The Biggest Gift Card Challenges So Far

I knew that living exclusively off gift cards would be financially rewarding, but I also expected some drawbacks. Saving money is never the easy route. But there have been several obstacles to tackle with the Gift Card Granny Challenge. If you're doing the challenge with me or just incorporating discounted gift cards into your financial routine, learn from my mess-ups. The Hubs can testify that I've been pretty whiny the past few days.


Challenge: Tipping isn't always allowed on gift cards.
Solution: Suck it up and bring some cash.
You're already saving 10-20% on 95% of your bill. Is it really that big of an issue to drop a greenback tip? I'd rather pay with a smaller gift card and foot the rest than go over and leave $1.56 on a card.


Challenge: It's nearly impossible to spend the exact gift card amount to the penny.
Solution: Buy a card value slightly less than you need.
Buying larger gift card amounts usually encourages overspending. Expect that you may go slightly over, and set a limit for yourself. Mine has been $3 at dinners out, $5 at retail shops, and unlimited at the grocery store (which doesn't happen because I always have a full card waiting). What doesn't work as well is to buy more than you need and leave a balance on it. When in doubt, purchase a smaller discounted gift card and pay regular cash for the extra. Extra planning and price shopping helps immensely with this.


Challenge: Friends and family pick a restaurant I don't have a card to.
Solution: Be proactive and make plans for the group.
This has been the greatest challenge by far. Your best bet is to take the reins before someone else does. Offer to go to two or three of the restaurants you have a card to or treat your friends to night out on your discounted dime. Don't be stingy, but be careful about always eating out at places where your plastic "money" is no good. 


Challenge: Merchandise credits can be tough to redeem, especially online but sometimes in stores too.
Solution: Use sites like that allow you to view restrictions.
Check your selling source! Ebay cards, while lucrative at best, can be illegitimate or expired at worst--and you have no recourse for your purchase. Gift Card Rescue and other sites that list restrictions and card types will let you know where a card may be used. Make sure a site distinguishes between "gift card" and "merchandise credit". 


Challenge: Your purchased gift card is not available for online purchases.
Solution: Again, read the fine print and take note of restrictions.
This only happened to me with my American Apparel gift card, but there are other companies that only have the technology to redeem gift cards in store. Most of them are smaller, so when in doubt, call their corporate offices first before purchasing. Plus ask if you can have any additional coupons--many of them are glad to sign you up on a mailing list and send printed discounts to you. 


Challenge: Even with my discount, the merchandise I want to buy is cheaper elsewhere.
Solution: Shop price-drops and sales first.
My dollar didn't go nearly as far at Bed Bath and Beyond for bathroom linens than it did for comparable items at Target, but with eight 20% off coupons it did the trick. Plus I was happier with the result. Other sites have online and printable codes that pair nicely with your plastic. Also check the circulars going around each week for up-to-date deals at your local stores.