The ABCs of Money: How to Keep the “Gift” in Your Gift Cards
At her last birthday party, my daughter Allison, now 16, received almost nothing but gift cards. She and I have spent untold hours in the malls trying to redeem these cards. It is agonizing to watch her try to shop at stores she has never shopped at before or try to find something she wants that matches the value on the card so she does not have to add her own cash to the purchase.
None of us intend to do this when we give a gift card to a child. The idea is to give them the freedom to choose their own gift. But gift cards can come with angst, as well as hidden fees and other handcuffs in the fine print. It shouldn’t come as any surprise, then, that it is estimated as much as $8 billion was lost by consumers last year who let their gift cards go unused – expired, lost or ignored.
Chances are generous friends and relatives shower your children with these cards at gift-giving opportunities. Now you need to step in. Follow these five steps to show your children how to take charge of what they have before they unwittingly re-gift it back to the store.
1. Ask your kids to gather all the gift cards they have. Then work together to create a written log for each child’s gift cards with the name of the card, the value of the card, the card number and the expiration date.
2. Then read the fine print on the back of each retail gift card and bank gift card. There can be different rules of redemption for each. Bank cards can be the trickiest to keep track of.
3. Note on the written log the replacement rules for each card if it is lost or stolen. Is there a fee? Do you need the original card number and original receipt? Write down any other fees, such as monthly fees that begin to get charged after a certain period of non-use. These fees can quickly erode the value of the card – and some are retroactive.
4. Put a strip of white correction tape on the card and have your child mark the amount of each purchase on the tape. This will help everyone keep their eye on the value remaining on the gift card.
5. Know your state law on gift card redemptions. A consumer’s No. 1 protection is to read the fine print before purchasing gift cards. Contact your local Attorney General’s office and speak to their consumer fraud representatives to learn about the protections you have under local law.
Final thoughts: If your child receives a gift card and is too young to appreciate or understand what they have, consider giving them cash in exchange for the value of the card. Cash is more concrete. With it, they can exercise all their money choices – save, spend, donate and invest – and see the money disappear.
In the future, try to discourage family and friends from buying gift cards for your children, at least until the kids are old enough to keep track of the card and the stored value amount. Encourage cash as an alternative to gift cards. As a good friend of mine says, “Cash is always the right size and it’s always the right color!”
Susan Beacham is the founder and CEO of Money Savvy Generation (www.MoneySavvyGeneration.com), which creates innovative products and services to help parents, grandparents and educators teach children money management skills. Email her at Susan@MSGen.com.