Gift cards suck, just give money
The Mashable Series Don’t @ me takes unpopular opinions and supports them with… the reasons. We all have our ways, but we can just convince you to change yours. And if not, relax.
Supply chain issues plaguing the run-up to the holiday season have payment services expect gift cards to make up a big chunk of giveaways this year. Gift card purchases too increased last yearas COVID-19 drove shoppers away from stores and seemingly towards bad gift ideas.
The spirit of giving is nice and all, but that tendency must die. Gift cards are just less useful money that expires, and it’s high time we stopped using them. Just hand over the money.
Despite their popularity, gift cards are an inherently flawed proposition. The very nature of a free gift demands that it be delivered with no strings attached, allowing your recipient to enjoy it however they see fit. But gift cards are tangled in strings, tying your gift to a pre-selected vendor and imposing a deadline on its transaction.
The value of a gift card is also rarely used satisfactorily. Either your recipient buys something within the limit of the card, leaving a few extra dollars for your sponsored company, or they go over the limit and have to top it up with their own money, which is money they wouldn’t have spent otherwise. Gift card users would spend a average of 40% more than the value of the cardmaking it less of a gift and more of a grant.
And none of this is without mentioning the environmental impact of physical gift cards, billions of which are made from hard-to-recycle PVC plastic.
Gift cards are a failure of society at all levels, a controlling evil, and must be abolished. Fortunately, we already know what should make up for their absence: cold hard cash.
“But Amanda,” you’ll say, clutching your collection of $5 Starbucks cards stubbornly to your chest. “Without gift cards blocking funds for frivolous expenses, the gift will simply equate to my savings or go towards boring, pedestrian expenses like the water bill!”
First, don’t blame the versatility of money for your inability to value yourself. Second, if gift cards entice people to buy items, it’s not because those items are wanted, appreciated, or even useful. Gift card purchases are driven solely by the miserable desire to use the allocated funds before they expire, lest the card be forgotten until it is no longer viable. They are a burden to be tackled, or a disappointing mausoleum of joys never had. Either way, these cards are preloaded with stress.
In contrast, pure silver is eternal – or as close to eternal as we have it on our present mortal plane. Money can be spent immediately or stored when you need it. It can buy you something small, or it can be used for expensive items that you have saved up for. He can buy luxury goods or finance something essential. And if the money ever becomes worthless, then we’ll probably have more to worry about than unused birthday presents.
A monetary gift makes no assumptions about a person’s wants, needs, or financial situation, trusting the recipient to know where and how to apply the gift so that it benefits them the most. Perhaps they would appreciate the security of more wiggle room in their budget after paying the bills. Maybe they’d like to splurge on the grocery store and get the fancy sausages. Maybe they just want to spend it all at Bed Bath & Beyond. But it’s a decision they have to make.
The money might even end up giving the recipient a boost when they need it. Imagine how heartbreaking it would be to receive a $30 Arby’s gift card when you’re $30 short of rent.
Of course, some well-meaning people still believe that money is not an appropriate gift. It shows no attention, personalization or consideration of what the individual recipient may appreciate. It’s a cold transaction rather than a loving celebration.
To that I reply: don’t Asian children lose their tiny gourds when they are given red sachets at Lunar New Year? Don’t newlyweds appreciate some extra funds to help them start their life together? Slipping cash into a fancy envelope is more than enough to make it special, and it has been for decades. And no one presented a few clean $50 bills secretly wishing they’d received a thoughtful gift card.
See also: Best gifts under $50: 70+ ideas for absolutely everyone
If you are really worried, you can simply decorate the envelope yourself. Adding a fun drawing or heartfelt message would mean so much more than a plastic gift card grabbed on your weekly grocery run. While a gift card may inherently demonstrate superficial thinking, it only serves to underscore the insufficiency of your offer: “I wanted to give you a gift, but I have only a vague idea of what you would like. Yet, I don’t. I trust you to spend the money yourself, so I’m going to present you with something that is deeply unsatisfactory for all parties involved.”
Gift cards are a restrictive mechanism that exist only to facilitate half-hearted shows of consideration from the giver, regardless of the inconvenience to the recipient. The only weak case where a gift card might be acceptable is when you and your recipient strongly believe in supporting a struggling small business, in which case you should probably just patronize it together.
I don’t blame anyone who gave a gift card to a retiring colleague. You were just obeying the absurd corporate conventions imposed on all of us, as much victims of the workings of capitalism as anyone else. But there is a better way to go, if we all had the courage to accept it. Just leave the money and go.