When you buy a gift card at a discount -- it's an automatic price cut on everything you eventually buy with it. What's better than a blanket discount? So how do you buy gift cards for less than face value?
Gift Card Clearinghouses
There are quite a few sites for buying discounted gift cards: Cardcash (formerly Plastic Jungle), Gift Card Granny, and Raise, to name a few. These sites let users buy and sell cards while the sites act as a form of escrow. Let me explain. If I have a card I don't want, I would put it for sale on Cardcash.com and they would tell me what percentage I would lose off the card. For example, if I have a $100 Dick's Sporting Goods card they would put it up for sale on the site for $87.
I send the card in and here's the genius of the third-party escrow system: Cardcash checks the balance on the card to confirm it is loaded and active, then they list it for sale. A buyer purchases it, Cardcash mails the card to the buyer, and guarantees the value of the card for 30 to 90 days depending, on the site. Some of these cards are printable e-cards and some only work online. Read the fine print. I purchased seven gift cards and gift codes from these sites and one of them didn't work when I tried to use it. I contacted the gift card reseller, they verified the card was fraudulent and are refunding me the cost. Buy from a reseller that has a money-back guarantee and check/use the cards immediately.
Buy During the Black Friday Week
I have long advised -- if you buy one thing on Black Friday, it should be discounted gift cards. Costco slashes prices (and they have discounted gift cards all year long now). Big name retailers often slash prices this time of year (I bought $300 worth of Target gift cards last year at 10 percent off and used them for groceries and staples all year long). Also look for what I call sweetening deals. Many retailers want to discount popular brands and electronics, but they have contracted with the manufacturers not to slash prices on those items. Instead they offer the items at full price but bundle it with a gift card. The most famous of these types of offers are deals on Apple electronics: Best Buy is offering the iPhone 6 at full price but they are bundling it with a $200 Best Buy Gift card.
Ebay.com -- eBay the Company, Not Other Users
During the Black Friday week, eBay offers a slew of discounted gift cards. I’m not talking about buying cards on the site from another user; instead eBay the company has a button on the top of its site that says "gift cards," click that and you can buy directly from eBay a verified card. For example, this year their sale starts on Black Friday with these four deals: Sephora -- $100 with $10 bonus, Toys R Us -- $100 for $85, Lowes -- $200 for $175, and Lord & Taylor -- $50 for $40.
Stack Your Discounts
The real power of discounted gift cards comes when you stack them during sale times. Take a card that you bought for 15 percent off, use it to buy a sweater that's marked down 30 percent and then add a blanket coupon you have for 20 percent off -- that's 65 percent off, an $80 sweater is now $28.
Word of Warning
A study by Cardhub estimates that since 2008, $44 billion in gift cards have gone unused. That is an insanely large amount of our hard-earned cash that we are ostensibly handing over to multinational corporations as a gift. Only buy gift cards if you have immediate plans for them.
I love the idea of using a key ring and a hole punch to keep all your cards together.
Ask everyone in your family to do an inventory of the cards they have, if they aren’t planning to use them in the next two months -- I say sell them at one of the card retailers. I think some money is better than no money.