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Angela Self on spending

Forget gift cards Add to ...

I have five gift cards in my wallet. In each case either the balance remaining is so small it would actually cost me money to use it up, or I forgot I even had the card.

The only time gift cards make a perfect present is when you're completely confident the entire amount will be used - and quickly - by the recipient.

Otherwise, your well-intentioned gift often becomes an inconvenience.

Currently, gift cards are not universally regulated across Canada (Ontario and Alberta have rules concerning expiration dates), meaning many retailers can hide behind self-set store policies that include restrictions such as not giving cash back on balances.

So whether you're the giver or recipient of a gift card, be sure to get a clear explanation of the terms.

If you do receive a gift card you know you'll never use, try selling or trading it for something more your style at craigslist.com.

And givers take note: There may be no better gift than a couple of crisp bills tucked inside a thoughtful note.

If you like, include your own idea as to how the recipient should spend the money ("Thought you could put this toward that great pair of shoes you've had your eye on").

If the cash pays for something else (or gets deposited into a savings account) at least you'll know it was put to good use rather than collecting dust in a wallet.

Angela Self is one of the founders of the Smart Cookies money group. Read her weekly column on managing debt and saving money at the new globeinvestor.com.

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