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How Much Money Should I Put on a Gift Card?

The easiest way to pick the perfect gift card amount, and stay within budget every time!

gift cards in different denominations

I’m no Emily Post, but in my book, there is no best gift card amount to load onto a gift card. However, I do have two rules. The first is to stay within your budget. Don’t overspend to impress. The second rule is to load a dollar amount that allows the recipient to use the gift card without spending his or her own money. If your budget and a spendable amount aren’t adding up, then select a different gift card. A $10 gift card to iTunes is fine. A $10 gift card to a high-end clothing boutique probably won’t even buy a pair of socks. So the perfect amount of money to put on a gift card is a load value you can afford on a gift card the recipient can use.

Read below for my three steps to selecting the best gift card amount.

3 Rules for Picking the Right Amount

1. Stick to Your Budget

One of the great benefits of gift cards is that you can spend a specific dollar amount on a gift. No more roaming the aisles of the store in hopes of finding the perfect present within your price range. (Which rarely happens, right? I always seem to find just what I want, but for more than I had planned to spend–forcing me to splurge or continue looking.) The downside, however, is that you can’t hide thrifty shopping simply by peeling off sales tags. The recipient will know exactly how much you spent on the present. Not to worry. Steps two and three will take care of this.

2. Make the Gift Card Usable

Above all, make sure the gift card amount can be used without requiring the recipient to spend his or her own money. Otherwise, you’re simply giving that person a discount–a coupon to use with purchase. If your budget is limited, then select a store or restaurant that offers lower-priced merchandise. For example, a $25 gift card can easily be spent at Subway or Starbucks, probably even allowing the recipient more than one visit. On the other hand, a $25 gift card to P.F. Chang’s may not cover the entire bill. If your friend can afford to dine there and pay the additional cost, then give the $25 card and fire up the lettuce wraps! If your friend can’t afford the bump and neither can you, then pick a gift card that matches the funds in your wallet without digging into someone else’s.

3. Use the Art of Distraction

I believe a gift card in any dollar amount can be presented in a way that takes the focus off the price and shifts it to the present as a whole. A $5 gift card to Jamba Juice tucked into a clean Jamba Juice cup along with a note that reads, “Hope your day goes SMOOTH-ly,” would be a fun treat that is both cost-effective and totally usable. The recipient won’t even care how much money is on the card. A $15 gift card to the bookstore along with a set of homemade bookmarks is economical for you, usable for the recipient and thoughtful beyond the value of the card. Read my tips on how to make gift cards more personal for other ideas.

Bottom Line

To sum it up, the question of how much money to put on a gift card all depends on your budget and the cost of merchandise at the store you’re considering. Look for gift cards that don’t put either you or the recipient in the red. If you’re nervous that the amount won’t measure up to how you feel about the person, put a little extra effort into the way you deliver the card. If done right, no matter how much you spend, it will be the perfect gift card amount.

Got other gift card questions? Add a note in the comments below or leave a message for @GCGirlfriend on Twitter.

Happy Gift Carding!

~Shelley Hunter, Gift Card Girlfriend

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