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Shelley Hunter

Top Gift Cards for Families

The best holiday gift cards for families (available nationwide), plus guidelines to follow if you want to choose one of your own.

top gift cards for families

Several years ago, my family exchanged gifts with another family. Since both tribes had an equal number of kids, we slid presents across the table to each other like a game of Red Rover–everybody ended up with something. That made sense when the kids were little and the gifts were simple. As toddlers turned to teenagers, however, we switched to exchanging family gifts. I liked the transition because our gift-giving shifted from worrying about individual preferences to finding something the family could enjoy together. Bowling alley gift certificates, an ice cream maker, a kettle corn popper and other activity-based presents made for a fun night of gifting plus many family memories to follow.

Along that line, below are my picks for the best holiday gift cards for families (available nationwide), plus guidelines to follow if you want to choose one of your own.

1. Night Out Together

You may think movie gift cards are too predictable, but I call them welcome relief. Raising kids is expensive and the rising costs of entertainment can make it difficult for parents to take their entire family out to see Frozen (three times like “everybody else”), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or whatever film Pixar is pumping out for the holidays. Receiving a movie gift card may be just what the family needs to get out of the house as a group.

If you’re looking for something more unique, get families up and moving with gift cards to the bowling alley, roller rink, ice skating rink, miniature golf course or laser tag center. For sports fans, try a gift card for bleacher seats at a professional sporting event such as a Major League Baseball game or a National Hockey League throw-down. For the more cultured, consider a gift card to the real theater–ballet, orchestra or a musical. The level of sophistication doesn’t really matter. The point of the present is to treat the family to a night out.

2. Family Dinner

As a busy mom, the most challenging part of my day is dinner time. Successfully putting a healthy meal on the table each night is contingent upon making timely grocery runs, completing carpools, navigating cross-town sports pickups and more. Sometimes I do all this masterfully and the dinner still sucks–I shouldn’t say that–but that’s how it feels when I’ve tried my hardest to gather the family around the table only to burn the meatloaf. Restaurant gift cards can bring families together at dinnertime and give tired parents a break. From their favorite national chains like Olive Garden and Red Lobster, to the local pizzeria in town, a gift card that allows the family to dine together (without a disaster) is worth giving.

3. At-Home Entertainment

With at-home entertainment gift cards, I’m thinking of both ends of the technology spectrum. Gift cards to Best Buy, Amazon or Apple can be used to upgrade the family television, buy an Xbox game or get a tablet for everyone to share. That’s one way to go, but a low-tech option may be just as desirable. With a gift card to Michaels or Hobby Lobby, the family can buy an art project to do together such as tie dye t-shirts, make mosaic stepping stones or dig into sand art. Another option is to buy a gift card to a home store such as Bed, Bath & Beyond. The family can, of course, use the card to buy pillows or something decorative, but you might suggest using it to buy a panini grill, soda machine or shaved ice maker that the family can enjoy using together.

4. Outdoor Adventure

For families who enjoy the outdoors, get a gift card to a sporting goods store like REI or Sports Authority. The family can use the card to buy camping gear, hiking boots for everyone, a hammock for the backyard, boogie boards for the beach or snowboards for the slopes. Make it fun by delivering the gift card with homemade trail mix, all the fixings needed to make s’mores or a roadtrip snack the family can enjoy en route to their adventure. Another idea is to buy the family a season pass to a nearby amusement park, water park or ski slope. With admission paid for, all they’ll need to do is clear their schedules.

5. Practical Matters

While I sincerely believe that families who play together will stay together, sometimes the best gift you can give a family is more practical. A Visa gift card, for example, can be used wherever Visa is accepted, so the family could choose to spend it on something fun, like going to the movies, or on something needed, like groceries, a medical co-pay or gas. Gift cards to stores like Target, Walmart, Costco and Safeway are almost just as flexible because they can be used to purchase a wide array of items–also ranging from fun (DVD’s, picnic supplies, colored markers) to mundane (milk, aspirin, toothpaste). Gas station gift cards might cover fuel to go between soccer games or a family road trip to see Grandma. As long as the gift card can be redeemed nearby, I’m certain a family can find a fun way to use it. (To spice up a practical gift card, deliver it with five family-friendly recipes that everyone in your family enjoys.)

I’m a huge fan of the “family gift” and am obviously a fan of gift cards as well. Combining the two is a great way to turn a simple present into a memory that might last a lifetime. Think about it. I have no idea what traditional gifts we bought our kids five summers ago, but I do remember that we took them to Disneyland that year for the first time. I have no idea what clothes we bought two years ago, but I do remember that we took our nephews to the water park and splashed around all day. Giving families an experience they can share is a perfect way to bring them together for the holidays.

Let me know if you have other gift ideas for families. I’d love to hear them.

Happy Gift Carding!

~Shelley Hunter, Gift Card Girlfriend

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