Gone are the days when I'd start searching for the perfect gift in the spring for the Christmas bonanza to come. The blankets my brother-in-law quilted for each of the kids proves that love, time and talent conquer all budgets, but I won't be rivaling that accomplishment any time soon. I have to ask myself, how many gifts that I bought truly suited the individual's tastes? My fear is not many and that's a shame and a waste.
Now that the kids are older (youngest is 14), with clothes and music replacing toys, gift cards seem to be the most popular default choice but not necessarily the best one. Instead of giving them a card to a store they may not like or don't have enough on the gift card to buy what they want, I have a proposal: cold, hard cash.
Impersonal? Not in the spirit of Christmas? Sure. But so are gift cards. Let the youngsters choose how the money is spent. If store gift cards added value, such as offering 20 per cent off a purchase I'd rethink my position.
Until recently I'd forgotten the joy I experienced when I opened up cards from my aunts and uncles and out would flutter a $2 bill. That money was mine to spend any way I pleased. I marveled over my riches and, with sixteen other cousins and siblings, I felt lucky.
Here are my top 8 reasons why cash is better than gift cards:
* Cash is always the right size, colour and style;
* Cash doesn't have to be exchanged, at a loss, on a card-swapping site;
* Cash, if unspent, enriches a child's bank account, not a retailer's. Bruce Cran, president of the Consumers Association of Canada, told the Star in a recent article that about 25 per cent of gift cards go unused each year. Cash doesn't go out of business like some stores (Blockbuster anyone?);
* Kids won't misplace or lose cash like they do gift cards;
* Kids can pool cash gifts to purchase what they actually want as opposed to getting $20 gift cards to multiple stores and settling on the cheapest item;
* There's no front-end fee to buy cash (unless you're getting charged to use the
bank machine). Malls that issue gift cards like those operated by Cadillac Fairview or Oxford Properties can charge up to $1.50 per gift card for administration purposes;
* There's no back-end fee to cash, beyond inflation. Ontario legislation banned expiry dates and restrictions on prepaid and reloadable gift cards but there are still exceptions, like malls.
* Gift cards to malls run by Cadillac Fairview, start losing value after 16 months, to the tune of $2.50 each month. Gift cards from Oxford Properties never lose value. Prepaid credit cards fall under federal legislation.