If you open your wallet, peek in your bedside table or rummage through your dresser drawer, we bet you’ll likely find a gift card or two lying around.

The business of gift cards is a multi-billion dollar a year industry; with retailers making millions in revenue from unredeemed cards.

If you need to buy someone a present, and you’re debating a gift card, we’ll settle that debate right now: Don’t.

While the gesture is nice and it might say that perhaps you’ve put a little more thought into your gift, it can actually end up being more costly in the end.

Unless you are certain that the gift card recipient will be making a big purchase and could use that money to put towards the item, or you know for sure that the card will go to great use, cash is always better. It’s just as thoughtful (and easier for everyone) to put some money in a nice card and add a note mentioning that this is to put towards whatever they happen to love or are saving for. Let’s be honest, who wouldn’t much rather have cash?

Here’s the main problem with a gift card. If you can’t find anything you want in that particular store, the card goes to waste. Or often you end up with $4 remaining on your card and then have to spend even more cash just to use up that remaining money.

If you are going to go the gift card route, to avoid giving someone a card for a store they may not shop at, buy one from a mall. That way they will have more selection and more opportunity to use every last cent on the card.

If you are on the receiving end of a card for a store you would never dream of stepping foot into, you can always try to sell it online. There are sites, such as plasticjungle.com where you can sell or trade your gift cards.

A few more things to keep in mind: Make sure the gift card you purchase does not have an expiry date. If your card expires before you’ve had a chance to use it or exhaust its value, contact the issuer. They may extend the date, although they may charge a fee to do it.

If you do end up with some cards with just a few dollars on them, check with a friend who may also have a small balance and pool your resources. Or, as a last resort, if you receive a card for a store you don’t shop at and don’t plan to sell or trade, re-gift it to someone you know shops there.

Have a comment or tip for the Smart Cookies? Email us at smartcookies@metronews.ca.

Visit smartcookies.com for more on saving, smart spending and making more dough.

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