(PIX11)-- Spending on gift cards hit a record high this year, with Americans spending almost $32 billion on them. But over $1 billion goes unused each year, because figuring out how to use them stresses us out – and then we forget about them. Shopping and retail expert Polly Blitzer is here to give you tips on how to spend gift cards wisely – and what to do if you don’t like the store!
Be deliberate about how and when to spend them. Otherwise they’ll stay in a drawer and you’ll forget about them.
• Write balance amounts on cards with a Sharpie so you don’t overspend or waste time waiting in lines to find out. You can look up amounts at GiftCardBalanceNow.com.
• Make a list of what you need/like from each retailer by checking sites.
• Schedule a gift-card shopping day with a friend and have fun going on a totally free shopping spree to use them all up.
Exchange or Sell Unwanted Cards
Rather than letting a card to languish in your wallet, consider other options.
• Walmart just launched a program this holiday season letting people trade in other store’s gift cards. At Walmart.CardCash.com, you can trade store credit for gift cards from more than 200 different retailers, restaurants, and airlines. You can get up to 95% of the value, which is more than other places.
• There are a number of websites that pay you cash for your card or swap for another you’re more likely to use. There’s a fee so you won’t recoup the full value. Compare rates from 15 different reselling sites at GiftCardGranny.com.
• If you don’t want to make your swap online, you can visit Coinstar kiosks. Most accept gift cards from more than 150 retailers and restaurants, as long as they have a balance of at least $20. You'll get a voucher to redeem for cash at the register.
Treat Them Like Cash
The biggest mistake people make is looking for an item that's just the amount (or a little under) the gift card value – then winding up with things they never use.
• Shop the same way you would if you were using your own money: wait for sales, find discount codes for each retailer at RetailMeNot.com.
• If you want to increase the gift card amount to buy something special at a particular store, you can buy discounted gift cards at GiftCardGranny.com.