There have always been downsides to gift cards: the recipient is limited to only one store, the recipient may not be able to use all the money ($4.8 billion!?), the receipient may feel they have to spend extra trying to use up the whole gift. Or the store may go under before the receipient has a chance to use the gift card.
This year, there’s a higher chance the store will go under. In that case, the gift card may become completely worthless. I don’t expect most businesses to go under, but it’s hard to figure out just who will and who won’t.
The small teashop in my hometown had to close earlier this year. We always give my mom gift certificates for teas with friends. But since people were cutting back on their extra expenses, the tea shop didn’t have enough customers. Or for a nation-wide example, Circuit City declared bankruptcy. As of this writing, I believe their gift cards are still valid. But who knows how long that’ll last?
Cash not exciting enough for you? Dress it up with a festive Chinese red envelope. Hope the recipient uses it for some hobby or item? Include a note about why you chose to give cash vs. an actual gift. “To start a new quilt!” “To replace your tennis racket!”
Gift cards are a useful way to give someone you love a thing or experience that you can’t pick out for them. But don’t box yourself in or risk their losing it. Why not give cash this year? Make it look nice, include a thoughtful note or card, and it should be just as appreciated!