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Why I Hate Gift Cards

I hate gift cards

I hate gift cards. It may sound odd to hate any form of free money, but it is the truth. I hate everything about gift cards – from the effort put in them to the restrictions on using them. I hate receiving them, but I still try to be the grateful recipient of any gift. However, as the holiday season approaches and Christmas shopping commences, I cannot hold these feeling in. Maybe it is due to the fact that gift cards are becoming used more prolifically in lieu of actual gifts or maybe it is simply because my abhorrence grows with each succeeding holiday. Either way, I think that they need to disappear. I feel, given the strength of my sentiment, that that would be a tremendous Christmas gift to me. You may be thinking that I am crazy thus far, but read on and I think you will agree.

What is the purpose of a gift card?

First and foremost, what is the purpose of a gift card? It is an easy way to give a gift. Whether you are unsure what to buy someone or simply do not have time to buy a gift, a gift card is the settled second choice. Gift cards can understandably be used in these rare situations, but that is the boundary. Giving a gift card is understandable if you do it rarely and only when you really have no idea what to buy for the person, such a distant relative whom you have only met twice. Other than that, gift cards should not be gifts as gifts for family, friends, co-workers, neighbors and more. Gifts are something given to a person you know and hopefully care about. Most significantly, gifts 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 a gift. After all, gifts are not given often, and that is partly what makes them special. Naturally, the other part is the thought put into the gift.

Gift cards are Meaningless

When you receive a gift from your friend, you appreciate it. However, when you find out that that friend bought that same gift in bulk and just handed it out to everyone they knew, then it is no longer special. That demonstrates  that your gift was just some obligatory exchange that your friend thought they must do. With that line of thinking, 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 do not care and gift cards are the easiest way of just getting through the albatross. It is 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 clearly did not want to or care about giving the gift and is just banking on the belief that the receiver will just be happy to receive money. And, the receiver, if they are happy to receive it, is only happy because someone just gave them money. The would have the same response finding a $20 bill on the street or winning a contest. There is no meaning put into it or evidence of care given for your relationship (except possibly for the amount given).

For example, my brother routinely asks for gift cards throughout the year when Christmas or his birthday approaches, and out of protest, I refuse to buy a gift card. It is a horrible way to twist a gift. Rather than just telling people with whom he is closest what he wants, he would rather to use a gift card to pick things out. In essence, he would just like to simply take our money rather than enjoying a gift in which we have put sentiment, time and money. It is s a contorted way to give gifts, and it is simply something to which I cannot kowtow.

What a gift card is problematic

If you still feel the inclination to give a gift card rather than buying an actual gift, consider the function of a gift card. It is a way to give cash through a store, meaning that you are giving cash to a person with the stipulation that they can only spend it at that store. Therefore, giving a gift card shows that you think it may be tacky to give straight cash, so you prefer to choose one place that they can spend your money.

This brings me to the other aspect that contributes to why I hate gift cards. Gift cards are a stipulation on cash, as if to say, “You can have my money, but it only works here.” The recipient is left hoping that the store has what they want at a decent price. Otherwise, they have to wait for a sale.

They must also hope that the store does not put any conditions on the use of the gift card as well. Every year, scores of gift cards expire never having been used. It is a ridiculous supposition, which consumers tolerate, that a store can put stipulations on the use of money, which they have already received. How can money ever expire? A gift card can. How can a buyer be required to spend the entirety of a gift card in one visit at the store? A gift card can require this. These ideas themselves are daft and the reasoning behind them is even more ludicrous.

There are other, better ways to give 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 with a greeting card? That is much more thoughtful than giving a person money, which can only be spent at one place, because at the very least, they are able to spend it as they wish on necessities or desires without worrying about any stipulations from the store regarding how the money may be spent. Overall, the use of gift cards is just a bad transfer of money where the only true winner is the chosen store, who gets the cash regardless.

I hate gift cards for good reasons

I just cannot find a way to make gift cards make sense. From their lack of purpose to their flawed function, gift cards fall short of real gifts and plain cash. They are a weird restricted transfer of cash, which has somehow been disguised as a gift. Worst of all, people are deeming them more worthy to be given as gifts with each successive holiday. 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 is just a careless, tacky, conditional trap that takes you further from the true essence of what gift-giving is.

If you are playing White Elephant or are unsure what to buy that nephew you have never met, try the grandparent route and just put some cash in a greeting card. The recipient will appreciate the gesture far more when they are able use it freely. When buying gifts for your loved ones, put some thought and time into it. Christmas only comes once a year. Take it from someone who usually does not get what they want (sorry Mom, but it is true), but understands how much her family puts into her gifts: it is the time and care put into the gift that matters more than the dollar amount. I hate getting gift cards rather than gifts that others took time to think of for me, buy and then gift warp. Christmas would just become an annual money exchange with the rationale used behind gift cards. With that logic, why not just allow everyone to keep their money to begin with rather than choosing at which store I can spend your money?

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

  • bill - January 4, 2016 - 7:03 am

    i hate when there is like 59 cents left on the gift card.ReplyCancel

    • Claire - January 4, 2016 - 2:05 pm

      I agree. That also makes them pretty useless.ReplyCancel

  • Erika Sandstrom - October 25, 2016 - 7:41 pm

    I hate gift cards. I actually remember the days before they existed. If you want to give me a gift, please either give me an actual gift or stick a $100 bill and not a $100 gift card to some store you think I like into a birthday card. Maybe if enough people stop buying gift cards, stores will stop selling them. If I owned my own store, I would not sell gift cards.ReplyCancel

    • Erika Sandstrom - October 25, 2016 - 7:51 pm

      I have given cash to people when I wasn’t sure what they would like, but I have never given a gift card to anyone.ReplyCancel

      • Erika Sandstrom - October 25, 2016 - 7:55 pm

        I once took my mom to the mall on her birthday and told her that I would buy her whatever she wanted up to $200. She chose a necklace and a pair of earrings for a little under $100.ReplyCancel

    • Claire - October 26, 2016 - 6:22 am

      I agree. I understand why the stores would want to sell them – it increases their profit as guaranteed money spent there. However, as a consumer and gift recipient, it is a totally careless and limiting gift.ReplyCancel

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