MONEY Shopping

How to Get Cash for Your Unwanted Gift Cards

Tom Hahn—Getty Images

Fortunately, you aren't stuck with that gift card to your great-aunt's favorite store. Here's how you can dump it for something you actually want this holiday.

Now that Christmas has passed and the piles of wrapping and ribbons are cleared, you have a good view of the duds in your holiday haul.

For items like that hideous sweater from your cousin, see our guide to returning and exchanging gifts. But if the unwanted present is a little rectangle of plastic redeemable at a store you’ve never heard of or would never willingly wander into, it may seem like you’re stuck with it—or whatever item you find least offensive in that shop.

That’s if you use it at all. This year alone, American consumers will leave more than $1 billion in store credit unused, according to CEB TowerGroup, which tracks gift card trends. Rather than leave that card to languish in your wallet, consider these options for swapping it for something you do want.

Trade It In

There are a number of websites that let you get cash back for your card or swap for another you’re more likely to use, but don’t expect to recoup the full value. These vendors will take a small percentage, meaning you’ll pay a price for your swap.

To make sure you get the most for any trade, try This online gift card aggregator lets you select the merchant of your card and then easily compare offers from 15 reseller sites, including and, to figure out who will offer you back the highest percentage of your card’s value. Since each gift card reseller uses different fees and payment methods, it’s worthwhile to do this check first and then go to the site offering the most for your unwanted plastic.

Not included in this price comparision site is a new offer from Walmart that’s good if you have a lot of love for the big-box retailer. Walmart will trade store credit for gift cards from more than 200 different retailers, restaurants, and airlines through its own online exchange website, Certain merchant cards will get you up to 95% of the original card’s value, or about 3% more than most reseller websites, which usually top out at 92% of a card’s face value. Others will get you 85% back, and some as little as 70%.

Sell It

If you don’t want to make your swap online, you can visit certain Coinstar kiosks (yes, those same machines you dump a year’s worth of spare change into). These yellow boxes accept gift cards from more than 150 retailers and restaurants, as long as they have a balance of at least $20. It will make you an offer for the card, and, if you accept, will provide you with a voucher you can then redeem for cash at the register of the shop the kiosk is located in.

If you don’t want to have the value of your card dictated by a reseller, use Through this site, you can set your own price for the gift card in a marketplace similar to eBay, without the bidding. You can list any e-card for free on the site and a physical gift card for $1, but when you sell it, the company will take a 15% cut, meaning that even if you sell it for full value you can still end up recouping the same or less than a site that pays a lower percentage outright, plus you won’t have to wait as long to get money back.

Donate It

If you’d rather keep another service from profiting off your gift card or don’t find the exchange worthwhile, contact your favorite charity organization and ask if they accept donated gift cards. You could also use a site like Gift Card Giver, which distributes donated gift cards to certain approved nonprofit organizations. Giving the card away could lower your tax bill and extend that holiday generosity even more.

Who do you side with in the Great Gift Card Debate?
Why gift cards are the only present that makes sense
Why gift cards are a crime against Christmas

MONEY Holidays

If You Insist on Regifting, Here’s How to Do It

gift with card that has been amended from "To: Me" to read "To: You"
J.M. Guyon

If the present you're planning to pass along doesn't meet these 5 cardinal rules, put down that wrapping paper right now.

We’ve all been there: stuck with a present we don’t want and feeling the urge to repack that hideous whatever-it-is and pass it off to the next unsuspecting person on our holiday gift list.

Should we give in to temptation?

“Nine times out of ten, regifting will come back to bite you in the butt. It doesn’t have a lot of good spirit to it,” says Lizzie Post, etiquette expert and co-author of the most recent edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette.

She recommends that instead of repacking the item, you cut your losses and simply donate it, or at least be honest with your loved one: “Hey, I got two copies of this book for Christmas, would you like one of them?”

But if you feel that the unwanted present is actually a really good gift—just, you know, not for you—there are certain circumstances where recycling a gift is perfectly fine, says Diane Gottsman, owner of the Protocol School of Texas. “We’ve all gotten gifts that just didn’t work, and we all want to be budget-conscious and not wasteful.”

So if you’re going to regift this year, follow these five rules and nobody gets hurt.

1. Keep It Out of Your Social Circle

“You need to be 99% sure that the person you are giving the gift to and the person who gave it to you won’t ever find out about your regift,” Post says. To avoid getting caught out, don’t pass it along to anyone in your family if it came from another family member. Same goes for swapping within your circle of friends. Instead, take that ceramic pie bird from your mother-in-law and give it to your baker friend who lives in another state.

2. Have a Flawless Presentation

Make sure the item is in the original box and that both are in perfect, store-shelf condition. Anything that you’ve opened, tinkered with, or tested out shouldn’t be going to someone else, says Gottsman. And don’t even think about doing a bait and switch and putting it in a new box or different bag to make it look newer or more expensive than it actually is, she adds.

3. Skip Any Items That Aren’t New

Anything that’s been sitting in your closet for a while will not be to current taste and may look dated. You’ll also want to be sure no original gift tags are still stuck to the package and, if regifting a giftcard, that the amount listed matches what’s actually on the card.

4. Ditto the Unique and Homemade

“Do not regift any family heirlooms, anything homemade, or anything really unique,” says Gottsman. “No matter how much you hate it, you should respect the effort, thought, and meaning behind that gift.”

More generic and less expensive items, particularly perishables like chocolate or wine, lend themselves more easily to being passed along because we think of these hostess-type gifts as less heartfelt or meaningful than other presents anyway.

5. No Regifting the Ugly

Don’t think of your regift as a way of unloading unwanted items. “If you find the item useless, ugly, or in bad taste, why give it to someone else?” asks Gottsman.

Your recipient still needs to feel that thought and effort went into their gift—even if it wasn’t yours. “You need to really think about the person who will be receiving your regift and be sure that it is an item the person would actually want.”

If the present you’re thinking of regifting doesn’t meet all the requirements on this list, put down that giftwrap right now. Return it, donate it, or find a special place for it in your closet so you can easily pull it out next year when your mother-in-law visits.

MONEY Shopping

Why You’re Shopping More for Yourself This Holiday Season

woman trying on shoes at store
Jason Hetherington—Getty Images

Is that giant TV in your shopping cart a gift—or for you? With more people snapping up holiday deals for themselves, retailers are starting to cater to these self-gifters.

Jill Bascou looked like a typical holiday gift shopper standing in line on Thanksgiving Day shortly after the Target in Marlton, New Jersey opened at 6 p.m.

Except she wasn’t buying for other people.

The 39-year-old was waiting to get herself an iPad. In her cart was the xBox her husband had been coveting, and her father was in another part of the store hunting down a giant, cheap TV—for himself.

Retailers call this self-gifting. Look at a major store’s circular advertising holiday gifts—from the $5 toasters at Kohl’s to a $279 Dyson vacuum at Target—and you’ll see the top draws are items people typically buy for themselves.

Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at NPD Group, started tracking the trend of self-gifting six years ago, after interviewing a shopper on Black Friday at a Macy’s.

The woman had a huge pile of clothes over one arm and a smaller pile on her other. Cohen was surprised to learn that woman was buying the big pile for herself. Her mother and sister were the designated recipients of the other pile.

Now 30% of purchases over the Thanksgiving holiday are attributed to self-gifting, Cohen says. Surveys from the National Retail Federation bear this out, showing that 77% of shoppers took advantage of discounts to buy for themselves over the holiday weekend.

Toys are the obvious exception, but almost everything else—the TVs, the home goods, even the clothing—are items that people are often buying for themselves.

Retailers have been catching on, adjusting inventories and messaging. Kathy Grannis, spokesperson for the NRF, points to a pop-up gift tag ad recently on Gap’s website that read “From Us to You,” and was clearly meant to engage self-gifters.

For clothing retailers, Grannis says the enticements to shoppers are often in the form of a significant discount off the whole store. Old Navy offered half off everything on Thanksgiving Day, which drew Sarita Henriquez, 36, of Burlington, New Jersey, to shop for herself, with no set spending limit in mind.

“I’m being greedy this year,” Henriquez said as she waited in her car for the store to open at 4 p.m.

“I hear self-gifting reported as greediness, but there’s really more nuance than that,” says Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist and author of Decoding the New Consumer Mind.

Yarrow breaks down self-gifting holiday shoppers to three types: those buying special things like outfits and decor in order to be more social; those delaying purchases because they are expecting bargains, and those who are buying on impulse based on what’s available.

Impulse buyers are the key target for retailers’ special doorbusters. These are folks like the Hartman brothers, (Ed, 25, Shawn, 24, and Tyler, 21) who, while visiting family for Thanksgiving, each waited for cheap TVs at a Best Buy near Cherry Hill, N.J. to put in their own homes.

Cohen’s advice for shoppers who missed out on the early sales and are still waiting for big discounts: “Be patient and wait for the price to come to you.”

Don’t obsess over getting the absolute rock-bottom prices if it means delaying what you want, Cohen adds. You can always return an item if you find it for less and try to get the store to price match—as long as you have your receipt.

And just wait until you see next year’s sales.

“Retailers will figure this out,” says Cohen. And then Thanksgiving week will be even more about self-gifting, “and then there will be another set of doorbusters for later in December.”

TIME Family

Why Your Kids Don’t Thank You for Gifts

images by Tang Ming Tung;Getty Images/Flickr RM

And how to help them develop some gratitude

When we shop for holiday gifts, many of us look for things that will make our children happy. We can’t wait to hear their appreciative cries of “thank you! thank you!” once the wrapping gets ripped off.

But here’s a tip: Don’t count on it.

In this season for thanks and giving, even the most thoughtful children may not offer much gratitude for the gadgets, gizmos, and games they receive. And you’d be wise not expect it.

I’ve spent the last year living more gratefully because of a book I’m writing on the subject, so I’m confident that gratitude can make us happier, healthier, and even fitter. Seeing the world through grateful eyes can lower depression and improve sleep. It creates a pay-it-forward spirit that is good for the world. Encouraging children to write down events that made them grateful—and not just on Thanksgiving—can begin a habit that lasts a lifetime.

Read: What I’m Thankful For, by Nick Offernan, Wendy Davis and others

But gratitude for the endless stuff we buy them? All the research I’ve done has convinced me that it’s not going to happen. And there are several reasons why.

In one study, Yale’s assistant professor of psychology, Yarrow Dunham, found that 4- to 8-year old kids responded differently when given a gift they thought they earned versus one that was granted out of simple generosity. He called the earned gift an “exchange relationship.” The children were happy for the trinket but didn’t experience the deeper resonance of gratitude that might also make them more generous to others. The gift given for no reason, however, had a different emotional impact and the children showed thanks by being more likely to share candies they received in a follow-up game.

As parents, we don’t consider our holiday gifts an “exchange relationship” since we know the time, money, and effort we put in to buying them. But kids have a different view. One mom told me that when she asked her 16-year-old son to thank her for buying him a cellphone, he said, “But that’s what moms do, isn’t it?” He wasn’t being rude—just practical.

From a teenager’s vantage, it’s a parent’s responsibility to take care of the family, and playing Santa is part of the job. According to Dunham, “when teenagers code it that way, a gift is no longer something given freely and voluntarily”—it’s just mom and dad living up to their obligation. And who’s going to be grateful for parents doing what they’re supposed to do?

Read: 40 Inspiring Motivational Quotes About Gratitude

Asking our children to be grateful for gifts is sending the wrong message, anyway. Cornell psychology professor Tom Gilovich has found that people are more likely to be grateful for experiences than for material possessions. A family dinner, a songfest around the fireplace, or even a hike in the woods creates a spirit of gratitude that outlasts even the nicest Nintendo.

Parents may get exasperated when a teenager tosses a new cashmere sweater on the floor, and gratitude aside, and we do have the right to demand good manners. Children should know to say thank you (profusely) to every parent, child, aunt, and uncle who gives them something.

But kids can’t know how blessed they are unless they have a basis for comparison. And they don’t learn that by a parent complaining that they’re ungrateful. We need to give our children the gift of a wider world view. Take them to a soup kitchen instead of to the mall. Become the secret Santa for a needy family. Show by example that gratitude isn’t about stuff—which ultimately can’t make any of us happy anyway. It’s about realizing how lucky you are and paying your good fortune forward.

My favorite idea: Collect all the charitable appeals you get this time of year into a big basket and find a night when the whole family can sit down together to go through them. You set the budget for giving and the kids decide how it’s distributed. Going through each request, you have the opportunity to discuss with children and teens (and also your spouse) what it means to need a food bank or to live in a part of the world where there is no clean water. You can talk about teenagers who are caught in war zones or those suffering from disabilities. Then write the checks together or go online and make your contributions.

Once the conversation about gratitude gets started, it’s much easier to continue all year. Set up a family ritual at bedtime where kids describe three things that made them grateful. When kids go off to college, text them a picture each week of something that inspired your appreciation. Whether it’s a friend, a snowflake, or a sunset, the spirit of the photos will help you (and them) see the world differently.

Teaching children to focus on the positive and appreciate the good in their lives is perhaps the greatest gift we can give them. And we can all learn together that the things that really matter aren’t on sale at a department store.

So I hope my kids will thank me for the gifts I buy them this year. But gratitude? That needs more than wrapping paper and a bow.


Reuse, Recycle…and Regift?

You’re down to the wire, and your wallet is aching from holiday outlays, when — oops! — you remember you still haven’t gotten anything for your kids’ heroic soccer coach, or the girl down the block who babysits for you.

But hey! You just got some very attractive coasters at the office Santa Swap. Plus an unexpected bottle of bubbly from a pal. And a V-neck sweater from Mom in a shade you think might be mauve. Why not regift them?

After all, isn’t regifting just another holiday tradition at this point? It’s been celebrated on Seinfeld. And recycling a gift seems perfectly appropriate for the green, waste-not-want-not mood of the age.

As someone who has explored regifting pros and cons for years, I thought I’d distill some of my collected wisdom.

For starters, let’s acknowledge that the fundamental problem with regifting is that it’s dishonest. You’re conducting a charade. You’re presenting an object, which someone once gave to you, as a legitimate, here-I-picked-this-out-and-paid-for-it present — which it isn’t.

That doesn’t make it wrong, exactly. If you’ve gotten a gift that you can’t use — and one that someone else would enjoy — why not pass it on?

But your act of holiday deception has to be carried out with great care — and, ideally, some sincerity.

If the babysitter will hate Mom’s mauve sweater, you can’t give her that as a regift. That’s cheap and tacky. Ditto for the coasters. A 14-year-old doesn’t need coasters. That’s a dopey, desperate move.

If the soccer coach would actually look good in mauve and could use a sweater (and your mother isn’t likely to attend the kids’ soccer games in cold weather), voila! — a potentially successful regift. (Just get the babysitter an iTunes card, OK?)

This may sound obvious, but all regifts must be:

  • new (no hand-me-downs, at all, whatsoever, ever)
  • in the original packaging, with tags attached
  • from a store that still exists
  • un-monogrammed
  • without any indication it was meant for you (remove gift cards, please)

For additional tips and stories, check out

Some experts advise being frank about anything you’re re-giving, and telling the recipient that you got item X and can’t use it, but you truly thought they’d like it.

While this might fly from the “it’s the thought that counts” angle, you have to consider whom you’re regifting to, and what the backlash factor could be. Some folks won’t care, and will appreciate both the thought and the gesture.

Others will look at the regift in the worst possible light, and put you on their own regift list for all eternity. And you don’t need any more coasters or mauve sweaters in your future, do you? Let us know how you feel about regifting in the poll below.

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