My Wallet is Blowin’ Up

by Lindy on January 20, 2012

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You all know I’m a bit paranoid about robots taking over the world, right?

Regardless, I’m sort of looking forward to the day when I’ll walk into a store and a hologram will greet me. “Hello Lindy, Welcome to Toys R Us! Will you be spending that $16.08 balance on your gift card today?”

And then maybe another one at the register will slap away my debit card when I’ve forgotten again.

“Remember, the gift card?!” *wink*

Gift Cards

Forgetfulness. It’s what’s causing this massive pileup of half-used gift cards in my wallet right now.

I’m a visual person. So when I put them away, hidden in the center compartment of my wallet, they tend to stay there. If I don’t have a specific purpose for them right away, they’re out of sight and out of mind.

Laziness may also be at play. Because sometimes gift cards require extra effort to use.

Like the prepaid gas card my mom so kindly gave to us right before our summer vacation. The fine print on the back says it can only be used for gas, and you have to go inside the station to use it.

It worked great for our road trip, but that remaining $28 balance was pretty hard to use up after we returned home. How often are you willing to forgo the convenience of pay-at-the pump and walk all the way to the register instead?

Then there’s the case of the too-small balance. Have you ever tried to buy a $4.50 latte using a Visa gift card with only $4 on it, and the barista tells you it’s DECLINED?  That may have happened to me. It may have been semi-embarrassing, even though it was a freaking gift card and not my fault.

As a result, I have a lot of Visa gift cards with $4 balances on them.

After Christmas this year, when I was stuffing the newest batch of cards into my wallet that was still fat with cards from last year, I decided to tackle this problem once and for all.

Operation: Spend Gift Cards (a First World Problem)

Here’s what I had in my wallet:

  • Rubio’s free taco card  – estimated value of $3.50
  • Starbucks – $15 (how on earth did I forget about this one?!)
  • Starbucks – $0.62
  • Danny’s Car Wash – $2.00 off voucher
  • Visa Gas Card – $27.26
  • Toys R Us – $16.72
  • Visa – $4.06
  • Visa – $4.19
  • Visa – $18.63

Total – $91.98. That’s quite the wad of plastic.

But now I’m proud to report that after a lot of hard work, focus, dedication and stick-to-itiveness, most of these gift cards have been spent. The only ones left are:

  • Rubio’s – I gave it to A-Rob to use, and he forgot about it. I think it’s sitting in his car.
  • Danny’s Car Wash – because I never wash my car.
  • Toys R Us – I’ll be honest, that store gives me the heebes.

And I learned something new. If you use your $4 Visa cards at Target, they don’t come up as declined. I used all three of mine in one transaction. Or maybe everywhere is like this now and I’m only just figuring it out.

So tell me, am I the only one with this problem? How do you remember to use your gift cards? When will the iPhone have the ability to sound alarms when I walk into Toys R Us? Wait, can it do this now?

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  • No, you are not alone. Thanks for the reminder! My JC Penny gift card has been sitting in my wallet for two years…Time to use it. Starbucks cards don’t last long at all…My husband has $25.00 left on a VISA, I think we’ll use that this weekend too!

    • Lindy

      Remember, hard work and dedication go a long way in using up gift cards. :) Good luck with yours, Sharon.

  • I try to use them right away. I learned my lesson after my old Anthropologie gift card started loosing value after a year! Every month they would deduct a little bit more and a little bit more automatically.

    • Those kind of policies drive me crazy!

    • Lindy

      Wha? How rude of Anthropologie. That’s like harkening back to the days of “gift certificates” when they actually had an expiration date.

  • t

    I use the small value visa cards at the grocery store. You have to know the exact amount left on the card, tell the cashier the amount so they can manually input the amount. It helps to pick an experienced cashier :)

    • Lindy

      Good to know. The nice thing about Target is that I didn’t need to know the exact value. I just ran the card as credit, and the cashier gave me my new total. Thanks for sharing the tip!

  • I have some gift cards that I need to use!

  • I just sold a couple of mine that had been hanging around completely unused for much much too long.

    With that said, I can think of a Discover Gift Card, with less than an infuriating dollar or it, a Macy’s gift card with $20ish on it, a Barnes and Noble gift card with $3 on it, and probably some starbucks change sitting around too. This for the girl who doesnt even shop big box! These things are a challenge to use, and more of a challenge to use completely.

    A good thing to take inventory of on occasion. Thanks for the reminder. I may try to use that Macys card online now that Im thinking of it.

    • Lindy

      Yep, using them completely is the hard part indeed. It was a good motivator to know I had $90ish dollars at my disposal. It also helped that it was after Christmas and our funds were slightly depleted to begin with.

  • If I only have a couple dollars left on one, I buy something small, like a pack of gum. I hate having a leftover balance of $2.00 – what does that do?

    On the other hand as a server, I love it when people come in to eat and leave me the $2.00 left on there gift cards – I can buy lunch with that. (its super cheap after my discount)

    • Lindy

      I’ll keep that in mind the next time I have a restaurant card. Thanks!

  • For the VISA ones that have small balances, I usually just write the exact balance on them and then I use multiple ones at grocery stores. You have to tell the cashier exactly how much is on them, but I just choose to use them at places where no one minds doing this for me.

    As for the $0.62 Starbucks one, maybe you should just let that one go :)

    • Lindy

      What? Give up 62 cents of Starbucks gold? :)

      Since I was on the computer looking up balances anyways, I actually converted it into a registered Starbucks card, which is something I’ve been meaning to do for a looooong time.

    • Lol I was thinking the same thing! $0.62 at Starbucks is GOLD, and I would never give that up. :)

  • Alycia

    I don’t have the newest iPhone, but I’ve heard that you can set a reminder through the reminders app that could be gps activated. The example I heard was if you need milk you would set the reminder “milk” to go off when you entered any grocery store. If this is true it should be able to work with the locations of your gift cards!

    • Lindy

      I shall investigate this for sure. I knew there had to be something like this by now. Thanks for the heads up!

  • I found a Costco gift card in my wallet a few weeks ago and asked the cashier to check to see how much was on it. I figured it was like $1 or something. Nope! $20! Jeeze… how long had I been carrying that around?

    • Lindy

      Yep, the $18 Visa card I had was a surprise to me. It happens.

  • Thankfully, no one in my family is big on gift cards – usually I just get cash when I get anything at all.

    • Lindy

      I like cash, though you can’t buy something online with it. But then again, it doesn’t get lost in my wallet for years at a time.

  • Boyfriend’s pretty bad with this. I gave him one of my $50 gift cards to use for gas. After he spent $35 of it he gave it back to me telling me it didn’t work anymore. I told him how he had to use it, he said he knew how to use it. He just couldn’t get the last $15 off. I called them. It was because there was only $14 on it. Oh, well. $14 of gas for me!

    • Lindy

      That sounds about right. ;)

  • I register my Starbucks gift cards (I get many as gifts, because friends & family know I’m addicted) and then I transfer all the balances to my one main card. It’s great! That way I never get stuck with an amount that’s not even enough to buy a tall coffee.

    • Lindy

      My husband has been a registered card-carrying member for a while now. He aggregates his gift cards too (he’s a teacher, so he gets a lot of them).

  • So, my husband and I got a bunch of gift cards for our wedding (since we would by flying across the country to our home) and, while I didn’t forget about them, they certainly did pile up. I had a special box for all of them. Most were spent right away, but the gc’s for the stores we visited less were tougher to get rid of. As I type this comment I fear I may have forgotten about one of two small-amount gift cards. Excuse me while I put that on my to-do list for when I get home…

    • Lindy

      Now that I think of it, we may have been through the same thing when we were first married.

  • Man, gift cards shouldn’t be so much work, should they? I keep mine with my cash so I will (hopefully) remember to use them. And I have the same problem as you with having small amounts on them so I try not to use them unless I’ll use the whole gift card. I love the alarm idea!

    • Lindy

      I know, right? I’ll let you know when the gift card alarm becomes a reality.

  • I’m so bad with gift cards that (unless it is an amazon card) the first thing I do when I get one is give it to someone else who is actually going to use it. Because I never ever will.

    • Lindy

      I should mention that Home Depot cards are eaten up in an instant. Don’t get me wrong, I really love getting gift cards. I just have to work extra hard to use them.

  • It’s like spring cleaning for your gift card stash!

    I have like $150 worth of gift cards. I should try to not keep them in my wallet in case my wallet goes missing (which is likely) but then I’ll forget to use them.

    Best to put them in front of the bathroom mirror, s’pose.


  • Kim

    We get 185.00 worth of gift cards a month from a restaurant chain. Now this may seem great but I have gift cards with $2.36 balances all over the place. Like you I do not like to go in without a card that pays the whole bill. But I had to. I took the teachers out to lunch and I stood at the till and used up 7 partial cards all with less than $3.00 on them. I also give $25 and $50.00 cards as shower gifts at church. What new mother doesn’t want a few fast food meals? it beats another sleeper. I also give my college age daughter 2-25.00 cards a month and take older couples at church out to dinner. We are sick of eating out. But these make great exchanges.

  • Serena

    Unfortunately, I’ve got several gift certificates that I had purchased for a couple bucks each, but after proving that they are rip offs and didn’t really provide much valuable discounts on our meal, I have just forgotten about them.

    The common thread here is “value.” If you can’t see the value in using a gift card, you will forget about using it. Once you have added it up to, say $90, it became more valuable.

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  • I think you wrote this post about me! I am a receipt hoarder and used up gift cards collector. Neither of this makes sense to me but I blame my laziness. :) I am getting better at it though. I try to clean up my wallet when it is fat and round and fat and annoying.

  • Another option that I recently found out about. You can convert regular Visa or Mastercard gift cards to Amazon credit/cards. Act like you’re purchasing a gift card from Amazon and enter your own amount. It will add up the balances to one gift card total. Of course, you have to buy something on but I don’t think that’s too difficult. :)

    • Lindy

      Oh wow, that is a really great option. And you’re right, it’s never so hard to find something at Amazon.

  • I like to use my small card balances over at the gas station. The cashier looks at me sideways but I use it anyways. Another way I get rid of some of my low balance cards is I give them to my kids. They love it.

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