Personal Finance

How to Make a Gift Card More Thoughtful

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If you don’t give a gift card this year, you’ll be in the minority. The National Retail Federation says that eight in 10 shoppers will purchase gift cards, with the average shopper spending $163.16 on gift cards this year, a 4% increase from last year.

Gift cards are a fast, easy gift that’s usually sure to please. You can even use gift card hacks to earn extra reward points when you purchase them.

But let’s face it, popular as they may be, they do seem a bit impersonal.

One way to change that is to personalize your gift card gift. That may seem like an oxymoron, but there are literally hundreds of ideas online offering fun ways to wrap gift cards.

I was recently asked to come up with a creative idea for wrapping a gift card as part of an invitation to participate in a Google Hangout on gift cards sponsored by Bankrate, and RetailMeNot. I don’t consider myself creative (at least not in the crafty way) so it was a challenge. But I did come up with something that was all my own, which I will share later in this post. In the meantime, I found some very cute ways to jazz up gift cards and make them feel special. Following are six of my favorites.

Just remember, If you do give or receive a gift card, it’s a good idea to register it right away. That way if it is lost or stolen you may have some recourse. And while the Credit CARD Act restricted some of the worst gift card problems (such as balances that get eaten up quickly by fees), issuers are still allowed to charge certain fees after the first year. So make sure you read the terms before you pick one out.

1. A Night at the Movies

The older I get, the more I ascribe to the school of thought that experiences are better than stuff. And that’s one reason I like to give movie gift cards. It allows your recipient to pick a movie to see with friends or family. (All the better if you get to tag along too!)

But instead of just giving a card, get a popcorn box — the kind that popcorn comes in at the movies.( You may find them at your dollar store, but if not, you can find them for a few bucks online.) Then fill it with some  popcorn or a couple of boxes of candy from the dollar store, and tuck your gift card inside. If you’re feeling especially creative, and aren’t pressed for time, make some kettle corn to fill it.

2. Jazz Up a Coffee Shop Gift Card

Whether your lucky recipient sees a latte as an essential or an extravagance, she’ll probably thank you for that gift card to Starbucks or your local coffee shop. I found a cute “wrapping” idea from — and it’s free. Just ask the barista for an empty to-go cup and fill it with whatever you like: peppermints or chocolates would be nice. You can even throw in a couple of instant coffee packets if you feel so inspired.

3. Spruce Up a Spa Card

Are you giving a gift certificate for a manicure, pedicure or spa treatment? Wrap it up with a bottle of nail polish, hide it inside a loofah mitt, or tie it to a bottle of body lotion or scrub. Or you can wrap it with a bar of chocolate. A spa treatment and chocolate — who wouldn’t love that?

4. Toy Store Card

Kids like gifts they can open or play with right away, so a gift card may not feel like a “real” present to them. How about putting a gift card in a plastic bucket — the kind you would take to the beach? You can fill it with sand and put the gift card in as hidden treasure. Just make sure it gets “opened” outdoors! Or add a bottle of bubbles, some sidewalk chalk, a jump rope etc. They will have something to entertain themselves right away, and a trip to the store to pick out a toy later.

5. Photo Gift Cards lets you create a custom gift card with a photo you upload. It’s an easy way to be creative, even if you don’t think you are. There are fees for these cards, so make sure you budget for them. Basic fees run from $2.95 to $4.95 plus $1 to upload your own photo, and shipping fees.

6. Treasure Hunt

This was my idea for the Google Hangout, and it’s based on something I do almost every year: a treasure hunt. I used to create them for my daughter and her friends, but now that she’s a teenager my nieces and nephew are the victims.

I took a pretty piece of scrapbook paper and made an envelope. Inside there is a clue that will lead to another clue, and eventually to the “treasure” — the gift card. You can make customized clues based on your own location, or you’ll find a list of treasure hunt clues on that you can adapt.

More Gift Card Tips & Tricks

Watch a Google Hangout with Bankrate, RetailMeNot and for more gift card tips and ideas:

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