It’s the thought that counts

One of the gifts we received for Christmas came from an extended family member. We were given a gift card for the Marie Calendars restaurant chain. We don’t know how much the card’s value is because the company fired all of its employees, closed its restaurants and went bankrupt. Visiting the website indicated on the back of the card takes one to one of those “search pages” operated by –who openly admits that they have placed a cookie on the visitor’s computer for tracking personal shopping habits. So what we were given for Christmas was our addition to spam advertising lists. Wow, the gift that just keeps on giving.

Of course, we’re only the collateral victim here; the true victim is our relative who shelled out hard cash to a company that knew they were going out of business when they sold their gift cards as a last minute method of cash raising. As such, I hardly feel any empathy for Marie Calendars, and don’t plan on eating any more of their frozen dinners, which come from a spin off branch of the corporation and continues in business. By law, they have no obligation to the restaurant side of business dealings.

Personally, I hate gift cards. I happen to think that unless they come from companies that are solvent and treat the cards just like cash and without restriction that they’re a scam. The companies that offer them find them a cash cow because it’s rare that cards like the ones offered by Marie Calendars are ever fully used. There is often some small balance left on them because the users of these cards try to orient their purchases with them to the value of the card. There are always a few bucks left over that went unspent. My voracious reading habits caused a number of my friends to give me gift cards to Auntie’s Bookstore and by calculation, I have between $1.00 and $3.00 left on each of the fourteen cards I was given. That rips me off, and also rips off the people who were kind enough to give them to me. Right now I am stuck for the entire value of the Marie Calendars gift card, as are the family members who forked it over as a Christmas gift.

There are companies who properly honor their cards. Amazon is probably the best company of those I’m aware of. The full value of the card gets applied to the recipient’s Amazon account, and it will be used to the last penny on purchases from the online megastore. Best Buy is also a good company as far as gift cards are concerned. Unlike Marie Calendar who states that they will not replace a lost or stolen card under any circumstances, Best Buy states clearly that they will replace one if its purchase can be verified. That doesn’t mean that you need the purchase receipt though, they will be happy to identify it through their in-store computer system or by online request to their support department. You can also use Best Buy cards for purchases from Magnolia and from Geek Squad. These companies want the customer to get their money’s worth, companies like Marie Calendars just wants your money.

Keep in mind as you think about picking up a spur of the moment gift in the form of a gift card as you’re checking out at the supermarket and spot the gift card display. If you want to give someone the ability to buy something on your dime, give them the dome, not a gift card that will end up with you paying full bore and the recipient getting partial bore. There are companies out there like that will buy up your gift cards or let you swap them out for cards from another company. But the gift cards you use with them must come from a specific list of companies. They offer a public list of the companies whose cards they will trade in. No, Marie Calendars is not on their list… If you do want to buy gift cards, it’s a good idea to use websites like to see if the card you want to buy is a viable one and not a scam to gouge money from their victim purchasers. Another way to determine whether a card is worth purchasing is to read the back of the card. The fine print will tell you whether there is an expiration date or other restrictions on the card’s use. If you find expiration dates and other disclaimers, pass and look for a different card to give. The problem there though is that deceitful companies will place their cards in blister packs with a cardboard backing that obscures the rules and conditions of use. This is done on purpose and not as an anti-shoplifting methodology. It is done to obscure their disclaimers.

Actually, the best way to give someone a card is to give them a prepaid Visa or MasterCard. These are offered in many denominations and can be used anywhere that accepts Visa and MasterCard debit and credit cards. These cards are better because they don’t restrict the recipient to any specific store, although cards from companies like Amazon are pretty much the same as cash or a prepaid debit.

When it comes to gifts the expression is that it’s the thought that counts. That’s especially true with gift cards so before you buy one do a little thinking! That way your gift will have the value you intended.