Giving Experiences

Mike Zaccardi

GIFT CARDS ARE BIG business. More than $28 billion is expected to be spent on gift cards this holiday season, with an average value of almost $50 per card, according to the National Retail Federation’s winter holidays report. This season, consumers want gift cards above all else, says the survey, and restaurants are the most popular category.

I’ve changed my mind about gift cards. I used to think they were a ridiculous way to show appreciation. I would sarcastically ask, “Why not just give cash?” After all, gift cards are just a more restricted form of cash. Some even expire—and many go unused.

Still, I’ve come to see gift cards as a way to give an experience. That’s important for cheapskates like me who find every excuse in the book to avoid going out and having fun. Sometimes, you can go too far in delaying gratification.

Gift cards to restaurants, shows, movies and even retail stores can be a great present for homebodies—particularly with so many people now also working from home. It can be all too easy to confine ourselves to a solitary apartment, neglecting human interaction. Research shows that one key to happiness is cultivating relationships with others. Like good financial habits, developing positive friendships and spending time with family are often easier said than done.

While retail gift cards aren’t magical elixirs guaranteed to deliver mental happiness and social connections, they can help. What’s more—for penny-pinching folks like me—now is the time of year when many places offer discounts or other promotions on gift cards. One popular pitch: “Buy a $50 gift card, get a $10 bonus card.” That sounds good to me.

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