Gift Card Alternatives: The Art of Buying Actual Gifts

Posted by Madison on December 14, 2011

It’s easy to give a gift card. I know. I do it all the time. But could this be the year you actually give gifts instead of gift cards?

I’m a sucker for gift dard deals too, but the reality is that gift card recipients don’t use the gift cards, they exchange them for cash.

I like to tell myself that if I buy someone a gift card, I’m putting more thought into the gift than if I just give them cash… but is that really true? I know that gift cards are useful, but it just feels a bit impersonal. This year, I’m challenging myself to avoid purchasing gift gards!

Here are some gift card alternatives if you are looking for inspirations from the most popular gift card categories:

Gift Card Alternatives

  • Restaurants: Instead of a restaurant gift card, how about one of the suggestions for an experience gift: sign up for a cooking class together!
  • Coffee: I was once in a gift exchange with coworkers and almost everyone gave each other a Starbucks gift card. It made the gift exchange a lot less exciting. If you still want to stick to the coffee theme, how about some fun coffee gadgets instead? I just got a milk frother, and it’s so much more fun than a gift card! (Yes, I know, I’m busted for buying myself my own gift right before Christmas!)
  • Movie Theaters: Since I spend a lot of time with parents who mention they haven’t gone to the movies in years, it usually comes down to one thing: it’s not worth it to spend $50 on a babysitter to go to the movie theater, when you can just wait for it to come out on video. Here’s an idea, if you give a movie theater gift card, include an offer to babysit the kids too. You just turned this into a priceless gift!
  • Bookstores: My mom has a Kindle, so it’s just too easy to give her a gift card to buy books every year. But this year I’m thinking about a fashionable Kindle sleeve or reading light instead. You can always buy books for everyone on your list too!
  • Prepaid Cards from Visa/Mastercard/Amex: Prepaid gift cards actually feel just like cash. If you are purchasing them for a teen or someone else to try to help teach them responsible spending, it makes sense. For anyone else though, I think we can do better!
  • iTunes: Instead of an iTunes gift card, how about actually selecting and purchasing some music for the person? I know that picking out music for someone else takes a lot of work and it is very personal. However, taking the time to have a conversation with someone about what music they like could lead to a great conversation you just haven’t made time for lately.
  • Hardware Stores: Gift cards to Home Depot and Lowes are popular with men. Instead, how about buying the person a new household man toy instead. In our neck of the woods, any guy would be delighted to see a new snowblower under the tree on Christmas morning!
  • Costco: Here’s one where the gift card actually gets to stay on the list. Why? Because if you buy someone a Costco cash card they can shop at Costco without a membership! My dad likes to shop at Costco, but usually only once a year. It’s not worth it for him to buy a membership, but it would be nice for him to be able to shop there without having to take me along.
  • Spa gift certificates: While they’re a nice thought, unless you know the recipient is headed to a spa in the near future, these usually get traded on exchange sites like plastic jungle. Instead, how about a foot massager or something they can use more frequently?
  • Electronics: Gift cards to Best Buy. What more could an electronics lover want? The great thing about anyone who loves electronics is that they usually have a short list of ridiculously precise items on their list. The trick? Just ask a spouse, sibling, parent, or close friend and you should be able to surprise them with the exact item they want.
  • Amazon: Really? I love Amazon gift cards. Do I have to come up with an alternative? Ok, fine, how about browsing the Amazon lightning deals? Browsing the deals, I can usually find a gift for anyone on my list in under 10 minutes. Although, it’s dangerous, because I usually find something for myself there too!

It’s tough to come up with gift card substitutes. And gift cards are sometimes the most appropriate gift for some people. But when we start buying them for everyone, I think we can do better! Are you up for the challenge? Can we do a gift card free year?

What gift card alternatives will you buy for people this year?

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Comments to Gift Card Alternatives: The Art of Buying Actual Gifts

  1. Great post! I kinda did some of both. Some folks got gifts and a couple of others got gift cards. My dad likes to crochet and he is always making gifts for people, so, I got him a gift card to Hobby Lobby. He’ll be able to pick up what he needs when he needs it. Still struggling with what to get my Mom though! LOL She has no idea what she wants/needs either. She is 77 and lives 600 miles away. She has no hobbies (other than shopping and finding people for my dad to crochet baby blankets for!LOL)We’ve considered maid service for her, but, she stresses out over having to clean up her mess before anyone can come into clean, she is diabetic and supposed to be losing weight…..sigh, my just have to be her standard perfume or jewelry again.

    Of course, one could always buy gift cards at a discount from Plastic Jungle or by redeeming rewards miles and then go into said card store and use the card to buy the recipient of the gift an actual item. How ’bout that? That falls into a gray area, eh……?


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