Using Unused Gift Cards

Gift Cards, Money, Donation, Just a few days after Christmas, my wife pulled a $50 Nordstrom’s Gift Card out of her wallet. Nothing unusual you may think? It is, if you understand the card was given to us the previous Christmas!

We’d readily admit that we spent thousands at our local Nordy’s before the kids were born. In the last decade we can count on one hand the number of times we have been in the store. And 4 out of 5 of those were just to walk through from the parking lot into the mall.

Creditcardchaser reported in 2008 there were $91 billion of gift cards purchased. Amazingly, in 2007 the highest amount of unused gift cards was reported at 10%; nearly $9 billion dollars that you, I and your neighbors spent, ultimately for no reason.

Most of us tend to think negatively about the retailers and banks when these statistics are raised. After all, we’ve all seen in the news how companies such as Home Depot profited $43 million in 2002 and Limited Brands pocketed $34 million in 2006 according to the Seattle Pi.

This article was featured in the Carnival of Money Hacks hosted by the Ultimate Money Blog. Don’t miss the cute cartoons! Please check out this carnival for many other great articles about personal finance.

But you should also be aware that unused gift cards in many states eventually fall under the status of abandoned property and thereby become property of the state. Taking a look at the list of states on the National Conference of State Legislatures we find over 30 states that have specific laws for the purpose of taking these funds or leave the door open for the possibility.

Do you ever get cards from stores you don’t frequent or products you don’t particularly like? What can you do to get the most value out of these cards?

1) Donate them! – I’d hope your favorite charity would willingly accept them directly. If not, there are organizations such as that will accept them on behalf of your favorite charity. Beware, they will keep 25% of the value for their operating expenses.

You could also consider donating them directly to a person in need. While on a trip last year, I met a young couple and their children on their way to Disney. Their father confided in me quietly how painful it was going to be on their finances. Normally I’d be the first to counsel him on making more fiscally responsible decisions but they were already on their way. I handed him a Disney gift card I happened to receive from a business trip earlier in the year. I have no doubt his family was very pleasantly surprised when he found out it was for $100!

2) Trade them! – Check with family and friends. Do they have cards they want to swap with you?

There are also sites online that will help trade your gift card; of course for nominal fee. will let you buy, sell or trade your gift cards. You’ll likely get 65%-85% of the value of your cards.

3) Sell them! – not only has a presence on the web they also have kiosks in stores such as Western Union that allow you to turn in your gift cards for cash. You get 60%-70% of the remaining value on a long list of preferred vendor cards.

4) Use them! – If there is just nothing you want to use the cards for; use them. You could re-gift them to a friend or family member for a coming birthday or celebration. If that isn’t an option maybe you should just enjoy a day of shopping for free. Buy anything that catches your eye and store it for the next holiday season.

I’m sure you have an idea or two to share as well, please comment below and let us know what you do with your unused or unwanted gift cards.

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photo by playerx

13 comments to Using Unused Gift Cards

  • This is a great idea. I heard about PlasticJungle a few months ago but haven’t had an opportunity to try them out, I would be curious to hear people like it.

    I like the changes to the site, looks sharp!
    .-= David @ MBA briefs´s last blog ..How to analyze stocks like a pro – part 3 =-.

  • The LeanLifeCoach

    Thanks for the feedback on the site. Unfortunately it has also been a target of spammers in the past week. Sorry for the moderation but it was the only way to get it under control for the moment.

  • I love gift cards! It’s not just for the amount of money in it, but also I feel like I’ve been given the “gift of shopping”.
    That’s very heartbreaking with the father’s story. Good on you for giving the gift card especially when they needed it more. I hope my future kids won’t like toys and rides 😀
    .-= Bytta @151 Days Off´s last blog ..Day 6: Four Reasons I’m Not A Diva (And Neither Are You) =-.

  • The LeanLifeCoach

    I’ll never understand why someone loves shopping… buying maybe, but shopping? 🙂

    Keep in mind there was a day when kids were happy with a cardboard box, a roll of tape and markers. When we stopped spoiling our kids with a new toy every day their desire for a new toy every day diminished. Food for thought.

  • I’ve never stepped foot in a nordstroms… What’s it like? haha, I’m not sure if I should be embarrassed or proud admitting that!

    Very interesting figures though, $9 billion! That’s 9 people achieving what I told them how to do in in my post today. So do you give gift cards as gifts ever? I usually end up spending mine on things I need otherwise just give them to people.

    I hope your toys were more than a cardboard box, tape, and markers! Although you could probably make a pretty sweet fort with that… I just need a mask, snorkel, and ocean and I’ll be content. 🙂
    .-= Ryan @ Planting Dollars´s last blog ..How to Make a Billion Dollars =-.

  • The LeanLifeCoach

    Ryan: – We have used gift cards but I pondered this past holiday what if everyone were to substitute cash for gift cards? It would be more environmentally friendly, it would be less wasteful and it would negate the need to give gifts. We could just enjoy each others company and save each other a lot of headache!

    Actually the boxes were fine for me! Forts, spaceships, sailboats and fast cars. They could be anything you wanted!

  • My husband told me that he played with his brother pretending to be ninja turtles by attaching laundry basket on their backs :D. Kids these days are reluctant to be creative with anything that doesn’t come with a screen (iPod, laptop, iPhone, Nintendo).
    .-= Bytta @151 Days Off´s last blog ..Day 6: Four Reasons I’m Not A Diva (And Neither Are You) =-.

  • The LeanLifeCoach

    I just don’t see how any kid could see turtles as being cool. They are just creepy!

    Kids are led by example. My son for example use to be very creative… and then grandpa sent him a Nintendo… He’s been ruined!!!

  • Jacob Horn

    I found another site that is worth using: You can buy discounted gift cards, sell partially used cards and new ones, or trade them for other cards.

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