Chances are, you'll get at least one gift card for Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa this year — whether you like it or not. If you are lucky, your card might be something you could use right away — like an Amazon gift card or one for your favorite store. But you might not be that lucky. You might end up with a gift card to a store or restaurant you unquestionably dislike. Even worse, you might get an inexpensive gift card to a place where nothing is cheap — like a $10 gift card to a restaurant where entrees start at $19. Those are the worst.
Fortunately, there are a few ways to get the most out of the gift cards you receive, whether it involves trading them, selling them, or maximizing their benefits.
Here are some gift card strategies everyone can use:
Sell your gift card for cash
If you don't plan to use one of the gift cards you receive and would rather have the cash, sites like GiftCardGranny.com can help you unload it — for a fee. According to the site, you can get up to 94 percent of your card's value back in cash. So for a $50 gift card, you should expect up to $47 in cash you can stash away in your savings account. That is certainly a lot better than letting the gift card take up space in your wallet all year.
Trade your gift cards
Sites like CardPool.com and GiftCardZen.com allow you to trade unwanted gift cards for other varieties that you would use. You can sell a card you don't really want and use that credit to buy one you know you will enjoy at a steep discount. Gift cards from nearly every retailer and of every denomination are available.
Re-gift your gift cards
Re-gifting might be a controversial practice; but if you aren't above it, consider re-gifting your gift cards to people who might use them. As long as your name isn't written on the package, gift cards are practically the perfect item to re-gift. Just don't give it back to the person who gave it to you!
Stack your gift cards with sales
A gift card may be free money to you, but that doesn't mean you can't stack it with sales and other discounts. To get the biggest bang for your buck, keep an eye out for online and in-store sales and strike while the iron is hot. Getting as much value as possible is a great way to honor the gift you received.
Check which retailers accept it
Many gift cards issued by larger stores are also accepted by other retailers owned by the same parent company. For example, you can usually use a Gap gift card at other stores like Old Navy, Banana Republic, and Piperline. Check to see which retailers will take your gift card before you get rid of it.
Give your unused gift cards to charity
A $25 gift card to Bass Pro Shop might not mean anything to you, but it could mean the world to someone less fortunate. Consider giving unwanted gift cards to homeless shelters or other charities. Chances are, they will be able to match the gift up with someone who can actually use it.
No matter what you choose to do with any gift cards you receive this year, make sure not to let them go to waste. According to MarketWatch, up to $1 billion in gift cards go unredeemed each year, which is a terrible shame.
And now that you know you don't have to keep any gift cards you don't want and you can trade or sell them instead, a whole new world of options might be available to you. No gift is perfect — and that includes gift cards — but the more options you have, the better.
What do you do with the gift cards you don't want? Do you think gift cards make good gifts?
Author: Holly Johnson
Holly Johnson is a credit card expert, award-winning writer, and mother of two who is obsessed with frugality, budgeting, and travel. In addition to serving as contributing editor for The Simple Dollar and writing for publications such as Bankrate, U.S. News and World Report Travel, and Travel Pulse, Johnson owns Club Thrifty and is the co-author of Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You’ll Love.