Gift Cards are the New Fruitcake

(title totally stolen from this MSN article.)

I have a love/hate relationship with gift cards. I love them. They’re great. They’re easy. They’re “free money” if I get them. I hate giving them, because I feel they can be a cop-out. That’s not to say I haven’t given them, I just don’t like to.

My uncle used to give me a gift card to Best Buy every year for Christmas. The only present from him to me was “wrapped” in a white business size envelope and placed on the tree, as if it were an ornament. It was usually a substantial amount – enough to buy a digital camera, or a DVD player, or stereo. My uncle (God love him) was…lazy. A gift card was the easiest thing he could do. I think one year he actually gave me cash, because he couldn’t make it to the store. And I always appreciated it, as I could get exactly the camera I wanted (which was his point – “I knew you wanted a camera, but I thought I’d let you pick it out”). But there was never the anticipation of unwrapping the gift, of finding out what he had bought that made him think of me. It was always very impersonal.

I actually enjoy finding “the perfect gift” for people. I can’t wait to give it to them. Sometimes I’m more excited to see their reaction than they are with the gift. (Quite the let down, by the way.) I buy them things I really think they will enjoy. Sometimes I’m wrong, but hey, at least I put the thought into it. I have bought gift cards before, but only for specific reasons. Examples:

  • My sister is 10 years younger than me and much more fashion-conscious. For her birthday this year, I bought her a shirt I thought she would like, along with a gift card from the same store. I figure she can buy something she likes for herself, and it would be better than me buying her more clothes that would probably just sit in the corner of her closet until she gave them to Goodwill.
  • I often give my dad a gift card to Barnes & Noble. I have no idea what he has read, or if he’s already bought the book he was talking about wanting to read two months ago (he’s notorious for this). So, the way I figure it, I put the thought into the gift by getting it for something specific (books) while giving him the freedom to read what he wants.
  • A few years ago I gave a friend a gift card to the USNWC. Essentially, the idea was to give him a kayak run, but you can’t buy a kayak run. So I gave him the card so he could get one himself, or ride the zipline or climb the wall. His choice. But it got him there to do something fun.

The point is, even though I may give a gift card to someone, I actually think about it and give them something I think they will appreciate and put to use.

Earlier this year, I was determined to do better about sending out cards to people, for birthdays, anniversaries, or just because. Not too long after that, I started making cards, just for fun, but now I’m giving more and more handmade cards instead of store bought ones. I think it makes the person feel even more special, because I made the card with them in mind.

It really is the thought that counts. A gift card can be thoughtful. It can also be crap.

2 responses to “Gift Cards are the New Fruitcake

  1. I’m with you – I don’t necessarily like giving gift cards because I feel it’s lazy, but I like receiving them because then I don’t have to pretend to like whatever gift was selected. I’m notorious for not liking stuff that people pick out for me. When I was about 14, my mom just started letting me shop for my own Christmas presents. Sort of takes the fun out of Christmas morning, but she was tired of having to take me to the store for exchanges. 🙂 I usually get gift cards or give 3-4 very specific suggestions for gifts to family.
    This year, I bought a couple of gifts and everyone else is getting gift cards. I know it’s lazy, but that’s the point. I’m too lazy this year to put some real thought into meaningful presents with 2 weeks left until Christmas!

  2. Nothing says “I was thinking about you” like making them go out and buy it themselves. I like giftcards. I know I’m difficult to shop for so it doesn’t bother me. I do not, however, like fruitcake. Fruitcake is an archaic form of preservation for fruits. The process can be long an tedious. Giftcards are quick and easy. My point, I’d much rather get and give a giftcard than a fruitcake. My family usually gives gift cards to the younger generation. My Grandmother would never be able to figure out what Wii game Charlie wants.