Did you get a stash of gift cards for the holidays? Better use them wisely. Even though many retailers have eliminated expiration dates and fees that sap the cards' value over time, it's easy to waste those nifty pieces of plastic. You might forget about them by sticking them in a sock drawer, or you might not spend the full amount. But in this tough economy, every penny counts. "You should treat it like cash and have it be a contribution to something you really need or want," said Laura Gurski, partner in the retail practice of consultant A.T. Kearney. Here's how experts advise wringing out the full value of cards you receive. Associated Press
Keep it safe. Experts say that as soon as you get a gift card, put it in a safe place. That may mean stashing it in an envelope reserved just for gift cards. Some say to just put them in your wallet along with the credit cards. "Don't leave them sitting on a desk," said Dudley Blossom, chairman of the marketing department at LIM College, a fashion college in Manhattan.
Maximize the value. Buy discounted merchandise when redeeming a gift card. You also should look for any special discounts from retailers, like JCPenney, specifically for gift-card users.
Use it all up. Brian Riley, research director at financial-services consulting firm TowerGroup, says it's better to spend beyond the value of the gift card because that will ensure that you used all of it. Many shoppers don't redeem gift cards to their full value — but $3 on a gift card is $3 that's not coming out of your own pocket.
Strategize. Want to buy that winter coat but couldn't afford it? Use the gift card toward the big purchase. Gift cards may be free money, but experts say you shouldn't just buy anything, particularly in the difficult economy. "You have to plan what you want to use it for," Blossom said. Gurski said customers getting an all-purpose card such as an American Express gift card should use it on necessities such as groceries.
Exchange with friends. Don't like that particular store? Then get together with friends and swap cards. You can even do it online. CardHub.com, a leading credit card comparison Web site, just launched a gift card application for Facebook. Its main feature is the Gift Card Wish List, which lets users pick favorite stores so friends know what gift cards they'd like. It also has a gift card exchange, which lets friends post cards they want to buy or sell at a discount.
Sell or swap cards with strangers. Card-bearing customers can turn to sites like Plasticjungle.com or Swapagift.com to exchange gift cards or even donate them to charity. But there is a price. At Plasticjungle.com, customers can sell the card for cash and get up to 90 percent of the balance. (There's a minimum gift card value of $25.) Customers can no longer list their cards on the site for direct swapping and must sell them directly to the company.
Regifting. If you receive a card as a gift, regifting is always an option. You can also use the card to buy a present for someone on your list later on in the year.