Money at 30: It’s Gift Card Shopping Season

In the unlikely event that you were somehow unaware, this upcoming Friday is what’s long been known in the retail industry and popular culture as Black Friday. Traditionally, this has been the official start of the holiday shopping season. While that remains largely true, over the years, several retailers have started to play with the timeline and basically just used the term “Black Friday” to describe any supposedly better-than-normal sale period.

Sure enough, there are undoubtedly some decent deals to be found right now — whether you’re shopping for loved ones or, as often happens to me, shopping for yourself. On that note, although I have been known to pick up certain specific needed items during these types of sales, what I’m often more interested in are gift cards. Let me explain.

Despite the fact that some consumers bemoan the advent of gift cards and say that they make for impersonal gift-giving, they’re still proven immensely popular. Not only are they convenient for customers but are also beneficial to retailers. In fact, one of the dirty little not-so-secrets of the gift card industry is that the sales provide brands with capital upfront and that, in many cases, a significant amount of the funds are never claimed. That’s partially why a number of retailers offer specials on gift cards that can give customers extra bang for their buck.

In many cases, gift card promotions will look something like this: Buy $25 in gift cards and get a $5 bonus. Similarly, the bonus may not actually take the form of another gift card but could instead be a coupon for a free item (redeemed either at the time of purchase or in the future). Typically, you’ll see these types of promotions presented as “a gift for them and a bonus for you”… but, in my case, it’s almost always just for me.

As I see it, there are plenty of upsides here as I can often purchase gift cards for some of my favorite places and easily save money on things I was bound to buy anyway. But, as you may expect, there are a few drawbacks to this plan. For one, even if you think you’ll be visiting a certain retailer or restaurant in order to make use of your gift card, there’s the possibility that you’ll overestimate those figures and end up putting too much on a card. Even worse, there’s also a chance that the place in question could go out of business before you can redeem your full funds. Because of this, I’d advise consumers to be modest with their gift card purchases, run the math on how much they should purchase, and also be conscious that there’s always the smallest possibility that the cards could be rendered worthless.

Of course, should you miss these deals or fail to find one that suits you, there are ways to save money on gift cards year-round as well. For one, I’ve previously written about the app Fold that earns Bitcoin back on gift card purchases from the likes of Amazon, Chili’s, Nintendo, Southwest, and more (although some of these options require you to have the app’s free debit card).

Then again, you’d definitely be forgiven if you determined that crypto wasn’t your thing right now, so luckily there’s also the Rakuten Gift Card Shop as well as Ibotta. Furthermore, as of this writing, the latter has some pretty good enhanced deals, including 12% back on Domino’s gift cards, as opposed to the typical 4%. Speaking as someone who had a surprisingly delicious pizza from that establishment a mere week ago, I went ahead and picked one of these up while the sale is still on.

Ultimately, while I’ve never been a fan of Black Friday shopping overall, I’m definitely in favor of the gift card deals that tend to come around this time of year. That said, it is easy to take things too far. Therefore, if you do plan on taking advantage of these offers, be realistic about which retailers/restaurants you’re most likely to frequent and how much the eventual savings are worth the upfront investment. Happy shopping!


Kyle Burbank

Kyle is a freelance writer and author whose first book, "The E-Ticket Life" is now available on Amazon. In addition to his weekly "Money at 30" column on Dyer News, he is also the editorial director and a writer for the Disney fan site and has recently starting publsihing his own personal finance blog at

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