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Why I Hate Gift Cards

This might sound odd, but it’s the truth. I hate everything about gift cards – from what they mean to what they do. I generally hate receiving them, but try to be the grateful gift receiver and just appreciate any gift. But, as the holiday season approaches and Christmas purchases commence, I can’t hold this in. Maybe it’s due to the fact that gift cards are becoming more rampantly used in lieu of actual gifts or maybe it’s just because I hate them more each holiday. Either way, I think they need to disappear. I feel, given the strength of my sentiment, that that would be a tremendous gift to me. You might think I’m crazy thus far, but read on and I think you’ll agree.

First and foremost, what’s the reason for a gift card? It’s an easy way to give a gift. Whether, you’re not sure what to buy them or you don’t have time to get a gift, a gift card is usually the next choice. This is understandable if you do it rarely and only when you really have no idea what to buy someone, like a distant relative you’ve only met once. Gift cards can understandably be used in these rare situations, but that’s it. Other than that, they should not be used as gifts for family friends, co-workers, neighbors and more. Gifts are something given to a person you care about and they are something specifically meant for them. Rather than just snagging something off the shelf (especially the one holding the gift cards by the register), thought should be put into each gift. After all, gifts aren’t given often, and that’s partly what makes them special. The other part is the thought put into the gift.

When you receive a gift from your friend, you appreciate it. But, when you find out that friend just bought that same gift in bulk and handed it out to everyone, then it’s no longer special. It was just some obligatory exchange that your friend thought they must do. With that, the complete significance of the gift is gone, because no thought was put into it specifically for you. All that is left is the monetary value of the gift. This is why most people buy gift cards. They just don’t care and gift cards are the easiest way of just getting it over with. It’s an obligatory exchange devoid of any meaning and care, and that’s a sad way to see if a gift. If that’s how one really sees it, then the gift is pointless from the beginning.

This is how I feel when I watch people give and receive gift cards. The giver didn’t really care and is just banking on the belief that the receiver will just be happy to get money. And, the receiver, if they are happy to get it, is only happy because someone just gave them money. They’d have the same response finding a $20 bill on the street or winning a contest. There’s no meaning put into it or care given for your relationship (except possibly for the amount given). My brother asks for gift cards throughout the year when Christmas or his birthday approach, and out of protest I refuse to buy a gift card. It’s a horrible way to twist a gift. Rather than just telling us what he wants, he’d rather to use a gift card to pick things out. So, in essence, he’d just like to use our money to himself stuff rather than having us put sentiment, time and money into something we’d like to give. It’s a contorted way to do it, and he knows that I won’t for that reason.

But, if you still feel the inclination to just give a gift card rather than buying an actual gift, consider the actual function of a gift card. It’s a way to give cash through a store, meaning, you’re giving cash with the stipulation that they can only spend it at that store. So, a gift card is a way of showing that you think it might be tacky to give straight cash, so you prefer to choose one place that they can spend your money. This is the other aspect I hate about gift cards. Gift cards are a stipulation on cash, as if to say, you can have money, but it only works here. You just have to hope that the store has what you want at a decent price or wait for a sale. You must also hope that the store does not put any conditions on the card as well. I’ve seen so many gift cards expire never to be used, or have the stipulation that it must be used in one visit. It’s such a hassle for the gift receiver, and really just a way for the store ensures that it easily makes money. If you are bent on giving money rather than a gift, why not go the grandparent route and just send cash or a check in a card? That’s much more thoughtful than giving a person money that can only be spent at one place, because at the very least, they are able to spend it as they wish, rather than figuring out what’s the best deal they can get with it at Target or American Eagle. Overall, it’s just a bad transfer of money where the only true winner is the chosen store that gets the cash regardless.

I just can’t find a way to make gift cards make sense. From their intended purpose to how they function, they fall short of real gifts and plain cash. They’re a weird stipulated transfer of cash that’s somehow been disguised as a gift. And, worst of all, people are deeming them more and worthy by the holiday to give as gifts. What happened to actually giving a gift that counted for something other its monetary value? For this Christmas, please skip the rack of gift cards when standing at the register no matter how tempting they may be. Overall, it’s just a careless, tacky, conditional trap that takes you further from the true essence of what gift-giving is. If you’re playing White Elephant or aren’t sure what to buy that nephew you never met, try the grandparent route and just put some cash in a card. They’ll appreciated it far more when they can use it freely. And, when buying gifts for your loved ones, put some thought and time into it. Christmas only comes once a year. Take it from someone that doesn’t usually get what they want, but knows how much her family puts into her gifts, it’s the time and care put into the gift that matters, not the dollar amount. I would hate getting gift cards rather than getting things I didn’t realize people thought I wanted. Christmas would just become a money exchange that way, and why not just allow everyone to keep their money to begin with then, rather than choosing which store I can spend yours at? Get in the Christmas spirit and find something special for the people you love. After all, no one looks back on past Christmases and says “remember that time you bought me that gift card to Pottery Barn?” No, they remember GIFTS, good or bad, and the fun that came with them.


  • ClayOgre - June 18, 2013 - 1:37 pm

    I understand where you are coming from. Personally,I hate receiving gifts,period. I don’t know how many times someone has bought me a give they think I will like, and its something I never, ever, in a million years would have bought for myself. Now I am stuck with this thing I can’t get rid of for fear of offending them,but I really have no use for. Grrrr. So, for me,if they have to give me a gift, I’d rather have a gift card.ReplyCancel

  • Claire - January 28, 2014 - 3:38 pm

    What makes a gift card different from cash then other than the fact that you can only spend the money at that given store? It’s simply money with restrictions.ReplyCancel

  • Blippety - April 19, 2014 - 3:41 am

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who finds these things utterly pointless. Why would you give me money that a) I can only spend in one shop and b) can expire!? Just give me normal money!ReplyCancel

  • Suzanne - December 16, 2014 - 11:20 am

    I have to agree with CLAYOGRE. Over the years I have been given all sorts of things as Christmas gifts that I would never want, and then I’m stuck with either the hassle of returning the gift (if the store will even let you without a gift receipt), or it sits in my basement collecting dust until my next garage sale.

    I LOVE gift cards! It’s free money for me to go on a shopping spree and buy what I want. How is there anything bad about that?

    I understand the argument that gift cards are “impersonal”, but I have very weird, eclectic tastes and I would never expect all of my extended family and friends to really know what to buy me as a gift. If anything, I think that’s kind of self-centered to expect everyone in your gift-giving circle to know exactly what sorts of things to buy you, honestly.ReplyCancel

  • lynn Q - December 19, 2014 - 8:06 am

    I despise gift cards more and more each year. The nieces and nephews all want them. Sorry kiddos, if you don’t know what you want or need, I am not going to feed your spoiled consumerism by letting you wander around until you find what you do want.
    The kids now sit around opening envelopes and announcing how much so and so gave them-I am disgusted.
    We do an adult gift exchange, and things have become the same–everyone wants a gift card. I am completely discouraged. I say , go buy yourself a present, wrap it and bring it to the party-at least then we will have the pleasure of watching you open something that is not a plastic card!
    Another thing that infuriates me, is with a gift card, the person knows exactly what you spent on them-Gift Cards are tacky, foster greed and are the un-coolest of things!ReplyCancel

  • KET - December 20, 2014 - 8:18 am

    I have friends who give me gift cards every year. Sometimes, the cards don’t work and I have to throw them away, because its too embarrassing to contact them and tell them “hey, this card you gave me has no funds on it”. So, essentially I have a worthless piece of plastic that must be discarded.

    But then, I found out these people are earning “points” on their American Express card by purchasing these gift cards! Which makes it seem even worse, and I wonder if they would give me anything if there weren’t something to be gained from it for themselves. I am now going to refuse these cards in the future.ReplyCancel

  • RoamingTigress - December 25, 2014 - 8:28 pm

    I too hate giving/receiving gift cards/certificates and find them impersonal :/ I am OK with them if the person is in Clayogre’s/Suzanne’s position, though, when the person getting them actually wants them.ReplyCancel

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