In the last week or so, Micah and I have used two of our Christmas gift certificates. First, we went to the Kennedy Center and saw the NYC ballet. Then Thursday night we had our lobster and filet mignon meal (in celebration of the Finwikian’s launch).
As we were eating the lobster, I started pondering the difference between these gifts and “ordinary” gift cards. My aunt and uncle know how much I love the ballet. My aunt lived in DC for a while and went to the Kennedy Center. I’m sure that if she still lived here, we would have all gone together. But since they’re on another continent, they simply gave us the pleasure of going ourselves (certificate was better so that we could pick the particular ballet and the night).
Micah’s grandparents would have liked, I think, to take us out to a lobster dinner. But since they live in Florida (when they’re not doing archaeological stuff), a Lobstergram was a fun alternative.
These were gifts of experiences. If the givers lived nearby, it might have been in the form of an IOU to arrange the trip together. But since they didn’t, a gift certificate was a great way to give the experience specifically and yet not put on too many limitations.
Other experiential gift cards we received were those for coffee (since that’s our date night activity) and fabric (which is experiential to me).
I remember all the hubub around Christmas when people were debating whether gift cards were good gifts. When they’re just for buying “stuff” (like gift cards to Big Box retailers), I prefer Raymond at Money Blue Book’s take — give in red envelopes. It’s pretty and gift-like, but you’re not limited by a store. Plus you don’t have those few remaining dollars to spend aimlessly because you really want to spend them. Gift cards for random stuff can be thoughtful, but they can also be limiting.
On the other hand, gift cards for experiences are a really winner in my book.
Here’s some more to chew on when it comes to gift cards:
- My post-Christmas post on dealing with unwanted gift cards. Fortunately, I didn’t have that problem this year.
- From Money Blue Book again, a reminder that buying a gift card is like giving a company a free loan. And if you don’t redeem it all, you’re giving the company part of the gift.
- Nick at Punny is glad that Sharper Image is going out of business, but the bad news is that they’re not accepting their own gift cards anymore. JD at Get Rich Slowly thinks this is a big reason to be wary of gift cards. You paid them money to buy their special money (card) but the special money no longer works.
This post was included in the Carnival of Personal Finance at Being Frugal.