Hack My Wallet: Gift Card Edition

The anti-giftcard giftcard
The anti-giftcard giftcard

I hate gift cards.

I think gift cards make terrible presents — Cash is a much better gift!

  • The unspent balances and fees on gift cards make a tidy profit for the people selling them.
  • Spending gift cards causes delays at the checkout counter.
  • Returns are more difficult with gift card purchases.
  • Gift cards can be lost or stolen.

There are a million more reasons why I hate gift cards, but that is a topic for another post.

This post is about each of the gift cards I have in my wallet right now, and why.

Staples Visa Gift Card — Value $20

I got this card from Staples as a rebate for purchasing $300 in Visa gift cards during a promotion.  Every few weeks, Staples runs a promotion on Visa gift cards, with a rebate that offsets the card purchase fees.  Sometimes, the rebate is in the form of a Staples gift card that must be spent at Staples.  This Staples Visa gift card is a cash equivalent that can be spent anywhere.

Clydes Gift Cards — Value $50

Amex was running a special promotion where you could get a $5 credit for a $25 purchase at various Washington area restaurants.    I purchased two $25 gift cards at Clydes, one with my Amex SPG credit card, and one with my Amex Bluebird card.  Clydes is my favorite restaurant so I know these gift cards will be put to good use.

Tara Thai Gift Card — Value $45

Tara Thai is a fabulous restaurant that participates in the Rewards Dining Program. I purchased this gift card when United Mileage Plus Dining was running a special promotion.  The gift card gives me the flexibility to participate in the promotion offer, while delaying my actual dine until a more convenient time.  I ended up missing the deadline for meeting the terms of the promotion, so I just earned 5 times Ultimate Rewards Points on this.

Lonestar Steakhouse Gift Card — Value $40

Lonestar Steakhouse is another participant in the Rewards Dining Program.   I think when I picked up this gift card I had it confused with Texas Roadhouse.  Lonestar Steakhouse is pretty far from where we live so we’ll have to go out of our way to use this.

Whole Foods Gift Card — Value $6.70

Amex Offers was offering a $15 statement credit for a $75 purchase at Whole Foods.  By purchasing a gift card, I am able to earn the credit, while redeeming for small purchases at Whole Foods at my leisure.

Home Depot Gift Card — Value $100

I purchase Home Depot gift cards at Staples using a Chase Ink card that pays 5 times points on all purchases at office supply stores.  I give the gift cards to our contractor to purchase supplies for our home renovation.

Amazon Gift Cards — $100

I picked up an Amazon gift card at Office Depot recently, where I earn 5 times points on my Chase Ink card.  My daughter started college recently and we purchase some of her textbooks on Amazon.

Home Improvement Gift Card — $200

This is another Office Depot purchase.  Home Improvement Gift Cards are sold without a fee, and can be used at either Lowes or Home Depot, as well as a number of other stores.

Starbucks Gift Card — $32

I purchase Starbucks gift cards at Staples and load them to my iPhone.  I usually pick up something from Starbucks if there is an outlet in the airport.

Exxon Gift Cards — $100

Currently, I am putting my gas purchases on my Chase Freedom credit card because of the quarterly 5 times bonuses on gas purchases.  I purchased these  Exxon gift cards at Office Depot, but won’t use them until October when the Chase Freedom bonus categories change.

CVS — $10

Honestly I can’t remember where I obtained a paper gift card worth $10 at any CVS drugstore.  It will be a miracle if I remember to use it!  I do know that some Office Depot stores sell CVS gift cards.

What’s in My Wallet?  $700 Worth of Gift Cards

I totalled up these various gift cards and am appalled to report that I am carrying around $700 worth of gift cards.  That is overkill, for sure.

First off it is way too much cash equivalent to have in my purse.

Second, that is an awful lot of money to have tied up in gift cards rather than earning interest in the bank.

It is just as necessary to keep tabs on your gift cards as it is on your bank account or credit card balances.  It looks like I need to be more deliberate about slimming down my wallet!

Are Gift Card Purchases Worth It?

Let’s tote up the bonuses I earned on these gift cards.

  • Ultimate Reward points:  4,160 points
  • Amex statement credits:  $25
  • United Mileage Plus miles: 425 miles

This is pretty small potatoes.  After accounting for the time and gas spent driving around to purchase these gift cards, you might conclude that its not worth stuffing your wallet with gift cards, remembering to use them, and holding up the checkout line for such trivial bonuses.

On the other hand, you might find that small bonuses add up to big rewards if you consistently pursue all opportunities.

Where do you come down?  Are gift cards part of your miles and points strategy?

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