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When is a Gift Card Better than a Gift?

A gift card is better than a gift when expenses are up and convenience is critical–think new baby, wedding, graduation, and more.

wedding gift ideas

There are few times when I believe a traditional present trumps a gift card, but it does happen. I only break pattern, however, when I am absolutely sure that a gift is the right size, right style, right price and will not need to be returned. Gifts that I believe can be purchased confidently include those that are selected from a bridal or baby shower registry, consumables, such as a dessert or box of chocolates, gifts picked up while the recipient is with you (e.g. shopping with mom) or something the recipient has pointed to and said, “I would love that!” Without those indicators, I go for the plastic gift card or egift card every time. I especially turn to my beloved gift cards when I know the recipient is in a financial crunch such as when things in life are about to change. Below is a list of occasions for which I believe a gift card is better than a gift.

While I think gift cards work for literally every occasion (I dare you to challenge me on this), there are times when a gift card is especially appropriate, such as the following:

New Baby

Although I sometimes buy gifts off of a baby registry, I most often select gift cards for new moms. I have found that, barring a few items, most of what parents register for with their firstborn is based on magazine articles, store suggestions and advice from friends. What they don’t register for is diapers, formula, the only pacifier their baby will take, the one rash cream that works for their baby’s bottom and infant medications. Why? Because you don’t know exactly what you need until your two becomes three. A gift card is better than a gift because new parents can use it to buy the things they discover work best for them.

Baby Shower

Not unlike the new baby gift, gift cards are especially great when guests pitch in to buy a group gift card with a substantial value on it. Parents can use the group gift to pay for larger items such as a stroller, crib or even a year’s supply of diapers. To make a baby shower group gift more personal, have contributors write well-wishes and notes of encouragement on a pack of diapers.


Gone are the days of tables stacked high with gifts at the wedding reception. Piles of presents were fun to look at but a pain to haul back home. Current etiquette suggests sending the gift in advance to the bride’s home. My suggestion is to send a gift card instead. The couple can use a gift card to buy things they didn’t get from their wedding registry, mundane household items (e.g. laundry basket, toilet brush, potato peeler, etc.), starter supplies such as window cleaner, treats, such as television trays and more. They can even use the gift card to pay for part of their honeymoon.

Bridal Shower

While it’s fun to ooh and ahh over gifts picked off the bridal registry, pre-selecting gifts doesn’t mean you’ll get everything on the list. (I still have a single silverware place-setting received from my registry many years ago. I never had the extra funds needed to buy the other seven.) Though most department stores will let newlyweds return items purchased from their registries, doing so takes effort. (Hence, the solo place-setting in my closet.) Take a gift card to the bridal shower, fancy it up with a wedding gift card holder and let the bride decide how to spend her time.


Oh the places new graduates will go–off to college, off to the workforce or simply out of the house. Wherever life takes him or her, a gift card is certainly the most convenient gift to give. When I left for college, my Mustang was packed and overflowing with clothes, dishes, towels, school supplies and more. How nice it would have been to make the trek across country with a gift card to buy what I needed when I got there. Turns out, my roommates had some of the same supplies. With a gift card, we could have assessed and purchased as needed.

Moving or Housewarming

Invariably, what you need at one place is different from what you’ll need at another. The end-table that fit perfectly in the living room of your old house will be woefully useless at the new one. The old house had one bathroom, the new has two (both needing a shower curtain). For housewarming, a gift card is better than a gift because it can be used to buy what is needed–even if that is dinner at a restaurant after a long day of moving.

When expenses are on the rise and convenience is highly valued, a gift card makes the most sense. Recipients can head straight to the store to buy essentials without first exchanging unwanted gifts.

Got other gift card questions? Add a comment below or reach out to me on Twitter @GCGirlfriend.

Happy Gift Carding!

~Shelley Hunter, Gift Card Girlfriend

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