A couple of gift-card related tidbits…
For starters, be sure to use your gift cards. According to an article in the WSJ, Americans spend $65B per year on gift cards (no including bank issued, pre-paid cards), with $6.8B going unredeemed. In some cases, that money becomes “abandoned property” that is collected by the state. In other cases, the retailers absorb the unused balances as pure profit.
Second, I recently read a statistic that people who use gift cards typically spend 1.4x the value of the gift card. If you use a gift card to defray the cost of a more expensive purchase that you might have otherwise made, that’s great. But if a gift card prompts you to spend more than you otherwise would have just to be sure you get that balance down to zero, then you should explore your options.
For example, while out in California over the Holidays, I discovered that you can get cash back at Target if you make a purchase and wind up with a gift card balance of less than $10. The ability to do this likely depends on both state laws and retailer policies (e.g., Target back home doesn’t allow this) but it’s worth checking out.