Gift cards vs Cash

By glblguy


I’m sure it’s happened to you. A birthday, holiday, or special occasion is coming up for someone in your life, but you have no clue what to get them. For all but the closest of my family members this happens to be frequently. It’s even worse for my parents and in-laws as they generally have all of the things they need or want that are within the price range I can afford. I try to look for things they want and wouldn’t normally purchase for themselves, but that’s tough. So many times I resort to gift cards.

Why Gift cards vs. Cash?

I fairly recently purchased a gift card for my Dad for Father’s Day and on the way home I began considering why I purchased a gift card rather than just giving him cash. I mean on the surface a gift card isn’t near as convenient or flexible as cash. Here are a few other things I began to consider as well:

  • Giftcards cost money, cash doesn’t – Hidden in small print surrounding your the gift card is the details on the fee. Generally they are just a few dollars and frankly I don’t have an issue with someone getting a service fee for providing the cards. What did bug me though is that I’m paying for something that is just providing the same basic value as cash. Why?
  • Giftcards are limiting – I generally purchase Visa, MasterCard or American Express gift cards. I’m not a big fan of buying a gift card forĀ  particular store or restaurant as they are limiting. What if the person I am purchasing the gift card for doesn’t like that store or restaurant. What if they can’t find what they want at that store? Their stuck, unless they utilize one of the gift card exchange websites. I prefer to use the Visa, MasterCard or American Express gift cards as they can be used most anywhere. But still, what if they want to but something that’s cash only? We’ve found many places here in the mountains that only take cash.
  • Giftcards are more personal – Technically they aren’t, but they feel more personal for some reason. Why is that? Why does a pretty little plastic card make it feel more valuable and important than cash? For some reason, society has made us feel like cash is an impersonal gift, but gift cards aren’t. That bugs me. I remember as a kid the best gift anybody could give me was cash. I loved the fact that I could take that cash and buy what I wanted. Particularly things I wanted that nobody else would really know what to buy: a particular model car, or that particular model train engine I had been wanted to buy (not the engine without the dynamic brakes but the one with them).

So how do you feel about gift cards? Why not just give cash? Is it really less personal, and if so why? I think from now on instead of gift cards, I’m getting people what I would want to receive, and that’s cash.

author: Larry

24 Responses (including trackbacks) to “Gift cards vs Cash”

  1. Kristen Says:

    I, personally, love getting gift cards. I would much rather get a gift card to one of my favorite stores or restaurants then a gift I don’t want or can’t use. I hang on to my gift cards for times when money is a little tight and I want to treat myself. I always try to buy more personalized, “real” gifts, but if I’m at a loss, I give gift cards.
    I gave my parents gift cards to their favorite happy hour/dinner spot when my dad was out of work. My parents love to get together with friends there. They were able to go out an enjoy time together and with their friends and not worry about the money aspect.

  2. Kacie Says:

    So Larry is still posting here, then? I was under the impression that he was done with the purchase of this blog.

  3. Gypsie Says:

    I feel that gift cards just seem like more of a gift. if I am given cash, I am more likely to spend that money on day to day expenses or bills, etc. But a gift card gives me the okay to spend that money on a treat for me!

  4. Damsel Says:

    I don’t think that gift cards to specific stores or restaurants are impersonal. I’ve taken the time to think about where a person likes to shop or eat, then gone and picked up the gift card. My line of thinking is that I know a certain amount about what this person would like to have, but I’ll leave the fun of picking exactly what they really want up to them. I don’t really understand the line of thought that says that this is impersonal. I almost never give gift cards to big box stores like Target, unless a person is registered there for a baby shower or wedding. I think choosing more specific stores or restaurants personalizes the card a lot (i.e. clothing store, gift shop, etc).

    I do, however, feel that Visa gift cards are more impersonal and more like cash.

    I agree with Gypsie and Kristen about their points, too!

  5. Dramon Says:

    I personally have had issues with using American express gift cards and as such would not buy one for someone else. Restaurant ones are popular with my in-laws as it gives them an excuse to go out.

  6. Shawna Says:

    Personally, I enjoy giving and receiving gift cards, mainly because they force me to buy something that I wouldn’t normally buy for myself (dinner and movie ones are my favorite!).

    That being said, I have found that, while there are lots of people who don’t like getting gift cards (or cash for that matter), almost everyone likes getting fresh flowers. I tend to go that route when I really want to get a gift for someone but am unsure of what they want or need.

  7. Mike Says:

    I had Larry to write 10 posts when I purchased the blog. There is stil one or two posts left.


  8. Diane Says:

    I really dislike receiving gift cards, and seldom give them unless someone specifically requests it.

    I generally end up putting them away and not using them. I’d rather have cash, which I can put in a fund to purchase something I’m saving for that I really want.

    I don’t really enjoy giving cash, because it does seem impersonal. My mom (in her 70s) likes getting cash for gifts, to save for something like a new TV. So I give her a small gift like a vanilla candle she enjoys and give her cash.

    If you know a person likes gift cards for a certain restaurant or store, that’s fine.

  9. Gina Says:

    What Kristen & Gypsie said … love them, give them and use them when money is tight. I do not purchase Visa/AmEx gift cards b/c they charge a monthly fee if they are not used in a specific amount of time (usually 3-6 months). I just found a $50 gc to Home Depot in a box from 5 yrs ago. It is still good and has all $50 to use. New ceiling fan here we come!

    P.S. Gibble Guy – thought about you this week. 2 of my co-workers bought Bimmers (328i ’07 and M3 convertible ’05) this week. Talk about motivation! I cannot get out of debt fast enough. I’m a big fan like you – wanted one at age 10.

  10. Craig Says:

    Gift cards are more accepted because it still is a gift and has the mentality that there was more thought involved. Personally I would rather receive cash so it’s not restricting to its use.

  11. snow_drops Says:

    Personally, I prefer accepting cash than gift cards. I grew up in a culture where gift cards were unheard of. So people gave cash as present (they still do).

    Of course, you have to put the cash in the red envelope before it turns into a “gift”… ^_^

  12. Mike Says:

    One of my favorite gift was actually a huge gift card to a golf store… in order to buy a new Big Bertha Driver :-D

  13. Stefanie Says:

    I love receiving giftcards to my favorite stores or restaurants. However, I despise those Visa/Mastercard/Amex giftcards. They are a pain to use as a lot of cashiers do not know how to ring them up. I have had many bad experiences with those.

  14. Carolyn Says:

    I would rather receive cash for the reasons you listed, mainly that gift cards are limited. With cash, especially if other friends or family have the same idea, you can combine your cash gifts and get something really nice that you’ve been waiting for and shop around for the best deal. My Mom and I just gave cash to my nephew who just turned 13 and he was thrilled. That’s what he says he wants anytime there is a gift giving opportunity.

  15. Bucksome Says:

    I agree with most of the other comments. Gift cards are good gifts when you match the card with the recipient. For example, my sister was going on a Carnival cruise so I bought her a gift card for on-board credit. My mom and dad have virtually everything they need so I buy them gift cards to their favorite restaurants.

    I never, ever buy those AMEX or VISA gift cards.

  16. George Alarcon Says:

    I would rather just hand out cash to friends and family for special occasions in a gift card to make it a little more special. Gift cards are fine but cold cash can’t be beat any where. Plus, you don’t have to trouble over paying that fee.

    overall, gift cards are limiting and inconvenient to the end user.

  17. fwisp Says:

    Cash is way better. I had a bad recent experience – received an AMEX gift card from a friend for my last birthday. The card wasn’t working so I had to spend hours on the phone with AMEX who were not helpful at all. I end up receiving a new card in the mail three weeks after my actual birthday.

  18. Justin Says:

    Gift cards for specific stores generally don’t have fees. IME, these days, only gift cards for VISA, AMEX and MC seem to have fees.

  19. DDFD at Says:

    If you are going the gift card– you should go cash.

    Cash is always the right color and right size.

  20. Carrie Says:

    I think that should be the reason that gift cards are personal or cash is impersonal that’s what the people or society believe. The value is same but the views are very different.

  21. Trains O Scale Says:

    I must say that i really dont see the point of a gift card. If they did gift cards that cost you seven pounds but were worth a tenner it would worth it. But what is the point in making something that can be spent ANYWHERE limited to just one shop? A gift card says “i cant be bothered” just as much as cash.

  22. Keith Says:

    My wife and I are considering going on a Carnival Vacation cruise to Progresso, Mexico, and then Cozumel. It is a five Day get-away starting out of Mobile. Anyone have any knowledge about this cruise trip? My spouse and i aren’t able to find much information related to Progresso