Show Me the Money! Birthday Edition


birthday gift card

Photo credit: 401(K) 2013 via / CC BY-SA

2016 was a busy year for me, so I relied on gift cards for almost all of my niece and nephew birthdays. I’m sure they were fine with this.

After all, I still remember the excitement I felt receiving a check from one set of grandparents each Christmas, knowing I would be able to buy something I truly wanted. Actually, another grandmother of mine continued sending me $5 checks for my birthday well into my 30s; and I loved it. Buying a chai on Memere was a special treat.

I did recently, though, see a money advice column where a parent asked what to do with the approximately $1,000 their kids raked in come birthdays each year. Wowza. That’s impressive! After I picked my jaw up off the ground (I mean, a $1,000 would be a windfall to me now in my 40s — imagine getting that much when you are under 10!), I found myself thinking about birthday cash and gift cards. I wondered what we know about people’s preferences for moolah or its card-form equivalent.

According to a Vantiv gift card infographic:

  • 63% of consumers bought a gift card in 2015
  • Gift cards account for $100 billion in annual sales
  • E-gift cards are growing at 200% annually
  • Customers load e-gift cards with 10-15% more than plastic gift cards also offers some interesting gift card statistics:

  • E-gifting is expected to hit 10 billion by 2016 and $14 billion by 2017, comprising nearly 10% of the gift card market.
  • 50% of consumers like allowing the recipient to purchase their own gift.
  • Almost 25% of consumers say that gift cards are easier to buy.

In a 2016 survey, found that 27% of Americans would prefer a gift card to an actual gift (44%). And just in case you think it’s a generational thing, younger millennials ages 18-25 were the age group most likely to favor gift cards (34 percent), but also most likely to prefer a tangible gift (57 percent). By comparison, consumers between ages 62 and 70 were the least likely to want an actual gift (44 percent).

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Etiquette of Gift Card Giving

Then I started to get curious about what Ms. Manners would say about this gift card giving trend. After all, my mother-in-law recently didn’t want to get us the blender I asked for because it wasn’t “personal.” Imagine how she’d feel about the impersonal nature of a gift card.

This quote, cited on, captures it pretty nicely:

“The idea of gifts has been widely sabotaged in recent years. It’s turned into an exchange of shopping lists. The idea of gifts is to show you’ve thought about someone. You may not always get it right, but that’s why we say it’s the thought that counts. ” –  Judith Martin, 2005

Still, I’m not going to let Martin (a.k.a. Ms Manners) guilt me into regretting my gift card purchases. Instead, I’ll wrap this up with some smart suggestions for the proper way to give a gift card:

  • Choose the card from a store the recipient might actually visit.
  • Check for an expiry date.
  • Make the card more appealing with ribbons or a nice envelope.

Tell me in the comments: where do you stand on the idea of gift cards as a birthday present?


2 thoughts on “Show Me the Money! Birthday Edition

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