Organizing gift cards and their little friends


They quietly enter our homes by way of auctions, thank yous, prizes, presents, the mail, and even purchases. Infused with good intentions and the hopes of putting them to use sooner than later,  gift cards, gift certificates, store credits, coupons, and promotional cards often wind up sitting around longer than we ever intend.

Between my own house and those of my clients, I’ve encountered small collections of these papers, plastic cards, and torn- and cut-out coupons languishing in baskets, stuffed into folders, magnetized to the refrigerator, shoved in overburdened handbags, tucked into jacket pockets, lost in piles ‘important’ papers, lost in piles of things to sort, stuffed into bags of mail, and waiting in the foyer.

All too often, when a client comes upon that “put away for safe-keeping” stash of redeemables, there are joyous yelps of glee interspersed with moans of regret. Finding what was temporarily misplaced or forgot about is like winning a little prize. On the flip side, it’s always a bummer when a gift card or coupon has expired or a spa has shuttered its doors for good.

So how to avoid redeeming regrets? Here are some strategies, guidelines, and real-life examples to help you get started:

Know what you have.
Gather up and sort your collection. Eliminate anything that’s expired or (and be honest with yourself) that won’t be used. For the latter, ask a friend if they can use it or pass it along to the recycling bin. Heck, it’s even okay to re-gift a gift card that’s not up your alley, so add it to your collection of outbound gifts. (And yes, I just used the word “gift” three times in a sentence.)

Store them where you’re most inclined to grab and use them.
Keep grocery store gift cards and coupons with your grocery list-in-progress. When you head to the store, you’ll have all you need. (And remember your reusable shopping bags!)

What to do about those promo cards of the “buy so many and get one free” variety? Keep up to three of the most frequently used promo cards in your wallet so they’re with you when you need them most. The minimalist that I am, I try to carry just one: a buy 10 get one free sandwich card for a local market that I swing by when my schedule doesn’t allow me to hunt and gather lunch fixings in advance.

And those Bed, Bath & Beyond coupons that keep showing up and never expire? If you’ve got a car, keep them in the door pocket so they’re with you when you drive to the store. If you don’t have a car, consider keeping a handful with your grocery coupons and shopping list.

Some stores that offer “membership” or discount cards don’t require you to show the store-issued card whenever you make a purchase. By giving your name or phone number, the cashier can access your account, so leave those cards at home or do what I do: destroy and recycle them to avoid unnecessary clutter!

And what about cards you’ll seldom use? At least once a year, someone gives me a gift card for Starbucks. In the San Francisco Bay Area, independent cafes abound, so it’s fairly easy to find a good cup of tea when I’m out and about and craving a warm beverage. Those Starbucks cards get stored in the outer pocket of my carry-on luggage, and I whittle them down in airports or cafe-deficient cities and towns where the ubiquitous emerald green mermaid can almost always be found.

Use it as soon as you get it.
Seriously, the longer you wait to use a gift certificate, it’s out of sight and out of mind. Earlier this year, I donated a photographic portrait session to a fundraiser/auction for one of my favorite nonprofits. The woman who won my services got in touch two months later saying, “Sorry it has taken me so long to get in touch with you.” I applauded the fact that she got in touch so quickly and that what she purchased was meaningful enough for her to avoid delay!

Make it intuitive…for you.
Each of us has to find the ways and systems that work for our respective spaces, lives, lifestyles, and visual sensitivities. If things get pinned to a bulletin board or affixed to the fridge and never budge, it’s time to try something news. Play. Experiment. Trial and error often gets you where you need to be.

Use what you’ve got before further accumulation begins.
Because waiting for “the right time” to do something can have you waiting an eternity, put a tickler in your calendar to remind you to make an appointment for that massage you’ve been meaning to redeem.

You can start now. If this incoming festive time of year increases your stress level, delay no more and strategically schedule that aforementioned massage. If you’re planning to do a lot of cooking or entertaining, those coupons and grocery store gift cards can take an edge off your financial outlay.

Chances are your collection of redeemables will grow this holiday season as the increasingly popular and sensible “give the gift of experiences” gains popularity as an alternative to giving stuff. I’m all for experiences, so let’s make sure you get to use and enjoy them!

***I’d love to hear about your tricks and tips for keeping redeemables at your fingertips. What works best for you?***

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  1. Avatar
    Meggers Reply

    I am currently using an app called “Gyft,” so I have all my cards with me all the time on my phone. The only problem so far is that not all the stores are registered with Gyft (like Macy’s) so it took them about 20 minutes to figure out how to honor my “electronic” gift card.

    So far, it’s been great!

    • deb
      deb Reply

      Thanks for the head’s up on the app, Meg. I wonder how many smaller independent shops are in their system.

  2. Avatar
    Sarah @ Seeding Simplicity Reply

    Great post. I just recently blogged about this same concept… how to keep gifts handy so they are actually used. I created my own little “shopper” which includes coupons, loyalty cards AND gift cards. Check it out!

    • deb
      deb Reply

      Thanks for reading and for sharing your post, Sarah. It just goes to show there are many ways to approach organizing the same thing. We’ve got to find what’s right for ourselves and our clients.

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