This Christmas seems to have brought us a prevalence of gift cards. And, due to past discussions with DH on the subject of gift cards (years past), I couldn't help but notice this year how their reception varied. Not only by person, but by which card was gifted.
DH doesn't like gift cards, as they can be difficult to use if you don't use the entire balance at once, and your purchase doesn't come to the exact amount of the balance of the card. He also feels that they are sort of a cop-out on the part of the person buying them to gift. I quote: "If you don't know me well enough to know what I'd like, you don't need to buy me a gift."
In some ways, I agree with him. Gift cards have become so common place that I do think they have become an easy way to shop without having to actually think much about personalizing a gift. After all, a gift is kind of a personal act between gifter and giftee. And I have always thought it was a little silly to feel pressured to go buy a gift, any gift, for every person you know even slightly. Especially if you don't really have extra money laying around month to month after providing for your family's basic needs. Even more especially if you are spending rent/mortgage or food money in order to buy presents for every single person you know even remotely.
On the other hand, I think there are times when a gift card is a nice (and acceptable) gift. For instance, when you want to give someone a gift, but the timing is impractical (say, nursery or garden plants, or even chickens--yes, I have received gift certificates to both seed companies and hatcheries in previous years). Or if it is an item that wouldn't survive shipping or travel very well, not because it is alive--in the case of plants and chickens--but because it is fragile or perishable. Or when you know someone is trying to save up money to purchase something, but that person also has trouble handling (and saving) cash.
So, for kicks, let's go through the gift cards DH and I received this Christmas, and I'll tell you the reactions (mostly unvoiced) at the time each was received.
$25 Visa gift card: totally a surprise, this one was in a card to me from two of the horses (and their owner) at work. I in no way expected a gift from this person, especially not one of such a large amount (large because we really don't know each other hardly at all). But honestly, it was a nice gift, since one of her horses has required special medical type care for about three months straight and I'm the person who gives it five mornings a week.
$10 McDonald's Arch card: another surprise from a boarder/horse at work. This came wrapped in a package of hand warmers (a very thoughtful gift for someone who works in an unheated environment during the coldest months of the year). I had to get online to check the balance of the card, as none was written on it, and I'm not a frequenter of McDonalds, so not sure how I'm going to make use of this. It might get passed on to someone else who does like McD's. . . But if you're of the mind that it's the thought that counts, it was a nice gift since a) the person who gave it certainly didn't have to--her horse has only been at the barn maybe two months and I've never met the owner in person and b) most everyone eats at McDonalds (except me) so if you are wanting to give a token gift this would fit the bill for most people.
$50 restaurant chain gift card: to DH and I, from my brother and his girlfriend. Well, honestly, I thought it was a bit much. They certainly didn't need to spend this much on us (and I know they fall into the category of can't afford it). And it's kind of one of those cop-out gift cards; 'don't know what they like, but surely everyone likes to eat out, so let's get them this and they can choose from six restaurants owned by this company, plus we can cross them off the to buy for list and be done shopping.'
$20 Dick's card: from the grandkids to DH. Being as K3 and Toad most likely didn't even know this was being purchased, and they are so young still, it really isn't necessary for them to buy Grandpa a gift. Yes, he'll put it toward something, probably new crossbow bolts, but he would have rather their parents saved that money (or even used it to make sure they paid their rent on time).
$20 Hobby Lobby gift card: from the grandkids to me. Same thoughts as the Dick's card. Yes, I do occasionally shop at Hobby Lobby (when I'm toting a 40% off coupon), and I will probably use this to buy fabric to make something for K3 and/or Toad.
$50 Walmart card: What do you say about this, when it is from your mother-in-law, for both you and your husband? When you saw your brother- and sisters-in-law get new handmade quilts? You tell yourself a) she knows I make quilts, so probably that is why she didn't make one for us, b) she would be overjoyed with a Walmart card herself--especially a $50 one, and you accept it in the spirit it was offered. Besides, Mother-in-Law's color combinations on quilts are kind of garish, and the ones she made the others don't look much bigger than double-bed sized.
(not pictured) $50 Mastercard gift card: to DH, from my parents. Because he doesn't write a Wish List for Christmas and give it to them, as my Mom requests, and I couldn't supply her with any ideas she thought worthy of buying (or that were easy enough to buy/as much as she wanted to spend). This is kind of my mother's passive aggressive way of making a point: you made it hard for me to buy you a gift by not telling me exactly what to buy.
So, we still stand somewhat divided on gift cards as a whole. They are a nice surprise when you know someone wanted to do something nice for you in return for nice things you did for them. They are nice when they are applicable to your shopping/eating habits. They are a cop-out when they are of the 'what in the heck are we going to do with this?!?" variety. They make you feel a little guilty when you know the person giving them shouldn't even be spending money on you in the first place. They are kind of a pain in the rear when you don't want that money spent to go to waste, but you have to go out of your way in order to use them. They really are a negative thing when used to prove a point, such as in the case of 'you didn't give me a shopping list, so I could only buy you a generic gift card for the amount of money I wanted to spend on you.'