How to Use Up Those Gift Cards You’ve Been Stashing

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How to Use Up Those Gift Cards You've Been Stashing

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The other day a friend and I were chatting; she mentioned that they had a ton of gift cards that they’ve yet to use, some five or ten years old. I gave her the pep talk that she needed to use them on their upcoming trip cross-country. Vacation is a great time to save money wherever you can.

I decided to follow some of my own advice. Tonight I dug through my little wallet of gift cards. It contains a two-inch stack of plastic cards, some that I’ve had since we lived in Kansas! That was six years ago.

Most are for places that we go rather infrequently. That means never.

I got online or picked up the phone, depending on the card, and gathered all the balances, scribbling them down on each card with a sharpie. I thought that some of the cards must be empty or have very low balances. But no. I totaled up over $300! Some of those presumably “empty” cards had $20 or $30 on them. Ahem. Excuse me, where was I when that gift was given?!

I had no idea! Clearly. And several were places we do go often or would like to, like Peets Coffee, Walmart, and Target. I found over $100 in Sears gift cards! Say what?! I don’t know about you but visions of a new Lands End swimsuit just entered my head. Or a replacement appliance.

I’m gonna guess that you, too, might have some gift cards hiding in a cupboard, wallet, or drawer. Dig them out and make it a goal to use them over the next three months. Don’t just spend it to spend it, but consider how you can make the most of this “gift” and help offset your other costs.

How to Use Up Those Gift Cards You've Been Stashing

How to Use Up Those Gift Cards

  • Take a friend out for a surprise treat.
  • Find out what other properties the brand owns. You might be able to use a Gap card at Old Navy, for instance, or a Chili’s card at Macaroni Grill.
  • Date your spouse or your kids. Just go.
  • Don’t feel like you have to spend more money just to use the card. Our $18 at Fridays will buy us drinks and an appetizer and we can go home (or elsewhere) to have dinner.
  • Prepaid Visa and Discover cards are a pain to use if you don’t use up the entire balance in one transaction. Write the current balance on the card and use it first next time you go to the grocery store. Be sure you tell the checker that you have a gift card with a weird balance. She’ll know what to do.
  • Shop the clearance sales for things that you could stash in your gift cupboard.
  • Start looking online to see everything that the store sells and what you could save up for. I’ve got $23 left at Williams-Sonoma — from a gift certificate my brother-in-law gave us 20 years ago! $23 doesn’t go very far there anymore, but if I start looking at their inventory now, over the next couple months I might find something that I would truly love or some good sale to splurge on.
  • Look over the next three to six months on the calendar: Who do you need to give a gift to? Consider regifting the card or buying something there that would suit the celebrant.

These are some of the ways we plan to spend our newfound “money”.

What are ways that YOU’ve used to use up gift cards?

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This is Frugal Friday. In an effort to make these weekly financial discussions more interactive, I’m no longer posting a link-up. Feel free to leave a link in the comments. But better yet, chat with us on today’s topic.

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  1. This is quite different than the topic but it reminded me of a Starbucks gift card that I kept for a few years. When I was a teenager and learning about budgeting and money management I realized I was spending a little too much money at Starbucks. I used a reloadable gift card to budget my weekly Starbucks allowance.

  2. Watch clearance shopping with gift cards. I had a Sears card that I couldn’t use on clearance but it wasn’t enough to buy something full price. I finally gave it to an organization buying socks and underwear for kids going back to school

  3. We try to save our gift cards for restaurants to use for date nights and special family treats. Saving gift cards for use over the summer would be another blessing, too, whether traveling or having a stay-cation! My children and I just created a Summer Bucket List this morning and I put a free printable on my blog for anyone to use. Summer plans…yah!


  4. You are right-the prepaid Visa/Discover cards can be a pain to use if you don’t use the entire balance at once. I take those to one of the stores I go to frequently and buy a store gift card with the entire balance. Some of the prepaid Visa cards I’ve received have expiration dates and buying a store gift card with it takes away the worry of having to use a card before it expires. I also take gift cards on vacation to use!

    1. I have done this as well. I was just sent a prepaid card for doing a blog post and turned around and bought an gift card for that amount.

  5. Great ideas! I recently found a few gift cards that we had no plan or future ideas to use so I traded them in! I didn’t get face value but around 80% of the value of a gift card that I’ll never use traded for an amazon credit is much more useful and helpful to our budget!

    1. I have done this as well. There are several reputable online sites where you can sell unwanted cards for places that you will never use. On the flip side, some people also go to these sites if they know they have to make a big purchase from a certain store and you can get a discount right off by purchasing say $400 worth for $375.

    2. Yes! This is also a great way to save money on regular purchases. One site has regular sales on Starbucks for 20% off!