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As holiday shopping starts winding down (or starts to peak for those who have not gotten started), one fact remains and that is that the holidays are expensive.  Have you had your first bill come in or checked your credit card statement for pending transactions yet?

As we look to complete (or start) our shopping, it's helpful to think of different ways to make the holidays pack less of a punch on your wallet while still letting Santa cross things off his list.

My wife recently had a great experience where she was able to use gift cards for holiday shopping, and I thought it was a great idea that I could share, and can be a useful and effective strategy.

Two Cards, Two Approaches

My wife was doing some shopping for our son.  We wanted something from Toys R Us that they only stocked online.  She got everything ready in her shopping cart, then remembered that she had gift cards from items that had been returned on gifts for him when he received duplicate items in the past.

She entered in the gift card information and was able to get him some items at no cost.

She went onto another site and was able to take care of other purchases using a gift card for TJ Maxx from returned clothing items and such that she'd purchased for herself months back and had later changed her mind.

In both cases, she got items for gifts without having to make a big dent on our credit cards.  This was pretty cool.

Did Using Gift Cards Impact Overall Spending?  It All Depends!

There are some additional questions that came out of this.  Specifically, did it reduce our overall spending.  The answer for each case was slightly different.

In the instance of my son, we used the opportunity to flex our budget a bit.  Since the original intent was for him to receive gifts at whatever point in time he received the original gift, it didn't seem right to simply reduce our budget.  Not that the original gift givers would know the progression, but all the same, it seemed the right approach.  So for him, we had a ‘cash' budget going into the season and we used that plus the gift cards.

In the instance of the items from TJ Maxx (which went to multiple people), we had no problem using that money to reduce our cash outlay.  The reason being that the original purchases were made for items to be used within our household.  In the end it worked out that we'd basically spent the money for the gifts back when we made the original purchase.  In that case, we had no qualms about reducing our cash budget for the season.

Can Your Gift Cards Be Used To Buy Gifts?

This day, it's probably more likely than not that you have an unused gift card laying around.  Can you use these as part of your gift purchasing and gift giving strategy?

I don't see why not.

There might be limits on how far you want to go with this, but honestly, I think that depends on each person and their own scenarios.

A couple possible situations come to mind, and I'd be curious to get your feedback.  These are hypothetical:

  1. mb-2014-12mallYou have a gift card you probably won't use – What if you got a gift card from somewhere, but you know you'll probably never use it for one reason or another.  Is it OK to simply re-gift the gift card?  If you do this, you might want to make sure the original balance is still intact.
  2. You use gift card balance to buy a gift for the original giver – What if you got a gift card to JC Penney from Aunt Lorraine last year, then turned around bought Aunt Lorraine a sweater this year…using the gift card she gave you?
  3. Discounted gift cards – Every once in a while, you can get a gift card purchased for less than face value?  If you got $100 worth of gift cards for $80 and your balance was $100 for that person, would you call it good after getting the discounted gift cards or would you take the $20 in savings and buy additional presents?

Readers, do you use your gift cards as part of your shopping strategy and if so, what do you do?  Any dos and don'ts?  Ever been involved one way or another on any sort of gift card faux paux?