Nfld. & Labrador·Point of View

Happy Cheapskate: Have you checked your gift cards lately?

When columnist Nancy Walsh came across some old gift cards, she could not help but wonder how much money was left on them.

I was doing a little Christmas cleaning the other day. Or maybe it was belated spring cleaning. Or maybe the cleaning I was supposed to do last year. Or Christmas 2012. Time flies, doesn't it?

Anyway, I came across a pile of gift cards that had been given over the years to my daughter. Their place in the back of a dresser drawer told me they were long forgotten.

My Cheapskate eyes saw dollar signs and I couldn't help but wonder, how much money is left on them?

I decided to take an hour and check the cards to see if there was any cash left on them. Totally without my daughter's permission. Some colleagues in the office said they were carrying around gift cards they would probably never use so I offered to check theirs, too.

After a maddening couple of hours, I learned that only a couple of cards had been fully redeemed. Most were still worth money. A dollar or two on a Tim Horton's card; $50 on one clothing card; $25 on another. 

I noticed the gift cards for food seemed to get spent more quickly than the ones for clothes. I didn't get any NLC cards at all, which leads me to think they get redeemed before they even get warm in your wallet.

It seems lots of people don't spend their gift cards. In the U.S., people buy about $100-billion worth of gift cards every year, but about 20 per cent of the value will not be redeemed. 

Check your gift cards! They may still have money left on them. (Nancy Walsh/CBC)

No wonder stores are so eager to sell them. Talk about easy profit! 

And, if you're like me and make sure you buy enough stuff to use up every cent of a gift card, you'll go over the limit on the card and spend your own money. More profit!

One of the cards I was given was expired, and the clerk told me there was nothing she could do. 

Turns out, a simple phone call can do the trick.

Leonard Penton, consumer affairs officer with the provincial government, says the Gift Card Regulations brought in in 2011 prohibit stores from setting expiration dates. 

"We've had a few complaints. The registered complaints we had last year — and there were only a couple — were about expiry dates. And when the stores were contacted, the expiry dates were removed," said Penton.

As for my daughter's stack of unredeemed cards, I think I need a new pair of jeans.

Gift receipts

And now for something completely unrelated.

A colleague came to me one day last week, fuming, a stack of receipts in her hand, to complain about something bugging her.
Gift receipts are trickier than you think. (CBC)

It had to do with gift receipts. If you buy something for someone, say a shirt for $50, you can ask for a gift receipt. It doesn't have the price you paid written on it, but it does enable the recipient to take the shirt back to the shop and exchange it for something else.  Sounds mighty handy, right?

The problem is if the shirt goes on sale after you bought it, the recipient may only be able to get the lesser value of the sweater. Each store can do what it wants in this regard, as long as they make it clear to you. But it still doesn't seem right.

The Cheapskate solution? If the would-be recipient lives near you, give them a nice hand-written certificate, inviting them out for an afternoon of lunch and shopping when the hectic Christmas season is over. Then make sure you honour it.


Nancy Walsh

CBC News

Nancy Walsh is the morning news anchor for CBC Radio One in Newfoundland and Labrador. Her colum, the Happy Cheapskate, airs every second Wednesday on the St. John's Morning Show.


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