by Dr. Boyce Watkins
My mother, who is one of the wisest people I know, was talking to me the other day about gift certificates. We were having this discussion while debating what to get our needy-ass, yet loveable relatives for Christmas (only a couple of them are needy, most of them are loveable). Christmas is that overly commercialized holiday that seems to come every single year. I don't mind Christmas, but it seems that the word "Christ" has been removed in exchange for the last part "must". "I MUST have this", "we MUST do that", it's crazy!
At any rate, we were wondering if gift certificates were the best gift to give, since it avoids the awkward, yet inevitable reality that you are going to always end up giving something to someone that they just bought, don't want or don't need as much as something else. So, you have then graced your loved one with the burden of yet another trip to the pawn shop or the 50 mile long Walmart return line right after the holidays are over. They are also burdened with the guilt of having to pretend that they like your gift, even though they really don't. You know, those fake, awkward smiles that make your face hurt and stomach turn.
We both concluded in our scientific analysis (My Mama and Me Labs, Inc.) that gift certificates were better than regular gifts, since you can get what you want.
But I had to put the brakes on our ground breaking analysis....I then said, "Well, based on that logic, it would seem that money is the best gift certificate, since you can not only get whatever you want, but you can use it at any store."
That led us to wonder: "What exactly do companies give us in return for exchanging a hard earned $50 dollars that can be used ANYWHERE for their pathetic, multicolored little piece of paper that can is also worth $50, but can only be used in ONE PLACE?"
The companies typically give us nothing in exchange for the purchase of a gift certificate. It would be one thing if they allowed us to purchase a $30 gift certificate for $25. That would make our decision to limit the stretch of our money at least partially worth while. But when you give them $30 dollars that can be spent anywhere, they give you back the same $30 dollars that can only be spent at one place.
That's not all they do to screw us for the holidays.
Companies also get over on the fact that many of us never use the gift certicates anyway! According to Needham, Mass.-based consulting-firm TowerGroup, over $5 billion dollars in unused gift certificates allow corporations to fill the stockings of their stock holders. And believe me, they aren't giving that money to charity.
So, my mother and I both came to the grim conclusion that gift certificates, from a financial standpoint, are not very good gifts. Cash is the best gift certificate there is. It's the thought that counts, and my mother and I put quite a bit of thought into our decision. We hope our relatives appreciate it.
So this year, everyone we love is going to get a card with cash in it. That's the same gift that makes every third grader smile (Remember when that old relative you never talked to sent you that ugly card every year that always had cash in it? Don't pretend like that WAS NOT the first card you opened!). Perhaps the third graders are onto something, since this gift can make adults smile even more.