Around this time every year, money goes on sale.
I’m talking about gift cards, which are another form of money. Gift cards don’t expire, they don’t have to be used as gifts, and in December each year discounted gift cards are plentiful.
This is among my favorite holiday shopping and saving tips. Buying gift cards for less than face value can help save money on gifts if you plan to give them to others, or help save money on your own expenses.
If a car wash you patronize is offering $125 of gift cards for $100, why wouldn’t you buy them and save $25 on future car washes you were going to buy anyway? (Liquid Highway in Mount Pleasant was advertising that deal this past week).
That’s even better than the 20-percent-off deal that Publix offers sporadically throughout the year on gas station gift cards, which I’ve written about as a strategy for dealing with gas prices.
Some discounted gift card deals already came and went during Black Friday sales, but plenty more remain. If you have some money saved, buying discounted gift cards now to pay for things you already plan to buy next year can be quite a good deal.
To illustrate how this can work out well, or not quite as planned, my tale of two gift cards:
In December of 2020 a hair salon my wife patronizes announced a 20-percent-off sale on gift cards. I jumped at the chance to save $200 on $1,000 of future services, and that worked out well, like buying money on sale.
The gift card I bought didn’t represent any new or increased spending. It paid for services that my family already expected to buy, but at a lower cost.
In December of 2019 we were looking forward to our son’s out-of-state college graduation in the spring, and Hyatt hotels offered a 10-percent-off deal for gift cards. We were planning to stay with other family members at a Hyatt, so that seemed like an easy way to save money.
So I plunked down $900 for a $1,000 gift card, planning to use it four months later — but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, graduation was canceled, and two years later I still have a mostly unspent Hyatt gift card. I’ll use it eventually, but I didn’t plan to have money tied up in a brand-specific gift card for years.
Of course, you can’t factor a potential worldwide pandemic into gift card purchases, but it’s always possible that plans and needs can change. So, I wouldn’t spend money on gift cards if not having access to that money could become a problem.
People who end up with gift cards they don’t plan to use can sell them online, but should expect to get less than face value. I could, for example, resell my Hyatt gift card, but it’s worth more if I just keep it and eventually use it. Of course, people can also buy discounted gift cards that others are reselling.
One thing to pay attention to is that many businesses — restaurant chains in particular — like to offer gift card deals around this time of year with a twist. Instead of offering, say, $125 of gift cards for $100, they will offer a “bonus card” if you buy a gift card. A typical offer would be a $20 bonus card for buying a $100 gift card.
A bonus card is not the same as a gift card, and they typically have expiration dates and restrictions on when they can be used. Restaurants, for example, often offer bonus cards that must be used in January or February. If it’s a restaurant where you like to dine, that’s still a good way to buy money on sale, but be aware of the rules.
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Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552. Follow him on Twitter @DSladeNews.