My big fat wallet


It was starting to look like Costanza’s exploding wallet. So I dumped it out and out came a handful of receipts and a packet of Splenda — but mostly the pain in my right cheek was the heft of four gift cards. Each of them are about a year old – from last Christmas, of course.  The grand total of money on my unused cards = $150 – or about a week’s worth of groceries for a hungry vegetarian.

Wonder how many Macy's gift cards were in there?

With just two weeks before Christmas, I’m sure there are people who fully intend to buy actual gifts for their loves ones but will likely get too busy and end up buying a card off the end cap at Safeway or Genuardi’s instead.

I’m not judging you. We’ve all done it. Just know there’s a good chance that you’re taking your $20 or $50 bill and tossing it out the window of a moving car at night in a neighborhood you’ve never been in before.

Americans spend $65 billion on annually (a 2009 estimate) on gift cards with almost $7 billion of it going unused. That’s one tenth of the gross domestic product of The Netherlands. With 309 million people in the U.S. that’s roughly $23 per person in the U.S.  Based on that, I am seven times less likely to use gift cards than the average U.S. consumer.  Maybe a better way to look at it is the people who intend to buy me gifts are seven times more likely to forget.

It’s debatable.  In a pinch, I take PayPal.  And I use it most to buy gifts.  So, odds are if you PayPal me money, it will come back to you in the form of a durable good or White Elephant.

Imagine if the state governments took PayPal.  Now that would be true social commerce. If they did they wouldn’t have to use tax payer’s money to chase down unused, but already taxed money sitting on gift cards.

Gift cards are part of the country’s hidden economy that includes mail-in rebates, flex spending accounts and extended product warranties. Money spent but left unused like that yarn cardigan from your aunt Martha from Pasadena.

People freely buy a gift card for someone (who may not use it), but flee the register if asked to buy an extended warranty on a $59 DVD player.

– Jose Mallabo

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  1. #1 by Dawn on December 8, 2010 - 2:44 pm

    Ha. I have an unused Adidas gift card given to me in Dec 06 from my brother. First – I dont shop at Adidas. Second – I dont use Adidas. Third – I dont even work out. Perhaps it was a hint. I shall slip it into my wallet and use it post haste. Right after I use Safeway and Trader Joes. Those arent nearly as stale.

    Just sayin.

  2. #2 by Arlee Bird on December 8, 2010 - 3:54 pm

    Man! You’ve touched upon several absurdities of today’s world that border on scam proportions. It can be a full time job keeping track of rebates, protections, coupons, etc. It has become utterly ridiculous now when the annual Christmas gift exchange becomes just an exchange of gift cards. Please why doesn’t everybody just keep their money and buy what they want. Whatever happened to gifts that were personal and really meant something.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

(will not be published)