Let’s face it: We all feel like we are taking the easy way out when we give gift cards, but we just love receiving them as gifts! There is nothing more fun or satisfying than being able to treat yourself on someone else’s dollar! It’s a chance to buy something that would normally not be affordable or to try a new dish at a favorite restaurant. Considering that gift cards are one of the the most popular gifts at Christmas, this fan club for all things gift cards is growing.

I know it seems like that gift card is burning a hole in your pocket, but before dashing off to spend it make sure you learn how to stretch those gift card dollars further!

Know the fine print

Some cards may charge fees if not used within a certain amount of time, or they may deduct a fee the first time the card is used. Be aware of these fees when redeeming gift cards to avoid spending more money than you planned.

Be sale savvy

Even though you are spending someone else’s money, use the card like it is your own money. The post-holiday season is loaded with sales. If the item on your wish list isn’t on sale yet, consider waiting a few more days to see if the price drops. Finding something for half off is like adding 50 percent more value to your gift card!

Exchange unwanted cards

It’s the thought that counts, right? Maybe the card you received is for a restaurant you don’t love or a store that doesn’t match your interests. It’s easy to exchange that unwanted card online at websites such as Plastic Jungle or CouponTrade. Be advised that you will get less than the card is worth, typically in the neighborhood of 80% of the original value, but it is still a great way to get something out of a card you will otherwise never use. These sites are also a great place to find deals on gift cards because they are sold at a discounted price!

Register for extra protection

It is worthwhile to take the time to register that gift card before spending it. Visit the company’s website to see if their gift cards can be registered (most require an email address and other basic information). Some retailers will send additional perks when you register your card (Starbucks offers a free beverage on the registered card holder’s birthday), and some will be happy to replace the card if it is lost or stolen. Registering cards is a fairly new practice, but it is surely an excellent benefit!

Be alert

Stores close and go bankrupt all of the time. Remember when Borders went bankrupt? Many consumers found themselves with gift cards they could no longer redeem. Be alert and stay updated to learn about possible closings or bankruptcy. By following that business closely you’ll also hear about upcoming sales or promotions.

Combine and save

Gift cards are not considered coupons, so be sure to stack them with coupons and in-store specials, and enjoy the extra savings! Also, watch for promotions that enable you to earn additional cards. For example, Target sometimes offers a $5 gift card when purchasing the items from a specific product line.  Combine and stack to get the biggest bang for your buck.

Donate and deduct

That gift card that seems less than exciting to you could be priceless to someone else. Help someone else get what they need by donating your unwanted card. Shelters, women’s centers, and other charities are always looking for gift card donations. When donating, note the amount/value of the card for tax purposes.

With some careful planning it is possible to stretch those gift card dollars even further and truly enjoy it! After all, that is what the giver intended, right? After using that card, why not send a quick note of thanks letting the gift giver know what you did with their gift? I have done that in the past, and not only did they appreciate the gratitude, they were also impressed with how far I stretched that card!

Gift Card Guru: How to Make the Most of Holiday Gift Cards