The Gift That Leaves Billions of Dollars on the Table

Gift cards make perfect Christmas presents. They’re practical, easy and thoughtful. Americans like them so much that 80% of us expect to buy them for friends and family this Christmas.

Even a “bad” gift card is way better than a bad anything else. Read: that bright fuchsia turtleneck your aunt got you that’s two sizes too big and baggy in all the wrong places. Receipt please!

We may love giving and getting gift cards, but we don’t always make the most of them. Since 2005, Americans have left more than $45 billion in unredeemed gift cards on the table, according to estimates by CardHub.

It’s time to change that! The key to making the most of your gift cards this season is simple—use them and try not to lose them. Here are eight great tips for making the most of those Christmas gift cards.

If you receive a gift card:

1. Stretch it. If your department-store gift card is for a small amount, like $10, stretch it with a new year’s sale. January is an excellent time for finding bargains, as retailers are desperate for post-holiday traffic. Hit the clearance racks and you’ll get some serious value out of those ten bucks.

2. Repurpose it. If you receive a gift card to the Fish Galore Superstore, get creative and figure out how to use it. Almost every store sells gift cards to other stores (Amazon) or services (iTunes). So, if you don’t need a reel or rod, buy another gift card with it! Sneaky? No. Savvy? Definitely!

3. Sell or trade it. Have an airline gift card, but never fly? Trade it with a frequent-flying friend or coworker for their unwanted gift cards. Or sell it for cash. Anything is better than letting it live with the dust bunnies in your old cellphone drawer.

If you give a gift card: 

4. Do your research. Make sure you buy a gift card for something your friend or family member will actually enjoy. If they don’t like coffee, don’t get them a Starbucks gift card. Make it about their tastes, not yours.

5. Get something universal. When in doubt, go for practical cards like Target, Walmart or Amazon. The great thing about these stores is they have everything, they’re everywhere, and they let you order online. Triple win!

6. Shop gift card resell sites. Websites like Cardpool, Raise or CardHub offer used or unwanted gift cards at a discounted rate. Why not get a nice discount on the cards you want to buy? Just make sure you don't give someone a random amount. They might get suspicious if there’s $22.43 left on a gift card.

7. Make it useful. If you’re buying a gift card for a young family or a struggling single parent, they’d probably appreciate a grocery gift card above all else. This frees up a little money in their budget for fun stuff later on. Make sure you pick a grocery store they actually use.

8. Re-gift your own gift cards. Have some movie gift cards from last year you still haven’t used? There’s no shame in re-gifting them. Just add something to spruce it up, like a box of Jujubes and some popcorn. Thoughtful and fun!

Even if you get a gift card to a store you don’t really like, or you have a random amount leftover after a purchase, find a way to use it to your advantage. And give some awesome gift cards in return this year! They’re always appreciated.

If you plan to buy gift cards this Christmas, make sure they fit within your EveryDollar Christmas budget!