Robertson County Connection

Ms. Cheap: Make those gift cards work for you (before they expire)

Gift cards can always give a boost to your budget but be aware of expiration dates and other restrictions.

I do love to luck up and find an unused gift card. It’s like free money.

So, when I discovered a nice $25 gift card to McCabe’s Pub during the after-Christmas cleanout of my desk, I was thrilled and motivated to use it ASAP because the restaurant had just announced that it would be closing.

So, my brother and I hotfooted it over there for lunch and happily used the card to buy both of our delicious lunches with just a small tab remaining. It was my turn to buy lunch since Brother and I alternate treating, so I figure I came out way ahead, using the card for my turn and knowing that his turn was next up.

Phew – used it just in time.

The consumer finance company Bankrate found that 47 percent of American adults have at least one unspent gift card or voucher. Bankrate said the average value of unused gift cards is $187 per person or a total of $23 billion.

Goodness. I better start looking around for more of these popup treasures.

Surely there are more unused gift cards that might be lurking in drawers or pockets or other places in our house.

Free money! Free food!

It was like a scavenger hunt but sadly I discovered a few expired coupons and cards. There was a 2003 letter and $100 gift certificate to Sperry’s which is one of our favorite places. Small print said it was “void 1 year from date of purchase” – which sadly was June 11, 2003. Ugghh.

Another disappointing find was a $75 Fleming’s steakhouse gift card that expired in 2014. And a card offering a complementary meal for two at Cracker Barrel, dated 7/31/13 – with a small print clause saying it expired one month from its issue date.

I am so embarrassed to have let all of this slip by me.

I know that I am not the only one to be letting these cards go to waste. And it is mostly due to simple laziness, which was my downfall for sure.

According to The Hustle, the reasons we don’t spend gift card money include:

  • We forget about the cards, which was the case with my McCabe’s card, and these other now worthless ones.
  • We lose the gift card. Ugghh.
  • You don’t like the retailer/restaurant that issued the gift card. If this is the case, you might consider giving it away to someone who would use it or selling it at a discount to an online reseller.
  • We can’t access the retailer/restaurant due to location or other factors. Maybe it went out of business or closed your local location.
  • We bought something of lesser value and left the leftover amount on the card.
  • The gift card expires and/or comes with restrictions.

The bottom line is: Pay attention to your cards. Put them in a safe place and know where they are. Check expirations and restrictions and use them ASAP!

Be aware: The Better Business Bureau says: “Gift cards have become a multibillion-dollar industry, a gift that always fits. … Worldwide, consumers spent billions on gift cards last year. However, that total comes with an asterisk — it includes the gift cards on which scammers increasingly rely to extract payment from their victims.”

The BBB’s investigation found increased reports of scams involving gift cards, with hundreds of millions of dollars in losses over the last few years.

The BBB study says, “payment by gift card is a common thread among many scams including government impersonators, business email compromise frauds, tech support frauds, romance scams, fake check scams, prize/sweepstakes scams, and online sales of nonexistent vehicles.”

BBB officials caution that if you’re asked to make payment via gift card, there is a good chance you are dealing with a scam. They also note that gift cards don’t carry the same protections as credit or debit cards. 

Mary Hance, who has four decades of journalism experience in the Nashville area, writes a weekly Ms. Cheap column. She also appears on Thursdays on Talk of the Town on NewsChannel5. Reach her at and follow her on Facebook as

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