How to Use Gift Cards Wisely to Maximize Their Value

The holidays have come and gone!

I’m sure many of you have gotten a gift card or two as a gift.  I know I love getting a gift card to a store I love!

Don’t go spending what’s on those cards just yet though.  With a little forethought you can make sure you use the gift card wisely and maximize it’s benefits.  This way you make the gift card more valuable.

Here are 8 ways to maximize the value of gift cards:

Wait for a great sale

You have a gift card with X dollars on it.

Don’t waste it paying retail!  There are great sales that extend after the holidays end.  Use that to your advantage.

You can find clothing for 50% or more off in many stores as they prepare for Spring items.  Many electronics have great sales too.  The point is, combine the card with a great sale and get more then the face value of the card!

Use a coupon

Lots of places offer coupons both physical and online.  This is similar to finding a great sale in that you shouldn’t pay full retail price.  I’ve seen store coupons that offer 30% off and I’m sure there are ones that are better.  A coupon like that means you get 30% more value for your gift card!

Don’t use it right away

Your friends all know what you love don’t they?

So there may very well be a chance that you get more than one gift card for a particular store.  If you can wait (or you have a birthday or some other event soon) you might get another card that you can combine.

Warning: If a store were to go bankrupt you could lose the value on the card.

Combine with returns

Some might not like this… But if get a gift from the store the card is from and you aren’t too fond of the gift you could return it ad combine the cost of the gift with the gift card to get yourself something you really want!

I know, some people feel icky doing that but shouldn’t a gift be something you like and will use?

Look for extras

On a site like Amazon you will often see deals where you buy one items and get another item free or at a great discount.  Keep an eye out for deals like this to make your gift card go farther!.

Make sure you understand the terms

Not all gift cards are created equal!

Make sure you understand the terms of the card.  Some things to look for:  Not being able to use the card online; not being able to use the gift card with other offers; and the actual stores that will accept the card (you might actually find that you have more options to use it if the store falls under an umbrella of stores that all accept each other’s cards).


You might not like the store the gift card is from.  What do you do?  Go buy something that you won’t use?

Why not re-gift the card to someone else?

Buy something to donate

What better way to celebrate the holiday spirit than to give a donation.  Use you card to buy something you can donate to a charitable organization!  You may even be able to donate the card itself.

So there you go.  Eight ways to maximize your gift cards!

Can you think of any more?  Let me know!

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Published or updated January 2, 2013.


  1. These are great ideas! I always enjoy receiving gift cards. They are like a small Christmas bonus!

    Jeff@MySuperChargedLife’s last blog post..20 Ways To Trim Your Budget And Survive Hard Times Ahead

  2. Great tips. I love giving and receiving gift cards. It allows you to do or get something you wouldn’t normally — and it leaves the choice up to the recipient. And I do agree that it is important to check with the terms. You don’t want to end up losing the value of the card.

    Miranda’s last blog post..New Rules Could Be Coming for Credit Cards

    • @Jeff, Miranda – I love ’em too! The tough thing for me is figuring out how to get the most out of them. But that’s also fun too.

  3. Great reminders. I especially like waiting for sales. I’ll be waiting for the after Christmas Sales this year to use my gift cards. You can fine some great bargains.

    I’m hosting a gift card giveaway starting today – so everyone can put these ideas into action! stop on by (sorry for the shameless plug)

    Peter’s last blog post..$50 Gift Card Giveaway Bonanza! Tell Us Your Frugal Shopping Tips

    • I love after-X-mas! I think I’ll be looking for a new winter coat this year when stores are trying to get rid of their winter items.

  4. Once I got a store gift card for $100 and instead of going to the store, I used it online. I believe it was on Christmas Eve. They were still having outstanding sales so I was able to get four pairs of pants for $100 (an amazing deal for a tall woman who can never find long enough pants in brick and mortar stores). They were having free shipping on orders over $100 and since my order was slightly under $100, I found something else small to put my order over $100 so I could take advantage of the free shipping. (The cost of the extra item was significantly less than what shipping would have cost.) Plus I was able to get the items on sale online that I may not have been able to find in the store. is a great site to look for online coupon codes for discounts and shipping…it has helped me a lot!

    Hannah’s last blog post..How to Operate a Lavazza Espresso Machine: Lavazza BLUE LB 1000

    • @ Hannah – That’s what I’m talking ’bout! I think too many times people think of a gift card as free money so they don’t bother to look for deals. But with a little leg work you can really maximize the cards.

  5. I don’t think you have to wait. If there is something you want, go buy it. Especially now there will be more deals. Just make sure what you want isn’t going to require you to spend a huge amount more. Unless you have saved up for that item already and are using this strictly as a way to save some money.

    • If you want it and it’s a good price then go ahead. But I think there will be plenty of bargains after the holiday season ends and people start returning presents. Just a suggestion.

  6. I agree, after xmas is a great time to hunt for some good bargains. Especially now with so many stores struggling due to the current financial problems, you can find some really good deals.

    nick’s last blog post..Making a No Win No Fee Claim

  7. One of my favorite places to spend a gift card after Christmas is Bath and Body Works. That store usually has a lot of merchandise that is intended as Christmas gifts and goes on big discounts afterward.

    Monroe on a Budget’s last blog post..P&G coupons are scheduled for Dec. 28

    • @ Monroe – Sounds good! I think we’ll see even better deals at stores this season since sales have been flat all over.

  8. Dave Higgs-Vis says:

    One thing worth noting is that many gift cards have expiry dates. Some expiry after a certain amount of time has elapsed since activation, but it’s much more common for an expiry date to kick in after the first use.

    Therefore, read the fine print, and be prepared to use the entire gift card in one go.

  9. Last year I got a restaurant card from a close family member and found out that it was never activated properly at the store and it was several months before I checked the balance so it ended up being a loss. Now, I try and call right away to check the balance so something can be done about it before the buyer has lost the receipt.

    Also, you could always sell your card on ebay for the full price if you don’t really care for a particular store or restaurant. Isn’t there a place online that you could trade it for what you want?

  10. I hadn’t thought of re-gifting. That’s a great idea because I keep finding expired gift cards around the house and I have a basket where I keep unused birthday cards. I can just put these gift cards in the basket and no more last minute shopping!

  11. Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager says:

    Treat a friend while shopping. Usually I take a long a friend since I’m a terrible shopper so buying them a little something to use up the entire gift card is always a nice thank you. Or stock up on things you know you’ll need forever, socks for example.

  12. seriously, i got married in the summer and have a stack of giftcards, you need to keep a journal to keep track of all the “rules and guidelines”. I think we have a stack that have a balance of a couple bucks haha but I guess that is what they count on

  13. Jeff Crews says:

    This is what I am talking about. My wallet is double it’s normal size due to the different holiday gift cards. I have put many of these tips into use before but will try out some new one’s also. What are your thoughts on selling gift cards? Obviously you lose money. But what if it is for a gift card to a place you would NEVER go?

    • I’ve got no problem with selling a gift card. There are a good number of sites out there now that offer this service. You may even be able to trade a card for a store you want.

  14. I am a re-gifter of gift cards. Sometimes I get cards for store that I have no interest in so I give them to people who I think would like going there.

  15. Even though it is sometimes hard to wait and redeem your gift card dollars it is the best way to optimize getting what you want. A little restraint at the beginning will allow you to reap the rewards and potentially double them by waiting for a sale.

  16. the after holidays period is the best time to shop!

    I hope here in Brazil we have this gift cards!

  17. I love gift cards and have always used them to buy in sales and get the most out of them. Thanks for the tips.

  18. I was surprised to read recently that between 6 and 10 percent of gift cards go unused, so I guess the first step would be to make sure to actually use the card – or give it to someone who will!

    • What?!? Look, if there’s anyone out there who isn’t using their card, feel free to send it to me!

      Honestly though, you should keep track of your cards. If you don’t think you are going to use them you could re-gift them, donate them, or sell/trade them online.

  19. You can also sell your giftcards online e.g on ebay

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