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Friday, December 3, 2010

Gift Cards. Cash: Appropriate Gifts?

I come from a cash-giving family. I still remember the last time I saw my born-in-the-Old-World grandmother Sylvia. Even though I was 30 years old, she shuffled over to a cabinet and brought out a $20.00 bill for me. In contrast,Mr. FS comes from a family that sees cash gifts as "vulgar."

Gift cards might seems like a good "gift": cash-like, but without the vulgarity many people might associate with cash. But the rise of "sell-your-gift-card sites"--as outlined by Donna Freedman recently--suggests that gift cards may not be a welcome gift. Actually, now that I think of it, Donna's post suggested the gift card sites as a way to get a discounted gift for your intended recipient. You can buy unwanted gift cards for a certain percentage off.

I noticed, though, that the gift cards I might actually want came with a very small discount. That's because everyone else wants them too. And I know that I have occasionally received gift cards and found them a pain to use. Plus, I was always afraid that I would lose them, to the delight I'm sure of the merchant.

Yesterday. my eagerly-awaited toaster oven arrived! We use our toaster oven all the time; they are a fairly short-lived appliance unfortunately, whether you buy at the higher or lower end. We recycled our busted high end Cuisinart and unpacked our low end Black and Decker.

Oh. how wonderful to have a working toaster oven. At the end of the semester especially bread with melted cheddar is a welcome comfort.

And guess what? We bought the toaster oven with an Amazon gift card we received. Given the length of my Amazon wish list (which is really a reminder list for us), I guess I have to say that an Amazon gift card would be welcome--even for gift-haters like myself.

Thank you to our gift-giver. We are so happy with our gift.

What do you think about cash? gift cards, Amazon or other? Giftworthy or cop-outs?


Jane said...

I like both: after my mom died my dad gave us $500 cash at Christmas time and as a single parent it was a wonderful gift. The only downside to receiving cash is if you put it in your wallet and then just fritter it away on day to day stuff. So I would make sure I designated it for something - either debt/bills or for something I needed to purchase.
Gift cards are ok if you like to store they are attached to so hopefully the giver knows you really well:)

Shelley said...

I don't appreciate gift cards in denominations so small that I have to spend more money to use it - that'a non-gift to me (unless it's for a book store, maybe). I'd rather just have cold, hard, vulgar cash. I don't have a problem with it at all.

Tell me what you cook in your toaster oven. Is is better than a microwave? Ours is about to crash and I was wondering if I'd rather have a toaster oven...

Frugal Scholar said...

@Jane--I love cash gifts myself (both to give and to receive). the gift you describe was so thoughtful...

@Shelley--Toaster oven post will be up tomorrow morning. Hope it helps.

Donna said...

Thanks for the link!
I think cash is a swell gift, if you know the person needs it. Gift cards, too, as long as they're useful ones (e.g., groceries, gas, drugstore, Amazon).
Whenever I give away a gift card on my site, readers go nuts. I've given away Visa and Amazon; this week it's (The giveaway ends the evening of Dec. 6, incidentally.)
As I pointed out in my first post as a staff writer at Get Rich Slowly, some folks don't need a jokey T-shirt but they could use a little help filling the pantry and would be happier with a $25 Safeway gift card. If nothing else, it would allow that person a little variety in his diet, i.e., some oranges to go with all those bowls of rice and beans.
If it's kosher to post URLs, here goes:

Donna said...

P.S. I love a toaster oven because it lets me bake a single chicken leg, or reheat a leftover pork chop. I don't like heating up the large oven to do this one little bit of cooking.
Also, bagels don't get stuck in it the way they do some toasters.

SarahA said...

We have a toaster oven, which I like, but I miss having a toast button. I haven't been able to find one that does.

I dislike gift cards in general but I like the ones for places I go often. I got a huge one for Target from my coworkers when my daughter was born and we were able to use that up very quickly. I still $30 on a Macy's gift card from last Christmas because it's not really one of my usual haunts.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's the fact of being a gift card that makes it cheesy: it's rather the fact that many people just get the same untailored gift card that is silly. If everyone gives their recipients $25 Amazon cards, then the whole holiday is really just one big popularity contest and there's not a lot of thought put into it.

BUT if give someone that same gift card suggesting that I would love to see that they finally picked out a couple of those expensive chocolate bars they like, and that person gives me that same gift card saying it's to help with textbooks and wishing me well on the spring semester, that's a different story. Same if we trade gift cards and they are for different places: a quilting shop that sells those fat quarters I know Mom wants--but which colors I can never remember; a year's subscription to a magazine my brother would love if he only had heard of it.

Funny about Money said...

Toaster oven looks appealing! Wish I had room for one in the kitchen.

Gift cards seem kinda dubious to me, especially when I hear that they can expire or that merchants have all sorts of ways to do a number on gift-card users. It limits the person to shopping at your choice of retailers, too. I'd rather give cash, so the person can go anyplace, anytime.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I got distracted. I think cash is generally seen as enforcing a status difference unless it is for a major milestone. I.e. it feels like it is generally okay to give cash for a wedding or graduation but your recipient might find it offensive at holidays unless you are their boss, parent/grandparent/godparent, multimillionaire friend, &c. or the recipient is unemployed/recently divorced/recently ill/a student, &c. I would find it puzzling to get cash from either sister (one who is trying to support a family of three on her food-service income, one who is in high school) or from my fellow broke students, but not from just about anyone else.

SewingLibrarian said...

I like to give cash to older children and teens. They don't have much money to spend, usually, and they enjoy getting it. Plus it's hard to keep up with teen trends if you aren't a teen!

metscan said...

Gift cards. I could imagine giving my daughters a gift card to their favorite shops, or only a check/ cash to be used on whatever they wish.
I/our family only give a few gifts, including non-family. I wish to remember with a small gift those, whom I have been in closer contact during the year. This includes Christmas cards too.
I am a hard to please person, so I actually prefer no gifts/likes. A Christmas card sent by a close friend would be very well accepted.

Duchesse said...

No surprise to you that I do not like cash or gcs, with the exception of giving a gc to a young person (you have no idea what music to buy them.)

People might not have a problem with *receiving* cash, but I have a problem giving it, it feels like I am tipping my own family.

Okay. A few times I have given my sons cash with a very clear designation, such as "Toward your new bike".

If one does not know a person well enough to know what they'd like, or one is not willing to put the thought into choosing a gift, the spirit of giving is deeply diluted, if not lost.

The point of one's giving is to not discharge an obligation by spending as little as possible, and this is quite evident to the recipient above age 10.

Marcela said...

I prefer money to gift cards because I don't like having to shop at a particular place. I don't shop much and when I got gift cards in the past finding what to spend them in at those particular stores was painful and I felt that I was wasting money by not buying things I truly loved (I prefered things in other stores)

Suzy said...

The only problem with giving cash or giftcards is when you're exchanging gifts and you give someone a $10 card and they give you a $25 card!That's embarrassing but it's happened in my family when I was younger - we gave 2 cousins $10 each(parents did anyways) and they gave us $20 each..pretty awkward!

I love cash myself :-) but I think a giftcard you've put some thought into can show the person you were thinking of them - itunes for the music lover you know shops itunes..borders for the booklover who mentions shopping at borders. On the other hand giving someone who doesnt have a computer and doesn't even like music an itunes card just because walmart had a huge display of them by the register just shouts the person just wanted to get something and get it over with.

Duchesse said...

Thinking about it as the recipient, there are times when I was given money as a gift. I say "was" b/c my parents did the giving.

The money was always for a specific use: for a plane ticket, wedding reception, to start a business, and the occasion was always persona (birthday, graduation.)

I would be embarrassed to receive money from anyone else, but if I were in need, sup[pose I'd get over it.

I just find so much giving is taking the easy way out: an exchange of Gs or cash- quite unattentive.

Revanche said...

Cash has always been acceptable as a gift in my family, nuclear and extended because it's part of the cultural/socio-religious tradition. It's part of wishing prosperity and etc to the recipient.

Still, for birthdays and Christmas, since celebrating either of those are not traditionally in our culture, I don't find it acceptable to gift cash (though I happily accept it, hypocritically ;P) because I prefer to gift something thoughtful, practical/useful and that the recipient wouldn't or couldn't get for him or herself. It's an opportunity for me to do something nice for the recipient, I think.

And when they are in need, sometimes that does mean cash or a gift card to a place where they can fill an everyday need.

Mary said...

With the rise of grocery stores offering discounts at their accompanying gas stations in exchange for the purchase of gift cards, I've been buying them for myself! I usually buy Amazon and iTunes but if I were not having a "homemade" Christmas, I'd be buying gift cards for the stores where I planned to buy Xmas gifts. Kroger has a deal going right now where if you purchase $100 of gift cards by 12/11 you get $.40 off a gallon of gas. That's a pretty good deal and they're not alone. I know purchasing gift cards for yourself isn't the angle your article addresses, that's what I'm doing!

Frugal Scholar said...

@Donna--Loved your post at GRS and hope lots of people read it.

@Sarah-I had a few gift cards I COULD not use up--like your Macys. At least at Target you can buy food and other necessities if you can't find anything else.

Frugal Scholar said...

@MxdSrtHshold--Lovely idea--to personalize the gift card. My family gave me a card for a haircut I probably wouldn't have gotten for myself. I burst into tears--it was soooo thoughtful.

Frugal Scholar said...

@SewingLibrarian--So true about teens. And they have so many wants!

@metscan--Yes--as for you--when I give my kids cash, it's usually earmarked for something big--like a plane ticket. They have so many desires at that age.

@Funny--You NEED a toaster oven-trust me. I think many gift cards used to have those fees--some got rid of them after bad press. Something to ask about.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Duchesse--Strangely--now that I think of it--I don't really like to give cash either. That's because I can get a lot of bang for my buck and can get VERY nice gifts. If I can figure out what to get. Maybe the problem is that we often don't know our recipients.

@Marcela--Gift cards have driven me similarly mad!

Frugal Scholar said...

@Suzy--Yes, those moments are embarrassing--but the fact that we get embarrassed (whichever side we're on) suggests that something may be amiss with gift giving!

@Duchesse--True--cash gifts only from relatives.

@Revanche--Thanks. Cash also is part of my cultural/socio-religious tradition--though not of my husband's. Thanks for putting it so well.

@Mary--That's a great idea--get yourself a gift card w/ bonus! Love it. Will have to investigate.