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November 30, 2007

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We won't give any gift cards, and we've asked our family not to give us any. We learned from our wedding that tracking gift cards and using them all up is a complete pain. It's no wonder that companies are seeing huge profits from unused gift cards:

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/business/260931_giftcards27.html

Also, while most retail gift cards don't have huge strings attached, there are a fair number with expiration dates and inactivity fees:

http://www.usatoday.com/money/perfi/columnist/block/2006-11-27-cards_x.htm

One final issue we faced was with two gift cards from the Discover Store where we had to race to buy something before they went out of business.

All told, we just didn't like the stress of dealing with gift cards.

We occasionally give gift cards, and often receive them as gifts (quite happily), but mostly we buy them for ourselves.

One of the largest grocery store chains here in NE Ohio is Giant Eagle. They sell gift cards for all sorts of restaurants, appliance stores, bookstores, etc. They also have a "fuel perks" program where, if you use their customer loyalty card, for every $50 you spend in the store they give you $0.20 off per gallon of gas at their gas stations in the parking lot.

The perks accumulate, so buy $200 worth of groceries and you get $0.80 cents off per gallon... UP TO 30 GALLONS! The best part? Buying gift cards count as normal store purchases.

So here's what my wife and I did. We needed to put new windows in the house. So we:
1. Went to Giant Eagle and bought $2000, yes, 2-thousand dollars, worth of gift cards to Home Depot.
2. We used our Citi Bank Cash Rewards Credit Card to buy the gift cards (discount = 5% off of grocery store purchases). That saved us $100 right off the bat.
3. $2000 spent at Giant Eagle gave us a total of $8.00 off per gallon of gas. Amounts can be rolled over so any amount you have over the price of a gallon of gas is retained for up to 60 days.
4. I then took one of the gift cards to home depot and bought three 5-gallon gas cans.
5. I took the remaining gift cards and bought my new windows, which I installed myself, and which btw have now drastically reduced my heating bills.
6. Then for the next month whenever I needed gas I would take the gas cans to the Giant Eagle gas station and fill my car (15-gallons) and fill the cans with another 15 gallons - FOR FREE. I would take my gas cans home and fill my wife's van in the garage, btw.

With gas at $3 a gallon, that means I filled up my 30-gallons twice for FREE and then paid just $1 per gallon for the next 30-gallons. A total gas savings of $240.

All in all, this method of using my rebates credit card, plus gift cards and fuel-perks, saved me $340 on the cost of putting in windows. That equates to a 17% discount.

Thank you Giant Eagle! Thank you Home Depot! Thank you gift cards!

I won't be using or purchasing a single one as a gift. There's no reason to trade cash for somethign that serves the same purpose but has more limitationso n it.

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