of value.

To make matters worse, many of those gift cards are for stores that have either gone out of business or are on the Chapter 11 Gift Card Watch List (click here). And I’m watching as other chains are scaling back operations, making it harder for you to use those gift cards, like A.C. Moore who announced that they will be shutting down all retail locations.

What to do if you have gift cards for stores you don’t shop at often? Is there a way to use your gift card for store ABC at another Store XYZ? Sometimes. Check your retailer’s website, since many stores are owned by a single parent company. For instance, the parent company for Bed Bath and Beyond (not currently going out of business as far as I know) also owns these brands: Christmas Tree Shops and AndThat!, Harmon and Harmon Face Values, buybuy BABY, Cost Plus and Cost Plus World Market. You can buy a LOT of great gifts in that group of stores! Even a gift card to a non-gifty store like Staples office supplies can help you buy cool tech gifts like fancy headphones, tubs of snacks that you can take to your next holiday party or cleaning supplies that you would otherwise buy at the grocery store.

To add insult to injury, gift/debit cards issued as Mastercard or Visa gift cards sometimes incur monthly service fees. We often receive these as a result of rebates and class-action settlements. If you misplace or ignore the card for just a few months, your entire balance could be eaten up in service fees. POOF! Gone.

One way to protect that money is to convert gift cards to Amazon credit. Transfer credit-branded gift cards (Visa/MC/AMEX/Discover) immediately upon receipt to your Amazon account using Amazon Reload. Simply click here, enter the exact remaining amount of your credit-branded gift card, and then add that card info to your Amazon payment option. The balance will immediately move from the credit-branded gift card over to your Amazon account, and this will stop those annoying and harmful service fees.

There’s one more thing going in our heads when it comes to gift cards. I suspect that people hold onto unredeemed gift cards because they received them as a gift, so it somehow seems wrong to use them to buy a gift for someone else. But the original giver wanted you to enjoy it. They meant for you to treat yourself. I say either finally buy something you want at sale prices now. Or treat yourself to a little financial relief and use up your gift cards instead of racking up new debt on gifts for others this season.

Where does that leave us with those ToysRUs gift cards that I keep finding in client homes? Even though ToysRUs has recently re-opened retail locations, their website states that ToyRUs will not honor old gift cards online or in stores.

So do a bit of decluttering in advance of gifting season this year. Go find all of your gift cards today. Fire up your browser and buy gifts for yourself or others, while you still can.

Last but not least, at least for the few weeks leading up to the holidays, put your gift cards in your purse so you’ll have them when you are out in the stores. You’ll be more likely to use them if they are in your wallet…which is where you typically keep your money.

Darla DeMorrow is owner of HeartWork Organizing LLC in Wayne, PA and a contributor to MetroKids’ MomSpeak. This post originally appeared here.


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