Don’t Give Your Friends Fees this Holiday Season!


This may be obvious to the smart readers of Scienceblogs, but let me state this just for the purpose of explaining the waste that is gift cards. You might think giving cash as a gift is tacky, but the nice thing about cash is that it doesn’t expire, incur fees, or become impossible to combine with other forms of payment. All those disadvantages are present in gift cards, and according to Consumers Union, those hassles resulted in $8 billion in unused gifts. Best Buy is even counting unused gift cards as a source of revenue: “…in its fiscal 2006 annual report, the retailer Best Buy revealed a $43 million gain from gift cards that were unlikely to be used.” This has resulted in a number of states passing laws to put rules on gift cards. And so, on Black Friday, if you can’t find a gift for your loved one and decide to give money, give cash instead of gift cards.


  1. Gift cards: just like money, only less useful!

  2. This is often true. But, of course, it depends on (a) the card and (b) the recipient. In my family, no gift card lasts more than a week. And we tend to give cards for book stores, where there’s no problem combining it with cash but you avoid the problem of buying a book they’ve already bought for themselves, or for Staples (my father uses them for computer supplies), where he can accumulate them for ever, I guess – they have no fees and never expire. Not that he does accumulate them, mind, though he did use last year’s Father’s Day and birthday cards for a new chair.

    Now “unused or lost” cards? There’s not much you as the giver can do about that. If the people you’re giving to don’t use them, or lose them, cash would be better.
    The thing is to know what you’re buying. But isn’t it always?

  3. When I quickly read the title of this post on “Last 24 Hours,” I thought it said, “Don’t Give Your Friends Feces this Holiday Season!”

    I guess gift cards are sort of the same thing.

  4. Nobody Important

    In fairness, I’m pretty sure that lost money has the same sort of problems that lost gift cards have.

    Also, it’s not so much what I think is tacky, but what the recipient does.

    Just sayin’…

  5. unaffiliated

    I say don’t give anything. We all have too much crap already. Give your money to, it will be your best investment in the future.

  6. @Nobody Important:

    lost money has the same sort of problems that lost gift cards have.

    You tend to put money in your wallet, gift cards you don’t.

  7. Presents are never logical. Twice a year, on christmas and birthday, I inform my mother that I want absolutly no gift: I already have everything that I want, and all I ask is that we not waste money by buying pointless space-filling clutter for each other.

    Twice a year, I get at least one expensive piece of clutter. Last birthday it was an MP4 player… and I dont listen to music.

    She just has to spend: She considers it her motherly duty to buy me a present. Even if she knows its going to be quite usless and unwanted, her social rules allow no exceptions. More annoyingly, she gets very upset if I dont fake being thankful – those same rules forbid saying anything negative against a christmas or birthday present.

  8. The element of vendor lock-in is what gets you, makes the cards less useful, and more prone to lose the card or have the card incur charges for non-use.

    Money in your wallet you can use anywhere at any time of your choosing. A Chilli’s, or BestBuy card can only be used in those locations, and by the time you get over there you may lose or misplace it.

    It’s certainly in their interest to encourage this view of cash as tacky wherever they can.

  9. Brendan S

    Just to make a totally worthless and generic statement:

    This is yet another of perceived societal problems that can easily be fixed by changing our strange system of public morals and ethics. Instead of self examination about our societal hangups, we turn to lawmakers and courts to enforce.

    Or something like that. I actually like the idea that charging a fee on gift cards, and gift card expiration as being illegal. But if people would stop believing in the giving cash taboo, we’d all be happier.

  10. Comedian Mitch Hedberg use to say “Gift certificates suck because what you’re doing is taking money that use to work anywhere . . . .”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *