Gift Cards: Hurry Up and Use Them!

Use them or lose them! Gift cards, that is.

That’s a lesson that I learned painfully a few years back. I had obtained a “reward” card – essentially a debit card – at work, which was given to me with value added to it. Basically, it was almost like a repository for spot incentives or gifts, which were fairly infrequently given out but slowly accumulated over time nonetheless. Kind of like a gift card that kept slowly increasing in value.

At one point, the total was several hundred dollars. Again, this was a result of smaller awards, typically for a little extra money given around the holidays or things like that.  The total dollar amount wasn’t massive, but hey – a few hundred dollars is a few hundred dollars, right?  Besides, what was great about it is that it was stashed away, kind of like a little slush fund of sorts. I like the idea of diversifying, so this was a small amount that I had squirreled away and consciously forgot about but knew in the back of my mind that I had it available somewhere.

Anyway, the time eventually came where I decided that I’ll dip into the slush fund and use that old debit card, with those accumulated gifts from work. Time to get something, and feel great about the idea that didn’t have to pay for it!

Before I went out to the store, I called the number on the card to find out the balance. No problem, right?

Uh, wrong. Big Problem. They had no record of the card or number.

Long story short: the card had expired, and I was out luck, after numerous calls and attempts to recover it. Ouch!

I learned a lesson there, which goes counter against my tendency of stashing things away for a rainy day well into the future. The lesson was that with gift cards, you should try to use them as soon as you can, in case they lose their value or the company goes out of business.

Fast forward to this week.  News came out that Borders, the book retailer, was going to be going out of business. The first thing I thought of was that I thought I had a gift card to Borders. I recalled a $25 gift card that was sitting around for well over a year. Remembering my past experience, I thought I had better apply the prior lesson learned and go use that gift card.  I also noticed a post by Everyday Tips and Thoughts that introduced the topic of gift cards and Borders.

The next day, I made sure to stop at a Borders and use the $25 gift card before it’s value plummeted. Not that I knew for sure what might eventually happen and when it would happen, but my guess what that this gift card’s value would hold for only a short period of time. Just couldn’t bear to see my squirreling ways burn me again, instead of helping as they normally would in other cases.

It’s good to learn lessons and apply them in the future, no matter how small the outcome might seem to be. In this case, the loss of several hundred dollars due to my own stowing away of the prior gift card had taught me a lesson that I needed to apply, before making the same mistake once. It’s like spending money on ATM fees – you don’t do it on purpose, but due to poor planning!

Happy to report I made the right choice this time!

Bottom Line:  Keep this in mind when you get a gift card: Use it. Soon.

My Question for You:

  • Do you use gift cards right away:
  • Or, do you procrastinate I as I had previously done?



  1. says

    I try to use gift cards right away, but it doesn’t always happen. Fortunately I’ve never had a problem using mine months (or years in the case of a single borders gift card) later.

    • Squirrelers says

      No Debt MBA – me neither, except for that one instance. It wasn’t cool to lose out on that value! Better safe than sorry, particularly if the organziation is sold or shut down.

  2. says

    I have to say, I smiled when I read this headline! :) (Thanks for the link too by the way!)

    One advantage of being female is we carry purses. I keep all my gift cards in my purse, ready to be used at any time. However, it is a little harder for guys if they have a lot of gift cards. Then you would end up with back problems like George Costanza who had an exceedingly thick wallet. (Seinfeld reference)

    I will say though, I have had many gift cards expire on me in the past. I think they had shorter ‘shelf life’ back then than they do today. One restaurant even went out of business before I used the gift card. (I received it 3 years prior.)

    Great points Squirrel!!

    • Squirrelers says

      Everyday Tips – you’re welcome on the link! As for carrying around gift cards, yeah that seems like an area that isn’t cut out for guys – in terms of carrying them around, that is. Wallets are compact and not made for tons of room!

  3. says

    I thought that in some states, like California, gift cards couldn’t expire. Did you happen to look into this? Obviously is the store goes out of business, there’s nothing that can be done except use it before they all close! But a gift card that expires and the store is still in business?! That’s just wrong.

    • Squirrelers says

      Little House – I should probably clarify: I called the number, but the name of the company/organization seemed to change while I dealt with the initial menu options. I think that’s the real issue here. Anyway, it’s best to use soon – as you never know what can happen to the company!

      • says

        Oh, gotcha. I wonder if the gift card was purchased at a grocery store for another company. My sister in law works for Safeway but handles their gift card sales tech support (does that make sense?). I bet it was something like that. Very interesting though. And I agree, use them up!

        • Squirrelers says

          Actually, it was provided to me through work – like an incentives card, where small holiday bonuses, etc were added. It wasn’t anything like a store bought card but rather, it was administered by a company. Think of it as a pre-tax health card, where value is added to it. This was a rewards card, where value was added to it periodically. It could be used anywhere as a debit card. So, it was really a “gift” debit card. I probably didn’t describe it so well in the post, sorry.

  4. says

    This is why people hate getting gift cards! It’s supposed to be more socially acceptable to give a gift card than cash. Most people would rather get cash I think. It goes right in the wallet & doesn’t get forgotten. It usually puts a smile on a young person’s face.

    When I get a gift card I put it in my wallet with a post-it note on it telling me how much is left on the card. I use a bright color post-it & it gets my attention. Works for me.

    I hope not many people get burned with Borders gift cards. Good post!

    • Squirrelers says

      Maggie – good point on gift cards being more socially acceptable. It really is interesting how many people would prefer straight up cash if they were totally honest about it. Perhaps some people want to know that there was some thought involved, and maybe the choice of gift card signifies that thought:) As for the Borders gift card, I wasn’t about to find out what happened if I waited too long!

  5. says

    The tricky part is getting 100% of the money out of them. I love the starbucks gift cards because I will use it quickly and if you have only 50 cents left, they will still apply that to the price.
    I don’t know about other gift cards, but I know that the rebate card I got from Verizon can’t be applied to a partial purchase, so now I need to find something to spend $2.54 on.

    • Squirrelers says


      Great point! Sometimes the gift cards end up costing you money. It’s got to be an established part of any business analysis that the businesses are doing.

  6. says

    I’ve never lost a gift card or let it expire…but I have let ExtraCare Bucks expire and it is so torturous when I figure it out!

    Also, bummer on Borders going out of business. We have one right near our home–hopefully another bookstore will move in.

    • Squirrelers says

      Amanda – yes, it’s too bad the company is going out of business. I love books and enjoy bookstores, though I don’t have as much time these days to go there. I guess between the two major players, I preferred Barnes and Noble anyway:) For your sake, I hope another high quality book store comes in that space near you guys.

    • Squirrelers says

      101C – Might as well use them up, right? Psychologically, it’s nice to know that these cards are sitting around, like a secret reserve:) In reality, it’s best to use them up. I’ve fought the saving tendency myself.

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