CBC News

Cash, not gift cards, the best present: consumers' association

Comments (49)

The Consumers' Association of Canada is recommending that shoppers give cash instead of buying gift cards, which often go unused or come with many restrictions for their recipients.

Canadians spent $1.8 billion on gift cards in 2006.Canadians spent $1.8 billion on gift cards in 2006.

"We recommend you forget about it completely and use cash," CAC spokesman Bruce Cran said.

One recent study in the United States reaffirmed other reports that consumers are losing out to retailers, estimating that 25 per cent of all gift cards go unused. Best Buy Co., for example, reported a profit of $43 million US from unused cards last year. Limited Brands Inc. recorded $30 million US in 2005 revenue because of unredeemed cards.

Canadians spent $1.8 billion on gift cards in 2006, and the amount is forecast to exceed $3 billion this year.

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Do you use gift cards? Is cash to crass?

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Comments (49)

Justin M


Gift Cards are great because they make sure that the only things you can buy with them will be either forgotten or in the trash within six months. keep that economy rollin!!!

Actually I bought a blender this year. Thanks Dad. It says Black and Decker on it. Put banana's and carrots in their and stuff. With the lid on... don't forget the lid.

Posted December 26, 2007 11:14 PM



Martha from Toronto, will you be my gramma?

If I were a 20 yeard old again, I would love nothing better than a granny like you, a person wise enough to know a gift is from the heart and not something meant to enforce perceived parental responsibilities toward a young adult.

Amazing how many people on this forum forget what $20, $50 or $100 can mean to a struggling student or young parent. Cash provides a lot of freedom of choice that the gift card from Cannot Tire can't.

Posted December 26, 2007 02:00 PM



I learned in an economics class that the more liquidity a commodity has the more intrinsic value it has as a currency.

So I could justify giving gift cards if there was some incentive offered for the commitment to spend it at the particular retailer, since it entails foregoing some purchasing freedom.

But since I know of no incentives that retailers offer to use their gift cards, we are all just suckers for believing that a gift card is somehow less crass than cash.

If giving someone a dirty old bill seems more impersonal than a gift card, then dress it up and personalize it - try making origami out of the bills or something.

Posted December 26, 2007 03:23 AM

Alan Harrison

Just buy booze.

Most people love it and those that don't drink can always re-gift to someone who does.

Posted December 26, 2007 02:38 AM



Gift cards make it easy to give someone a gift you know they would like.

For example: How is a grandparent to know what music or clothes the grandchildren prefer?

Our grandmother realized at one point that our tastes evolved and she wasn't always sure what we would like.

A gift card allowed her to let her grandchildren pick out what they want. Cash still allows you to do the same, but yes, it can be impersonal.

However, if someone has bills to pay and doesn't make a lot, cash is the better alternative. I received money at my college graduation, which went to rent for 2 months.

Cash or gift cards, whatever your choice, it's still better than another manicure set, bottle of perfume, box of chocolates, or scarf / mittens / socks. I can only use so many toe nail clippers at once.

Posted December 26, 2007 12:51 AM


A wise man once told me to say "Thank You" when somebody gives you a gift.

If anybody is offended by their gift cards, they should drop them into the offertory the next time they go to church or temple.

God Bless and Merry Christmas.

Posted December 25, 2007 11:15 PM


I see some negative comments here on gift cards and I am guilty of giving them as well BUT, I get one that is issued by a mall rather than an individual store then the receiver has the option to purchase a gift from many stores and in this case Mic Mac Mall in Dartmouth with over 160 shops and services.

Seems to please everyone.

Posted December 25, 2007 09:41 PM



I've received gift cards and cash at Christmas.

Personally, cash is preferred as, then, I can choose to use it as needed. If I want to buy clothing I can and I can do so without being locked into a particular store.

If I want to buy a book I can.

If I want to buy food, I can. Gee, I might even buy myself some rum to go in the eggnog! Or, oh dear, I might even put it on my mortgage.

It is a gift and I get to choose what I will do with it.

Much better than the gift certificate for a store I don't shop at, can't afford to, and to which I have to return countless times until I find something I can use within the limit of the card.

If someone sends me cash I get to use all of it. No penalties, no restrictions, no hassles and I have lots of options, cash is better.

Mind you, if someone were to take the time to actually ask me what I want, ask for a list, and were to give me a wrapped present to put under my tree -- well, that would be very nice.

I enjoy that more. When asked I give a range of options so the other can choose according to their time and finances....

A card with cash, received before Christmas Day as I would like to have that whatever under the tree, still works well though.

Posted December 25, 2007 05:22 PM

Dan in Ottawa


Presents are great; but not always practical. Cash seems a bit of a cop-out. Gift cards can be a good alternative and can express a lot of thought by virtue of the establishment they come from.

For the hard to please, shopping mall gift cards can present a much broader range of stores to choose from.

Posted December 25, 2007 11:46 AM


A lot of negativity posted here, with respect to "laziness" on the part of those who give cash and/or gift cards. Had these thoughts myself until more recent years.

My granddaughter, for example, loves clothes, she also likes shopping ... a gift card is great for her as she gets to shop AND get something she will actually wear ( style and size ) ...

My sons like reading .. but I haven't always been successful in selecting a book that they haven't read, or is of a genre that appeals.

A gift card there is helpful (is this selfish... that I would like to see them have something they will want and/or use ?)

Malls are now offering gift cards that cover a wider range of participating retailers so one isn't as tied to a specific store. Some of you are right too, cash is good .... except that sometimes cash too often just melts away, on milk and bread ... gas for the car.

It is, however, more than a little disturbing that gift cards are not used up as intended by the gift-giver, and retailers are reaping such windfalls.

I might suggest this could be better than the fate of the ugly sweater Aunt Hortensia gave Lulu that ended up in the back corner of the closet. ( could have gone, of course to the needy .... perhaps one could call upon retailers to donate these windfalls to the Food Bank ... Ya think ?

Posted December 25, 2007 11:22 AM



Well I'm waiting for Boxing Day with no gift cards, no cash, just my bank card, and I'm going to drive right by all the crowded, jostling malls, out to the river, and show off my new scarf to all the other walkers who are sporting new mittens and coats.

In the meantime, it's CHRISTMAS, and I hope you all get off your computers long enough to enjoy it. SHALOM, and MERRY CHRISTMAS.

Posted December 25, 2007 10:43 AM

Daniel Lacroix


Three options for me:

1)An item I know they will use and appreciate. You can't go wrong.
2)Custom gift certificate from a computer template with cash. Very nice touch.
3)Plastic credit card size gift card to put in their wallet so it won't get lost or forgotten-store with a wide selection and/or coffee shop.

Why not combine 1 and/or 2 and/or 3.

Posted December 25, 2007 10:37 AM



Cash is best. My grandson can then buy himself a case of beer and spend the rest elsewhere if I give him a gift card he can only spend it in one store, plus he would probably put it aside and forget about it, being 20 years old.

Posted December 25, 2007 08:22 AM



Never bought gift cards and have always hated getting them because I'm forced to buy something within that store. Cash is better on all fronts.

For those of you who say 'it's impersonal and doesn't show the true meaning of xmas etc' I say look in the mirror because 75% of you don't even go to church, yet still celebrate xmas.

Posted December 25, 2007 06:59 AM



Obviously we are much too comfortable in this country when writing about and beating up on gift cards take up so much of our time.

To call the act of giving, guilt reducing and laze-induced with very little thought signals a society that has grown ungrateful and unappreciative of the blessings of life.

The person giving that card had to work for that money and may not have had the time to go out shopping, however, still wanted to show that they cared.

Learn to accept things gracefully and recognize that someone cared.

Posted December 25, 2007 02:51 AM



If someone's going to get me something, it might as well be cash so I can save it or spend it as I see fit.

Gift cards are absolutely stupid gifts. For stores they are ingenious. With gift cards, the retailers are left with one of three equally beneficial outcomes: either the recipient of the card goes to the store and ends up buying an item slightly cheaper than the value on the card, with the extra balance probably never spent, or they spend more money than the initial value of the card.

The third possibility is they forget all about the gift card.

Posted December 25, 2007 12:43 AM



The thing that bothers me most about this is the dishonestly of the merchants. It's not enough that they're clearing 25% in profits for providing no services or merchandise; they also try to cheat you out of what is rightfully yours. I found out recently that there is a one year limit on a Starbucks gift card.

So let's say some nice granny gave me a Starbucks card with $100 on it. I use it occasionally--burning up about $25 of the total--but one day about 13 months later I go to Starbucks to use it and they say it is "expired."

How can that be? "The card is too old," they tell me. I had only one year to use the total. They KEEP the $75 I did not use. (The Consumers Association of Canada will tell you that this is to cover the cost of administration. Nice.)

Now here is the kicker. Starbucks offers to recharge my card for me; yes, the EXACT plastic card they just rejected can be recharged with another $100 if I am gullible enough to pay it.

My brother received a gift card for a restaurant last Christmas. When he took his wife for dinner in July, the card was refused. The restaurateur told him the card was "too old," so he had to pay for his meal. There was nothing on the card to indicate an expiration.

Although I buy small cards for my company's suppliers ($20 Hortons certificates), I feel that my personal experiences are a good illustration of why it's foolhardy to give cards.

Posted December 25, 2007 12:37 AM



Gift cards are great when you have teenage kids. You Don't have to try and figure out what they want, just let them go get it. MERRY XMAS TO ALL

Posted December 24, 2007 10:23 PM



All places should get on board to donate more to a Charity.When a customer uses gift card, and small balance remaining, stores should ask customer is they would like to donate the small balance to a specified

Otherwise the small balance remaining will just not get used. Customer is not out anything as card was a gift , store is not out anything as card already paid for, and some money can be raised for charity. Win,win,win.

Posted December 24, 2007 08:22 PM

Mildred Johnson

I received a $100 gift card from my children, to Home Depot. I never go there as they don't have anything I can use. Thanks but no thanks.

Posted December 24, 2007 06:40 PM

Gabriel Hurley


Gift cards are the gift of permission. By locking you in to a certain store, they give you permission to spend your money at a certain store instead of spending it on paying off the mortgage.

Posted December 24, 2007 06:28 PM

Charlene Smith


I don't know if CBC will print this but it does tie into giving...

Lt.Gov. David Onley is continuing the efforts of former Lt.Gov.Bartleman's efforts of the literacy programs for the Northern Inuits and reserves.

You can donate new books for their book drive at any O.P.P. station until January 21st but check with your area O.P.P.

They have set up literacy summer camps in conjection with the Trillium Foundation.

The Trillium Foundation does good things as my family helped the dream of Camp Rainbow,which is for kids with cancer in Waterford, Ontario.

David Onley wants to expand it to computers also.

These reserves need literacy and hope for the young to try to help curb the tragic rise of young deaths to suicide.

It may not seem much but sometimes that's all that's needed for people to know someone cares.

My grandkids helped send around 200 books last year and got the most JOY from watching their gifts received by all the happy kids.

I hope you think about it because every kid should feel they are important!

Posted December 24, 2007 04:04 PM

Neil Williams


So gift cards, only 75% actually get spent, the other 25% is wasted. At least the 75% is spent on something the person wants. If you buy a gift, all the money is spent, the store doesn't get anything extra, but I would have to guess that more than 75% of these gifts just sit in a garage, not really wanted.

Posted December 24, 2007 02:50 PM



I agree that gift cards require very little thought on the part of the giver, and because I love to rack my brain over the best gift for each loved one I never thought that I would use them.

However, this year, with the youngest in college and always broke - my husband and I settled on gift cards from Zehrs and Petrocan over cash. Why? to make sure our son spends the money on groceries and gasoline instead of beer and pizza.

Posted December 24, 2007 02:39 PM

Charlene Smith


I will second B.Kelley's thoughts!

Merry Christmas to everyone!

Posted December 24, 2007 02:37 PM

B. Kelley


Best solution!

Take all that money you were going to spend on buying things for people who don't need them, don't want them and don't have room for them and bless a truly needy family with a good dinner at your house, a month's worth of groceries and gifts that they can really use throughout the year. Then throw in some toys for their kids and watch your Christmas light up like never before.

Instead of waiting for Santa Claus, BE Santa Claus.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.

Posted December 24, 2007 02:14 PM



"At least a gift card requires minimal thought," writes Garet of Winnipeg.

"A gift card at least shows a minimum of thought," echoes fellow Winnipegger Roche.

Has Winnipeg become tacky central or something?

Hey, big spenders, if you are both into minimalism, why not just purchase a nice card and slip a bill or two inside it?

I'm sure recipients would prefer the cash rather than being forced to use the gift card in a specific store before a specific date.

That'll show your friends how minimal your effort was for sure.

Richard Opitz, you touch on an interesting aspect of gift giving when you say it's the responsibility of the gift getter to go out and line up to use the card immediately.

So now it's the procrastinator's problem?

Too lazy to put in more than "minimal thought," but if the recipient can't rise to the occasion, it's his/her fault.

Do you really send them to friends or just to people you "have" to get something for?

That's a bit like sending a battery operated toy to a kid sans the batteries.

Ok, don't tell, me. You're from Winnipeg too.

Posted December 24, 2007 02:09 PM



I'm not inclined to give cash. I know some could use it, but a gift card usually can't be cashed in. I'd rather give a gift that the recipient uses to go out for dinner, or buy something that would otherwise be a bit of a luxury.

Cash probably just gets used to pay the hydro bill or a tank of gas.

But obviously, you have to chose the right card, from the right store, or the right person. Gifts seem more appropriate for people close to you.

But gift cards seem very acceptable for someone you would like to give to, but don't know really well. Better a gift card than something they will ever use.

And,if they let it expire, that's not the giver's fault.

But there should be legislation to keep retailers from "ripping off" consumers. They do, after all, get to collect interest on the paid for gift card until someone actually uses it.

The least they should do is make ALL the limitations and expiry dates HIGHLY TRANSPARENT. That $100 dollar card should be the same as $100 cash at any time, for any merchandise in the store.

Sale, or no sale. It is, and should be $100. Period.

But No, I don't use them for people very close to me. I'd rather a personal touch for those.

Merry Christmas To All !!!

Posted December 24, 2007 02:05 PM

W. Russell


I hear Karlheinz Schreiber gave cash in an envellope again this year. No gift cards for him.

Posted December 24, 2007 01:18 PM



I bought a gift card from Roots last year for my wife. The piece of junk (it turns out) could not be used on merchandise that was on sale, or at any Roots store that was at a 'Roots Outlet'.

Neither stipulation was on the gift card! It also didn't mention that 90% of Roots' merchandise is made in China and merely stamped with the maple leaf. Needless to say, won't be shopping again there - ever.

Merry Christmas all!

Posted December 24, 2007 12:50 PM

Richard Opitz

When you receive a gift card your supposed to go out and spend it not sit on it like a chicken sits on an egg until it expires in a year.

People that hang onto gift cards for ages before trying to spend them only to find that they have expired have nobody to blame but themselves.

Alot of people are procrastinators and this just bears it out. What do people think gift cards are for? Maybe using them as coasters to put their drinks on? Stop blaming others for your procrastination.

Posted December 24, 2007 12:16 PM



How is a gift card any more thoughtful than money? Is it because you had to go to the store to get it, because you'd still need to hit an ATM for the cash.

The ONLY time gift cards are useful is if they are for online shops and the recipient of the gift doesn't have access to a credit card. Anything else is just the stupidity of the giver in giving a gift that is just as "thoughtless" as cash without much of the usefulness.

Posted December 24, 2007 12:11 PM

Alagan Elavalagan


Cash says "I know you need money"
Gift card says "I don't know you but I know you need money"
Gift says "I KNOW YOU"

Posted December 24, 2007 11:44 AM

Allan Eizinas


Can you buy a gift card for a Casino?

Posted December 24, 2007 11:43 AM

scott weldon


I was going to buy gift certificates for Chinook mall in Calgary.But the mall was charging a 10$ fee for the gift cards. They weren't giving me a discount for shopping exclusively in their mall ,they were charging me a fee, a cover charge ,if you will
to shop on their premises.

Well you'd have to be crazy to pay that.So I gave cash last christmas .It was a hit and we shopped wherever we wanted.

Posted December 24, 2007 11:35 AM


zed...I have to agree with you, the look or feeling of anticipation at a wrapped Christmas gift is priceless.

Still 500 $1 bills bulks up nicely when wrapped!! Yeah, right as if!!

Anyway, Merry Christmas everybody!!

It's threatening to reach 70F here today, so have to leave you and apply sun screen.

Posted December 24, 2007 11:20 AM



If you are going the quick and dirty route then cash is definitely a better idea.

Alternatively, just ask people what they'd like - 2 or 3 specific suggestions and you just go and get it or order it online and have it sent.

This avoids impulse buying and allows you to budget and remain relaxed at Christmas.

Because after all, appreciating your friends and family and taking time to reflect are what Christmas is really all about.

You never know when your time's up - focus on the good stuff.

Merry Christmas to all.

Posted December 24, 2007 11:14 AM



I'm reluctant to give cash except when it's apparent that's what the recipient would prefer. However, I would be even more reluctant to make someone a hostage to a particular store--for that reason alone, I would never give a gift card.

If you want to give money, at least give it with no strings attached and let the person make their own decisions about where and how to spend it.

Posted December 24, 2007 11:06 AM

W Hebert

I cannot count how many times I tortured myself to find the right gift - only to be dissappointed that the individual already has it or ended up returning it.

We live in a culture of mass consumption. Individuals can buy what they want, when they want it. Most of us are so content in terms of material posessions that Christmas is a consumption anti-climax. Lets face it -Christmas (as we know it) is everyday in our culture.

I occasionally give cash to teenager friends and family in order to allow them to buy exactly what they want.

I have never thought less of anyone for giving me a cash gift.

"Never look a gift horse in the mouth" cash or otherwise. What ever happened to "judge not, lest ye be judged by others"?

Posted December 24, 2007 10:57 AM



Did I just read someone say cash is lazy?! It doesn't take a much brain power to conclude that the guilt-reducing and laze-inducing gift cards are much worse than cash! Gift cards are a favor to the giver and much more to the retailer.

I have little respect for cash gifts. I have NO respect for gift cards.

Simply put: Christmas currently reeks more of ugly consumerism that a relaxing and enjoyable celebration.

How about a Holiday from the '30 Billion Dollar Christmas Retail Season?'

Posted December 24, 2007 10:54 AM



Though it's not a Canadian statistic, it's something you should consider before buying a gift card:

In the U.S., an estimated $8 Billion - you heard me, EIGHT BILLION DOLLARS - in gift cards either goes unused and expires or is swallowed up by administration fees on an annual basis.

Retail loves the gift card racket. You're paying a store BEFORE you even buy anything there.

Seriously, ask yourself: who's really getting the "gift" when you buy a gift card? Or better yet: when was the last time you didn't use cash it was given to you?

Posted December 24, 2007 10:46 AM


There is no gst or pst added to the value of a gift card. Once a product is purchased with the card then the taxes are applied. All one is doing with a card is putting aside a certain amount on credit with a company for someone to purchase.

For me - cash or card - are both acceptable year round. Cards are more convenient for long distance gifting. If someone sends a cheque and you have to wait so many days for the cheque to clear the banking institutions that is a waste of time. Only people making money are the banks on holding funds in their pocket and making interest on their investments.

Posted December 24, 2007 10:41 AM


It's always about money isn't it?

We have lost so much about Christmas, that it hardly resembles what it once was,or was supposed to be.
We are so consumed with the commercialism that people actually cause themselves serious financial hardship for the rest of the year,and their children demand(yes,demand)the latest high tech toys, just to keep up with their friends!

Christmas now belongs to the retailers and the credit card companies, and we bought into it all!
We blew it!

Posted December 24, 2007 10:39 AM



I hate shopping, and prefer getting a present, wrapped up, and under the tree. It looks nice, and is a surprise. But the people on my list who love shopping, prefer a gift card. They want to get out there, and hunt.

Posted December 24, 2007 10:38 AM

Charlene Smith


Wasn't one of the problems with gift cards that some has an expiry date?

I know we have considered using them but on the other hand,we usually buy what them what they need rather than what they want.

ie;winter coats and snow pants,boots,etc.

Posted December 24, 2007 10:21 AM

Allan Eizinas


So of the $1000 in gift cards that you have purchased for you friends and children, you can expect that $750 will actually be spent and the other $250 will be your gift to the store.

Considering that the company is getting 25% off the top, who will be the first one to offer the $100 gift card for $90 (still getting 15% off the top) and begin a low ball bidding war?

It appears that if you want someone to receive your money then you should give cash. It may even be more prudent to write a cheque so that you would have the option of stopping payment after you see the gift that you have received from the individual.

BTW – Do you pay GST and or PST on the purchase of gift cards?

Posted December 24, 2007 09:52 AM


Gimme cash, cash, cash!!

Nothing crass about cash!! Cash folds nicely, it crinkles to the touch.

Posted December 24, 2007 09:46 AM



Cash is lazy. A gift card at least shows a minimum of thought.

Consumers Association of Canada are missing what Christmas giving is all about. Some gifts are never used, or are useless, ugly or somehow not really liked by the receipiant. But that's not the point, it's the thought that counts.

It's better to give an unintentionally bad yet thoughtful gift than cold hard thoughtless cash.

Posted December 24, 2007 09:36 AM



Cash is so impersonal though. At least a gift card requires minimal thought.

Posted December 24, 2007 09:24 AM

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