It’s the holiday season, which means my husband and I have already come into possession of several gift cards. We don’t want to let them go to waste, so I’m creating a gift card log and keeping it in my notebook so I can keep track of the cards as I spend them, and remember which cards I still have.

How to Make a Gift Card Log
Making the log is simple. All you need is a piece of paper that you can keep with your cards or in your wallet. Make three columns (four if you live in a state where gift cards expire)
Store
Value
Remaining balance
Expiration Date

For example, mine would look like:
Best Buy $50 $50
Coffee Bean $20 $20

Then as I use each card, I’ll cross out the old remaining balance and enter a new one.

To start, gather all your cards in one place. Spread them out on the table and list them in alphabetical order.

Pool Your Gift Cards
If you have several gift cards for one store and bank gift card or mall gift card, pool them to get the most bang for your buck. For example, one year my husband and I both received $50 Best Buy cards. We then bought new cell phones, so we got two $30 rebate cards (good anywhere.) We used all of them at once to buy a Wii.

Use Credit Card Gift Cards for Groceries and Gas
You have to be careful with credit card gift cards because they do expire and they start running down the balance with nasty maintenance fees. If you can’t pool your cards together for a big purchase, then use bank gift cards quickly. I like to use them at the grocery store because their machines are good at taking split payments. Then, if I want to get myself something nice, I just take the gift card’s value from my grocery budget and put it into another line item’s budget.

Use Store Cards Quickly, Too
If you can, try to use all of your store cards in January, or even at the late December after-Christmas sales. Some of these stores may have been hanging on long enough to get through the holiday season, but may close in 2010. If they close, your gift card is worthless. So, if you’ve got a card for a chain or independent store that seems like it might be in trouble, use your gift card pronto!

Trade Unwanted Cards
It happens every year. People are given cards for stores where they simply don’t shop (example: coffee gift cards for people who don’t drink coffee.) But you don’t have to get stuck. Talk to your friends and co-workers and offer an exchange – their unwanted gift card of an equal value (or value plus cash if there’s a difference) in exchange for yours. That way you both get something you can use. You can also do this online, but most of those sites charge a fee. My way is free.

This year we’re ready to use our cards in a jiffy (except that darn coffee card). We’ve already lined up our stores and made a list of movies we want to see (we got a lot of movie cards this year). January 2010 is looking to be a good month!

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