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Should We Use Gift Cards on Everyday Items?

Around this time of year, almost everyone gets a gift card or two. Sometimes it’s to stores we don’t visit and sometimes it’s to places we love and would shop at anyway.

Let’s say you received the choice of a $50 to either Brookstone, where they have lots of cool gadgets, or a $50 gift card to your neighborhood supermarket, where you shop regularly.

Which would you choose?

Some argue that taking the Brookstone card is better because it’s supposed to be a gift and it’s not meant to simply be used on daily items we need to replenish, but that it should be used on something we wouldn’t buy for ourselves. That way, it feels like a present, which is the point of having a gift card in the first place!

With a supermarket gift card, we get to spend money on the things we need and as people who care about personal finance, reducing our grocery spending for a month (and throwing the extra money into savings) can be a big deal!

I would rather take the supermarket gift card. I know I will use it. I can spend it on the things I need rather than on the things I want. While gadgets are nice sometimes, it really is just adds to clutter and becomes something we forget about fairly quickly.

What if you could take cash?

Cash is better than the Brookstone card, but having it in my wallet would be too enticing. In a supermarket, there aren’t too many options for buying things we don’t need. At most, it’s a few dollars for the name brand vs. the store brand. With cash, we are constantly enticed to buy things we don’t need.

I recently received a $100 gift card to a store similar to Brookstone in that it’s not a store I typically shop at. Instead of finding something I probably don’t need, I plan on selling my $100 gift card, probably for $80-$85 dollars. Sure, I’m leaving $15-$20 on the table, but at the same time, I’d much rather have $80 of something I want than $100 of something I could live without.



  1. I would prefer the supermarket card, but I know my mom would prefer to give me the Brookstone (or in my case, Best Buy) gift card. If someone gives me something, I’m gonna try to like it no matter what.

    Sometimes it doesn’t work though. That’s why I’m selling my Wii I got last Christmas. :)

  2. That’s weird! I was actually thinking about this today. I would prefer my local giftcard over a specialty store gift card. But wasn’t sure others would feel the same way.

  3. I’ve done the same thing, re: selling gift cards that I don’t need for a lesser cash value. I’d rather have the cash.

    I get really tired of people saying that cash is a tacky gift. Especially if you know someone’s goal is to get out of debt, save for a vacation, or whatever, it is THOUGHTFUL to give them some cash to help them reach their goals! I don’t really care what other people want their gift to be used for. A gift is supposed to be about the recipient, not about the giver.

    Between Brookstone and the supermarket, I’d rather have the supermarket GC so I could spend the money on necessities and free up the cash to put toward my debt.

    • @Red, I do see the other side of the argument. If you get cash, how long will you think about the person who gave it to you? It’s ‘cool’ more than thoughtful.

      With a gift card to somewhere special, you will associate that gift with the person much more. If you’ve got a roomba or something flying around the house, you’re going to go back to the person and tell them how much you love it, and maybe that’s what gifts should be all about.

  4. I’d much rather have a gift card to a store that I shop at frequently, like the grocery store or Starbucks. I’m with you; sell that gift card it you know you won’t use it then shove the cash into your savings account (oh, I’m one to talk! I really need to work on my savings plan. ;) )

    • @Little House, It sounds like a common theme among people who care about personal finance. I wonder what people who don’t always have finance on their minds think.

  5. I sold a gift card to a specialty store recently on Plastic Jungle. I got $70 for a $100 card; but it was better than buying stuff I don’t want or need.

    Now, I think grocery store gift cards are a wonderful present. I’ve even bought them for myself to use when they’re offering promotions on them.

  6. What about buying those gift cards you are all trying to sell? Sometimes I like to treat myself and shop at some upscale home store. I have started looking into buying cards available on the market before I make such a purchase. Then I get your $100 card for $80 – and save $20 in store? Has anyone done this and how did it work out? Where do you buy and sell? I think this seems like a good way to go esp. if you plan on doing some shopping for yourself or family, but as far as a gift received, I would happily take either.

    • @Amber, You can do that a lot of places, try searching for ‘gift card trade’ and you’ll get a number of sites that do it.

      Like you said, it’s the way to go IF you plan on doing some shopping anyway and want to save 10-20%.

  7. I buy gift cards online, all the time. We own a house so buy home depot gift cards before shopping there and get petsmart gift cards for our cat’s food. I save 7-8% on those budget categories and I love it.

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