Carding Your Friends and Family

Aside from baking and decorating and enduring gobs of Christmas music over store PA's, it's also the season of spending. Love it or hate it or rail as much as you like against the evils of American consumerism, it's difficult to avoid spending at least some money this time of year on the people you love and/or tolerate. Over the years, I've done a lot of homemade gifts. Candies, cookies, jams/fruit butters, bread. My weight-conscious friends and family love me for it, I swear. Most of the money we spend, however, goes toward the kids and immediate family members. There's only so much of the green stuff to go around, so we're forced to prioritize.

But more than ever, I've been pondering the emotional oddity of the gift card. It seems many people hate giving those little pieces of plastic, or they turn to them as a last resort.  Personally, I have difficulty purchasing a gift card without some measure of guilt, especially when giving the kind of "general" gift cards from places like Target or Amazon, where people can basically get whatever they want (as opposed to restaurant or movie gift cards or other specialty ones, which at least imply you had a person's tastes and/or interests in mind). Not only does it say, "I didn't know exactly what to get you and didn't bother putting much thought into it," but it also shows exactly how much money you were willing to spend on that person, which flies in the face of the custom of removing price tags from gifts before wrapping them. A ten dollar book can say a whole lot more about the thought you put into someone's gift than a $50 Wal-Mart card. But at the same time, who wouldn't love a free fifty-dollar shopping spree? What to do?

As much as I try to resist getting gift cards for people, I love receiving them and I never feel offended when I do. There's nothing better to me than heading out the day after Christmas with a Barnes & Noble gift card in hand, or logging onto iTunes to get some new music. Who turns their nose up at free money? So which emotion should I be paying more attention to here when it comes to buying gift cards? Because inevitably, I will be buying a few this year. Some people are just really hard to buy for, and I'd rather convey a message of, "I know you're difficult to buy for, but I know you love books/movies/music/coffee, so knock yourself out" than, "You're really difficult to buy for, so here's a shiny new wrench or other thing I know you'll never use but bought anyway because I have a principle against giving gift cards."

Do you like buying gift cards for people? Do you like receiving them?  I guess there is something to be said either way, but I like knowing where other people stand on the issue.

Anyway, given my lackadaisical blogging schedule of late, I may not make it back here until after the holiday. So I hope everyone reading this is enjoying the holiday season, and my thoughts are with those of you who are having hard times this year.


  1. I'm very much in the same camp as you Allison. I really don't like to give them, because I think they're a little impersonal and demonstrate a giver's lack of creativity and/or ability to know their recipient. However, I love to get them (and I should probably expect others to, as well), because it's like a double-gift: The little present that you open and then the present you buy yourself on the spree.

  2. I agree with you and Bill on this whole gift card quandary. I see them and think 'it would be so easy' to buy one for someone. Then I struggle trying to think of a more personal expression as well. The irony of course, as you already put it, is I love gift cards myself.