Colorful wrapped gifts

How to Maximize (and Not Lose) Gift Cards

The holidays are over. You’re back at work, the pecan pie leftovers are long gone, and all the festive lights have been packed up and put away.

Now what?

The parties, travel, and extra vacation days are 12 long months away, so it’s understandable that you may feel a little drab after the holidays. All that merriness is so fun, but the next thing you know, you’re back into your normal routine.

We promise, we’re not here to make you feel down, we have a point! And that point is, we know a way to brighten up the post-holiday slump. How? Why with all those handy gift cards you were given during the holidays, of course.

Gift cards may just be one of the best inventions of all time. Less stress for the gift giver and more fun for the gift receiver. So why does an estimated $1 billion in gift cards go unspent each year?

Let’s walk through how people lose gift cards, how they cost them more money, and how to get the most bang for your buck out of the gift cards you received this holiday season. There’s no better time to treat yourself with a gift card than the new year. You’ve been working hard on those resolutions, after all, and have earned a break.

Step 1: Don’t Lose Them

Of course, no one plans to lose gift cards, but the unused gift cards statistics are a little shocking. From just 2005 to 2016 over $45.7 billion in gift cards went unused, and it’s safe to say quite a few were lost. Keeping them in a safe place may seem like an obvious next step, but let’s face it, gift cards are small and easy to misplace.

The best course of action is to use them before you lose them. If they can be used to buy practical items like groceries or household supplies then try to use them right away. If they’re for a store that’s a little less practical, consider using them to buy a gift for someone else or just go wild and treat yourself without waiting for the perfect purchase to come along.

Plan a date night or girls’ night out with those restaurant, movies, or spa gift cards. It’s tempting to save gift cards, but not only do you increase your chance of losing them by holding on to them, you also run the risk of a shop going out of business. If you’re not planning on using a gift card promptly, take a photo of the serial and pin number or write it down. Even if you lose the card, you should be able to use it to do a little online shopping.

And don’t forget about those digital gift cards! It’s understandable that gift cards emailed to you would get lost in the shuffle. Avoid burying them in your inbox by creating a special folder labeled “gift cards”—that way you know exactly where they’ll be when you need them. Really, what could be easier than having all your gift card information stored digitally in one place?

Step 2: Know the Rules

Back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon to go to a store, agonize for an hour over choosing items that add up to your exact gift card amount, and then have a cashier tell you that your gift card was expired or you’d been fined fees for waiting too long to use it. Nowadays some brands have less stringent rules on the timeline of gift card usage, but it’s always a safe idea to check the fine print when you receive a gift card.

Each state has different regulations thanks to the handy Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act that was passed in 2009. For example, did you know that in California any gift card or certificate with a value of less than $10 is redeemable for its cash value?

That means Californians have no need to hold onto a gift card with a few dollars left on it. Think of all that extra wallet space! You can check out your state’s regulations regarding gift card expiration dates, inactivity fees, and cash redeemability here .

Step 3: Get Techy

Gift cards are usually a safe bet because the receiver can choose a gift they truly want. Well, most of the time. Sometimes you’re given a gift card that you’re unlikely to use anytime soon. Instead of letting that gift card collect dust in your wallet, consider selling it for cash or trading it for another gift card. CardPool can help you sell your gift cards and store credit for cold hard cash (up to 92% of their value).

It might be time to dig through your junk drawer to see if you can make a little money off the gift cards you’d completely forgotten about. You can sell your cards online or bring your unwanted gift cards to one of their physical locations and walk out with cash or credit to use towards discounted gift cards.

If you’re looking to make a purchase with a gift card that doesn’t cover the full value of what you’re hoping to buy, consider purchasing an unwanted gift card at a discounted price to fund your purchase. Really, you can get a discount on almost any purchase by grabbing a partially used or unwanted gift card at a discount.

Step 4: Don’t Overspend

While a gift card of any amount is appreciated, $25 can only take you so far in most stores. Let’s talk about how to use gift cards without spending too much of your own money by planning your purchases wisely. Before making a purchase, you could sign up for email sale alerts from the establishment your gift card is for and wait until you can get a discount on your purchase— as long as you’re confident you won’t lose or forget about those gift cards in the meantime.

Websites like can help you find the best coupon codes for almost any store so you can get free shipping or a discount off your purchase. And don’t forget to check if you can get cash back on a purchase while using shopping rebate sites like eBates .

If you get a good enough deal, you can even purchase items you aren’t planning on using and then resell them later on websites like Ebay, Etsy, and Poshmark. Who knows, you might make a tidy profit off your purchase, especially if you’re purchasing something that may increase in value over time like limited edition styles, collectables, or art.

Getting good with money this year? Learn more about SoFi Checking and Savings®, our checking and savings account that is perfect for daily purchases and saving for the long term. And it has zero account fees.

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The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance.
This information isn’t financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on specific financial needs, goals and risk appetite.
Neither SoFi nor its affiliates is a bank.
SoFi Checking and SavingsTM is offered through SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA /SIPC .

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