Last Christmas I received several gift cards. It took me a few months to use up the coffee cards, 11 months to use the iTunes cards, and I’m still holding onto my Best Buy cards. So far I haven’t received any additional cards, but I’ve got a different tactic in mind in case I do: spend them promptly, and here’s why.

Stores May Go Out of Business
It’s unlikely that every Coffee Bean or Starbuck’s will close, but it could get a little harder to spend those cards if the one near your office closes. I’d worry more about independent coffee stores that could close without warning.

Best Buy also seems to be doing well in the wake of other closures, but I’m not taking any chances. I’m taking my gift cards and a couple of rebate cards and heading down to buy a Wii. I’ve been thinking about getting one for over a year, so it’s time to put those cards to good use.

Gift Cards May Expire
I was able to hoard my cards because California made it illegal for store gift cards to expire, but many other states do allow them to expire after a year. Gift cards from credit card issuers usually start losing value after a year, so make sure you spend them promptly. If you can’t think of anything you want, use them for groceries and then remember you have that money for another purpose later.

Tastes May Change
Sure, you like that store this year, but what if they change their style in a year and you hate everything? This is especially true of women’s clothing stores. If you have a gift card to a fickle store, spend it now while you still like what they sell.

What if You Can’t Spend Them?
So what if you can’t spend them? What if the store isn’t in your area or you don’t enjoy their specialty? You have a couple of options:

Swap Them. Go on Craigslist, a swapping site, or just poll your friends to match up the gift cards you don’t want with the gift cards you do.

Sell Them. I know people who’ve done this, but I’d worry about getting scammed, so I’d much rather swap them with someone I know.

Give Them. I’ve considered regifting some of those coffee cards I’ve received.

Spend them on someone else. Does anyone have a birthday or wedding coming up? Spend your gift card on a gift for them. That way you’ll have it on hand. Since you’re swapping it from your gift budget, you’ll then have that same amount to spend on yourself.

I’m of mixed feelings about gift cards. They’re certainly easy to give, but a lot of people hate receiving them. I try to only give them to people I know will use them, and to buy them at stores I know they shop at. I also think that I’ll spend them more quickly in the future – no more gift card hoarding for me.

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