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Blog: Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles
The Gift Card Revolution (Part 3): Top 10 Tips For Organizing Your Gift Card Experience

We should give as we would receive, cheerfully, quickly, and without hesitation; for there is no grace in a benefit that sticks to the fingers.


Over the last few posts, we've discussed the relative merits and drawbacks of gift cards, looked at how the changing regulations improve consumer rights, and examined the traits that the best cards have in common. We also looked at how to get rid of unwanted cards without giving up on the monetary value they hold.

Gift cards, the sleek, modern embodiment of gift certificates, help you give portable, desirable, clutter-free gifts that ensure your loved ones get what they really want. As we head into gifting season, Paper Doll encourages you to keep the following in mind to keep your gift card usage organized:

1) Purchase, give and redeem gift cards with confidence by knowing the regulations. As a reminder, the main highlights of the new rules are:
  • Gift cards can't expire for at least 5 years from date of issuance or the last date the card was loaded/reloaded with funds (provided it's a store gift card or general-use prepaid card, and not a phone card).
  • Gift card issuers can't charge inactivity or dormancy fees for at least 12 months after the last use, whether that involves redeeming or adding funds.
  • Every gift card must include disclosure of fees, an expiration date and a toll-free telephone number or website where you can get more information.
Read the fine print. Although the new federal regulations (and any more stringent regulations your state may have in place) provide more legal protections than previously, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, the ECO Card Act exempted cards produced prior to April 10, 2010 from the new disclosure agreements until January 31, 2011. Thus, while the cards you buy from this February onward are required to have all terms (expiration dates, fees, etc.) listed right on the card, the ones you purchase this holiday season may not bear all the essential information.

Since the new rules do require retailers to provide the details via general advertising, signage in the stores, language on their websites and during customer service calls, don't feel squeamish about searching out the information and insisting cashiers or customer service reps provide you the necessary information before you plunk down your money.

2) Get the best deals. First study, then shop.

Review the research from Bankrate's study to know what features each merchant's card has, and peruse ScripSmart's Best Cards list from last week to build your own version of Oprah's Favorite Things. Be sure to skip the merchants on Scripsmart's Cards To Avoid list.

Find the best discounts on the cards you've decided to purchase. Stick with companies that offers a 100% guarantee, like Plastic Jungle and Gift Card Rescue, as we discussed last week. Also consider checking out

GiftCardGranny, which acts like Expedia or Travelocity, but for gift card sites. GiftCardGranny receives the inventories of the major gift card discounters and displays all options so you can compare apples to apples (or iTunes to iTunes) to get the best discounts. Once you find the deal you want, click through GiftCardGranny's site to take you to the discounter to make your purchase.

GiftCardGranny also helps you check your gift card balances. If your pre-new regulations card lacks a toll-free number, or your two year old has taken a Magic Marker to the surface of your gift card, just click through GiftCardGranny's gift card balance page to get the toll-free number, web address and, if applicable, store locator for brick-and-mortar merchants.

EBates, best known for digital rebates providing cash back for shopping online through the EBates portal, offers a nifty gift card incentive. Since EBates is a portal, you're really doing all of your online shopping at the actual web sites of your favorite online merchants -- you're just getting there through a middleman. Imagine if every time you walked into your favorite store at the mall, there were a doorman who slipped you a tip. It's like that.

When you sign up for an EBates account and then purchase a gift card after clicking through their site, they'll credit you and give you cash (well, a check) back...with no paperwork required! How organized!

Get extra bang for your buck when using your gift cards online. Use your favorite search engine to locate discount or coupon codes. For example, Google "YummyRestaurant discount code" or "SuperCoolStore coupon code" and review what comes up at sites like Retail Me Not, Current Codes and Coupon Cabin. Canadian readers can use Retail Me Not's Canadian page, Good Bazaar and Voucher Codes. When you shop, you'll either go through the portal to apply the discount or be alerted to type in a provided coupon code at checkout, lowering your initial cost; then apply your gift card to the total.

3) Avoid fraud.

Whether you buy a gift card at the store or via one of the online discount marketers, once you get the gift card home, call the toll-free number or check the online URL to verify the balance on your card. It should equal what you paid. If not, call or return to the store as soon as possible and speak to Customer Service. If you purchased from a discounter, take advantage of the 100% guarantee to get a replacement card or your cash back.

(If you got the item as a gift, let your benefactor know. If he or she still has the receipt, you can report the fraud and have a fair chance of having the value replaced.)

4) Read the business headlines.

Know who is on the brink of bankruptcy or in the middle of restructuring. Unless you're buying a card you know will be used right away, opt for stores with robust bottom lines. Whether you follow mainstream media or web sites like Google Financial News or the online Wall Street Journal, educate yourself.

5) Help your recipients get all they deserve.

If you purchase a gift card in a large denomination, or you believe the recipient might not use it right away, ask the cashier for a gift receipt. Then, keep your receipt for your records, as necessary, and provide the gift receipt along with the card to your recipient.

If you purchase gift cards online, route all your online receipts to one "Gift Receipts" folder on your hard drive. It will make it easier to verify purchase dates and forward the information to your recipients.

Let your recipient know that it's the purchase (or fund reloading date) that starts the expiration clock--not the date on the card. After a card's expiration, your giftee can call the toll-free number and request a new card. Retailers must do this for free or return the remaining balance.

6) Organize your own gift cards in an easily-accessible place.

For brick and mortar stores, convenience is key--you don't want to hold up the lines. If you only have a few cards, dedicate a pocket of your wallet for gift cards, or keep them with your cash, as they act as faux money.

To organize multiple gift cards for power shopping, work with your personal style. If you're a no-frills person, use a heavy-duty hole punch to punch a hole in a corner of each card, carefully avoiding the magnetic strip, bar code or information regarding the toll-free phone number or URL. Then run all of your cards on one inexpensive keyring or carabiner, just as we discussed doing for retailer loyalty cards.

If you prefer a more fashionable method for organizing gift cards, consider keeping a Card Cubby (as I reviewed here) in your bag.

Whatever your style, take time to review what cards you have before a shopping spree.

For gift cards you're most likely to use at an online store, tidily keep cards together in a petite (6-1/2" x 3-1/2") Smead Tag Along Organizer

at your bill-paying station or computer so you can remember what cards you have when it's time to make an online purchase.

7) Remember to use your cards.

Get in the habit of checking which restaurant cards you possess before making lunch dates or dinner plans. If you're likely to forget you ever even received gift cards, make notations on your calendar or a recurring appointment alarm on your cell phone and/or computer to remind you to check which cards you own. Just re-familiarizing yourself with which cards you posses will help keep the cards at the top of your mind; having your cards with you, when and where you shop, will make you more likely to reap the rewards your cards have to offer.

Keep track of the last time you used your cards, too. Whenever you spend money or load more funds on a gift card, use a mini Post-It® or even write the date on the back of the card with a Sharpie. This will help you keep track of when those 12-month inactivity fees will kick in.

8) Restart the clock. Because many cards are reloadable, consumers can extend the expiration period as well as the dormancy period. Thus, if you have balance on a card that's likely to start earning a service fee for dormancy, add $1 to the balance, thereby restarting the inactivity/dormancy clock for another 12 months.

9) Re-gift, sell, or donate the cards you know you'll never use to maximize the value.

10) Cash in your bounty!

The clock is ticking, so don't procrastinate. We all have a tendency to save things for special occasions. Too often, the opportunity to enjoy something is put off so long that we miss out. So, use the good china, wear your best outfit, and cash in those gift cards before the chance is gone.

Make any day a special occasion. Instead of letting your gift cards languish, gather your friends or family together to dine out with you and use that restaurant card. Buy that nifty gadget or new book or attractive sweater, content that it makes no dent in your budget and yet lets you pamper yourself. You deserve it.

Research proves the best and most memorable gifts are clutter-free, those that allow recipients to enjoy experiences rather than things they'll have to dust, dry clean or store in the attic. Thus, focus on gift cards for experiences: restaurants, theater tickets, cooking classes, spa treatments, etc.

For more clutter-free gift ideas, particularly those in the easy-to-wrap gift card category, as well as advice on how to maneuver through the holiday season unscathed (financially, emotionally and in good health) please check out my ebook, Simplify the Season and Save Your Sanity.

posted on: 11/30/2010 10:30:00 AM by Julie Bestry
category: Paper

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Discuss This Post

by Deb Lee on 11/30/2010 11:15:39 AM:

Loads of great info, Julie! I knew about EBates but never heard about Gift Card Granny...love that they have a card balance page. Btw, Target gift cards are great -- they never expire. =)

by Paper Doll (Julie) on 11/30/2010 1:12:36 PM:

Thanks, Deb. And yes, Target rocks!

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Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles

by Julie Bestry

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Julie Bestry, President of Best Results Organizing in Chattanooga, TN, is a Certified Professional Organizer®, speaker and author. Julie helps overwhelmed individuals and businesses save time and money, reduce stress and increase productivity through new organizational skills and systems.

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