I recently listened to a podcast that spent some time discussing what makes a good holiday gift. One of the biggest annual December debates is what to give a loved one, colleague, or friend for a holiday gift. In recent years, the gift of money or a gift card is getting a bad reputation. The sense has grown that this kind of gift is generic, requires no effort, and doesn’t say anything special to the receiver.

However, there are some very good reasons for giving cash or gift cards as gifts. Let’s take a closer look at some good reasons to give someone a gift card.

  • The “hard to shop for” person – you know one or several of them. We all do. You ask this person what a good gift would be, and you get no answer, or a terribly long, uncomfortable response that gets philosophical about not wanting to be a burden or an incoherent rant on the evils of modern materialism, or any one of a host of non-answer answers. You ask other people in this person’s circle for advice, and they cannot provide anything helpful. Critics will call you lazy for giving this person a gift card, that you just didn’t want to put in the work to find a “personal” gift. More often than not, you have actually put quite a bit of effort into finding a good gift, and it has proven to be a journey that is worthy of an “Unsolved Mysteries” episode. Giving a gift card in this case just says, “I know it’s hard to articulate what a good gift would be to you, so I decided to give you the chance to discover what that would be for yourself.”
  • It’s flexible, not uncaring – On the other end of the spectrum is someone who inspires a long list of appropriate gifts. Perhaps you have heard, directly or through hints, that your spouse would love to have a dozen different things. How do you choose? Are you absolutely certain (s)he wants Thing 8 more than Thing 2? Men have a particular dread to being in this spot. “She said she wants a new, modern tea kettle. But does she really want that most, or that other kitchen appliance she saw online that made her raise an eyebrow? If I pick the wrong one, I’ll be in the doghouse until Memorial Day.” That is exaggerated for comedic effect. But if you are genuinely torn on what would be the best gift, a gift card tells the receiver that you want him/her to have what will bring the most joy.
  • Some people actually love gift cards – If you ask my wife what she’s doing and she responds, “I’m hanging out with Amy and Wally,” that means she’s toggling between amazon.com and Walmart.com. Family and friends often ask me what a good Christmas and/or birthday present for her would be. I often respond, “Amazon or Walmart gift cards are always golden.” She’s one of those people that get as much joy out of shopping for something as much as the item(s) purchased. Getting a handful of cards will grant her hours of browsing that she will absolutely love. She’s not the only one. I’m sure everyone has someone in their life that is similar. If you have a person on your list that loves strolling through the aisles (in-store or virtual), a gift card is actually the most thoughtful gift you can give.

I actually find the “gift cards are thoughtless” narrative to be an extreme, one-size-fits-all thought process. It assumes that everyone is the same, that there is one correct process to gift-giving, that everyone in the universe believes “you must not care about me if you just took the easy route to give me a gift card.” But everyone is not the same. There are people that will feel slighted by receiving a gift card. But there are plenty of people that will find a gift card to be a valuable, appreciated gift.