As the holiday vise tightens and our gift-giving options close in, many of us of will be turning to gift certificates in place of actual, wrapped presents for friends and family.
Great in a pinch if you have exhausted all of your brain power on other gifts or you are having to buy for someone who you know little about, like distant relatives or co-workers.
Generally, older folks and teens are the hardest to shop for. Everything sucks or they don't "get" it.
Everyone -- I mean everyone -- loves a Christmas card filled with cash. And gas station gift certificates. A tank of gas and a pack of smokes? Thanks, Cousin Insert Your Name!
But if you are going to go the gift card route, it's best to at least do some thinking, even if it hurts to even fuse thoughts together this close to the holiday. Granny doesn't need a card for Victoria's Secret (unless she's one of the new-style sexy grandmas that are on Bravo), and your painfully indie niece probably wouldn't be caught dead in Walmart.
Everyone Loves Target
This is not an endorsement, but a fact. Your high-falootin' Tarzhay-loving friends will be elated, and the Walmart crowd will get to visit the Big Red Monster for a change. Plus, giving a Target gift card to a teen girl in your family makes you look like a cool adult for once.
You may not know the giftee's weird food quirks, snobbishness or even allergies. Your foodie cousin will tweet to all his friends about the lame Buffalo Wild Wings gift card you got him, and I am pretty sure McDonald's isn't gluten-free.
Doesn't count as a restaurant, and even a coffee snob can at least get a spot of breakfast or an afternoon snack there. For caffeine addicts, it's like putting a crack rock in their stocking.
More Bang for Your Given Buck
This is why I always say that gift cards for places like Half Price Books or Buffalo Exchange-type clothing stores are a great value. Since prices for their merchandise are already slashed, it's a no-brainer. With $25 at HPB, one could pick up records, DVDs, novels and maybe even a calendar for the new year.
AmEx, Visa and Discover Cards Rule
They work everywhere that takes credit and debit, and you even pay some online bills with them. I know when I was (more) poor, I would pay my phone bill with these if I got them for Christmas, or pick up groceries, since my pleas for Kroger gift cards were met with family laughter.
Offer Them A New Experience
A few years back, I sprang for a gift card to Whole Foods for my father, for whom grocery stores are like amusement parks, or record stores for me. He had never been, so I ended up broadening his food horizon. That being said, feel free to get at least a little quirky with your gift cards. Offer your giftee something outside their norms, but with a twist. I'm not saying that your Tea Partyin' uncle needs to explore his options at Erotic Cabaret, or maybe I am. Do A Little Homework Christian bookstores, Bed Bath & Beyond, Hallmark, Golden Corral, Luby's...great for kindly older folks. Think your great-aunt, maybe. They like things that are soft, edible and have Bible scriptures on them. Your fratty college-age nephew will (probably) hate these things. Maybe try Academy, Lids or, if you are fond of enabling, a fancy liquor store like Spec's. What, maybe he actually likes a wide array of cheeses and olives and not gallons of cheap whiskey.
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Don't Be A Jerk...
...and put the tiny gift card in a huge, wrapped box. Yes, "good things in small packages,' but you just wasted tons of paper, tape and cardboard for a three-second joke. Although I support doing this to smaller children because seeing their disappointed faces brings joy to my holiday season.
Don't do it, bro. There are plenty of other ways to burn $25. Like literally lighting five $5 bills on fire.