Clever tricks to save you time, money and hassle when it comes to buying, using and recycling gift cards.
First of all, what is a gift card hack? Well, following the popular life hack trend, a gift card hack is a bunch of trips and tricks to make it easier to use your gift cards, remember to use your gift cards, buy the best gift cards, save on gift cards, get rid of unwanted gift cards and even how to dispose of the plastic after the gift card is used. There are so many ways to make life better and easier with gift cards, the challenge for me is knowing when to stop! So below is my starter list of gift card hacks you have to try.
1. Sell Your Gift Cards for Cash
The gift card reseller market has been around for several years now, but still I have friends who come up to me (ME! I am the Gift Card Girlfriend! They come up to ME, of all people…) and ask if I know that you can sell a gift card for cash. YES! I do know that and it’s a trick I use whenever I get a gift card that is difficult for me to spend. Here’s how it works.
People sometimes get gift cards they don’t want. There’s nothing wrong with the card, they’d just rather have cash instead. Those people sell their unwanted gift cards for cash (or the increasingly popular Amazon gift card) to a gift card reseller. The seller doesn’t get full value for the gift card, but he or she receives enough cash in the trade to make selling the gift card better than holding onto it.
Here’s where you can sell your gift card for cash.
2. Buy Gift Cards for Less than Face Value
Remember those unwanted gift cards in the gift card hack above? Well, those gift cards have to go somewhere. Gift card resellers buy gift cards at a discount, then mark the cards up to a price that is slightly higher than the acquisition amount, but still less than face value. That margin creates an opportunity for people like you and me to buy gift cards for less, which means we can save money on personal shopping simply by using a discount gift card to make a purchase. (Spoiler Alert: Gift cards aren’t just for gifting anymore!)
Here’s where you can buy discount gift cards.
3. Stack Gift Cards to Save More
This is my last tip on saving, but it’s a good one. Have you ever gotten up to the cash register at a store with merchandise to buy and a coupon to use, only to be told that the coupon won’t work? I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to me. The coupon may be expired, not good for a few more days or worse, has exclusions written in the fine print. (That seriously gets me every time and it’s so disappointing!) The most beautiful thing about shopping with discount gift cards, however, is that there are no exclusions to the savings. If the gift card is redeemable in the store, you can pretty much use it to buy whatever you want (except sometimes another gift card). This creates an opportunity to stack discount gift card savings onto in-store sales, coupons, online promotions, loyalty rewards and more.
Here’s an example of how combining discount gift cards with in-store promotions can make the savings stack up. If I buy a discount gift card to Old Navy, combine it with an “Everyday Steal” and add a promo code of 40% off a single item, I’ll save 59% on 5 pairs of shorts for the school year. Check my math:
|Buy $50 Old Navy Gift Card at 11% Discount:||$44.50|
|5 pairs of Boys Stain-Resistant Uniform Shorts ($19.94 each): Subtract: Everyday Steal discount of $9.94 each ($49.70 total) Subtract: Old Navy promo code for 40% off one item: Total Amount Due:||$99.70 $50.00 $4.00 $46.00|
|Apply Gift Card Face Value: Amount left on Card (or given as cash back*):||$50.00 $4.00|
|Total Amount Spent ($44.50 for gift card minus $4.00 balance*): Total Savings:||$40.50 $59.20 59%|
|*See if your state allows cash back for gift cards.|
Plus, if I spend $50, I’ll get a Super Cash coupon for $20 to be used in September. You know what that means? I’ll buy another discount gift card before redeeming my Super Cash coupon next month. If you spend more, your Super Cash coupon will be even greater!
Here’s a list of benefits you’ll get when you shop with discount gift cards.
4. Never Lose Your Gift Card Again
If you lose a gift card, there is very little chance you’ll get it back unless you can remember the numbers printed on the front or back of the card. To avoid losing a card for good, you can write the information down or organize your gift cards electronically in a gift card app, but a simple solution is to take a picture of the front and the back of every gift card you receive, remembering to scratch off the personal identification number (PIN) as well. When you use the card (and won’t be returning an item purchased with it), then delete the images.
Though you might not be able to present the image for payment at a store, you can use the gift card online or call the issuing company to ask for a replacement card.
5. Remember to Use your Gift Cards
Again, you can always use a gift card app or a digital wallet to store your gift cards electronically with the hope that doing so will help you remember to use your gift cards, but this simple trick works best for me.
I store gift cards in my wallet vertically next to the payment cards I use most often. For example, I put a Regal gift card next to my Regal Club Card because I never fail to pull that out when I’m going to a movie. (I love getting free popcorn!) I store Target gift cards next to my Target Red Card so I remember to use the gift cards before paying the remaining balance. I store other gift cards next to my debit card so I’m always reminded that I have gift cards to use.
If you don’t use a clutch or checkbook style wallet like I have, then put your gift cards next to the debit and credit cards that you use most often so you are reminded of the gift cards you have every time you reach into your billfold to pay for something.
6. Keep Track of Gift Card Balances
I’ve got three ways to help you track the balance on a gift card. The first is to check online before using the card. (Many gift card apps have this feature as well.) The next choice is to keep some type of a log for your gift card like this “Sleeve Pal” gift card balance log you can buy. A less lovely, but alternative solution is to get out a permanent marker and write the balance on the card itself. Just be sure not to cover up any pertinent details such as the PIN or the balance inquiry website.
7. Use an eGift Card at a Restaurant
So here’s the situation. You have an egift card on your phone, but the waitress brings a paper bill to your table at a restaurant and expects you to either put cash or a card into the bill holder. What do you do? Do you put your smartphone inside the bill holder and send it off with the cashier? No. The device would be out of your sight, the waitress could drop it (or look through your pictures while she’s ringing up the bill), the phone could timeout and she’d have to come back to have you re-enter the passcode and any number of other things could happen.
The simple solution is to write the egift card number and PIN on the restaurant receipt. The waitress can take that back to the cash register instead of the phone.
More on how to pay the bill with an egift card at a restaurant.
8. Cash Out a Store Gift Card with a Small Balance
Although studies show that consumers typically overspend the value of their gift cards, there are times when you are left with a teeny, tiny, small balance on a gift card that you don’t want to carry around in your wallet. I’ve got a solution for you.
Check your state gift card laws to find out if you can get the pesky balance of the gift card returned in cash. That’s my first choice. What you have to know, however, is that you will have to ASK the cashier for the money. Even states that allow consumers to get cash back from tiny gift card balances don’t require the stores to offer the money–they are simply required to make good on the request.
If you don’t live in a state that offers cash back for gift cards, then ask the cashier anyway. While ranking egift cards from top stores and restaurants, I discovered a few merchants had store policies allowing cashiers to give cash back if the gift card balance falls below a defined limit. If you can’t get cash back for a minuscule gift card amount, then buy something immediately. Don’t walk out of the store without using the balance or you’re likely to forget that you have it or (refer to Gift Card Hack #6) you might forget the balance has been reduced and think you still have a full value gift card in your wallet. (I’ve done that. It’s not very satisfying to plunk down a gift card to make a purchase and see the amount due only drop by a few dollars.)
9. Use the Small Balance of a Visa® Gift Card
Visa gift cards and other bank-issued gift card are a different story. You can’t walk into a store and ask for cash off a Visa gift card no matter how small the balance is. But there are two things you can do.
The first thing you can do with a small balance on a gift card is use it at a large department store. I’ve given a Target cashier multiple small balance gift cards for a single purchase and watched her patiently swipe each one as we both watched the amount due drop in small increments with each card used.
If you don’t want to take the card to the store, then use a small balance Visa gift card to buy an Amazon.com egift card. Amazon egift cards can be purchased in amounts as low as $1. So if you have a Visa gift card with a $3.87 balance, then use it to buy an Amazon.com egift card for the same amount. When the egift card arrives, apply it to your Amazon account. The nice thing about this gift card hack is that you don’t have to use the credit right away. You can clear the small balance Visa gift card out of your wallet and apply the Amazon gift credit the next time you make a purchase.
10. Overspend the Value of a Visa Gift Card Online
Most online shopping carts are equipped to handle multiple store gift cards. For example, the Gap Customer Service page says “you can apply up to five gift cards per order.” However, many websites will only accept one Visa gift card because you enter the gift card information into the debit or credit card field versus the gift card field(s). So if the balance of the Visa gift card won’t cover the total amount due, then the entire transaction will decline.
To use a Visa gift card and a debit or credit card, first use the Visa gift card to buy a store egift card. Like the gift card hack above, you’ll want to buy an egift card for the same dollar amount remaining on the Visa gift card. For example, if you have a Visa gift card with $27.99 on it and you want to use that card to buy a $40 sweater at JCPenney, then first buy a JCPenney egift card for $27.99. When the transaction completes and the JCPenney egift card arrives, you’ll be able to enter both your credit card number and the JCPenney egift card number into the JCPenney online shopping cart.
To find out which stores allow you to buy egift cards in low values, check out my comparison of top store egift cards. In the third column, you’ll see the denominations accepted. Many sites sell egift cards for as low as $5 and a few even sell egift cards for $1 or more.
11. Upcycle Old Gift Cards
While scouring the Internet for cool crafts you can make with gift cards, I came across this list of ways to re-use gift cards. The blog owner did such a good job of curating the list, that I decided two things. First, I should just link to her list rather than create one. Second, I had intended to make crafts of my own to test each set of instructions until I saw the choices. Some of the “crafts” are more like works of art that would require special tools and materials while others simply wouldn’t be worth my time to make. I don’t really need a cell phone holder made of a gift card or a set of guitar picks made out of a Macy’s gift card. But if you’re into using, reusing and recycling plastic gift cards, then go for it. (P.S. I did make a gift card mosaic one year and it turned out terrible. So I’m over it.)
Did I miss any of your favorite gift card hacks? Let me know in the comments below or let’s talk gift cards on Twitter (@GCGirlfriend). If you make a comment, I promise you’ll hear from me, so don’t be shy.
Happy Gift Carding!
~Shelley Hunter, Gift Card Girlfriend