Debby James likes the convenience of giving and receiving holiday gift cards, but worries that they may cause her to overspend.
Debby James likes the convenience of giving and receiving holiday gift cards, but she worries that they may cause her to overspend.
“It gets you in the store, and then you see something you really like and end up spending more than you’d like to,” said the 40-year-old Pembroke mother of three, who was shopping Sunday at the South Shore Plaza in Braintree.
Despite the potential pitfalls, James and other holiday shoppers are increasingly turning to gift cards.
Card sales this holiday season are expected to total $26.3 billion, up from $24.8 billion in 2006, according to the National Retail Federation. And the average consumer will spend $122.59 on gift cards, compared to $116.51 last year.
Lee Forker of Hingham, a money manager and founder of New England Research & Management in Boston, advises people to use the cards with caution.
“The problem, of course, is that if you have a $100 gift certificate and what you get comes to $90, they won’t give you a $10 check, so people tend to buy an additional item and spend beyond the $100, Forker said. “Human nature being what it is, people just let loose a little bit.”
Forker recommends redeeming gift cards online to avoid the temptation to spend more.
“I think sitting before the computer, one might be a little more rational in what they spend,” he said.
Forker recommends storing the cards in a safe location, like a date book.
“Treat them like money and put them in a special place to redeem them before the end of January,” he said.
After the first month, people are more likely to misplace or forget about gift cards, Forker said, adding, “Remember, they’re just as valuable as $100 bills.”
As always, don’t spend more than you can afford, Forker advised.
“People should be very disciplined and sensible about their Christmas spending,” he said. “They’ll be doing themselves a favor once the bills come in January and February.”
Despite the potential drawbacks, Phyllis DeCota, 77, of Randolph, another South Shore Plaza shopper, favors gift cards as holiday presents.
“I can save them and buy whatever I want when I want,” DeCota said. “It isn’t a gift I have to spend time taking back.”
When she shops for her six grandchildren and great-grandson, gift cards are easier than juggling packages, she said.
“Besides, then people can go out and have a leisurely day to shop on their own time,” DeCota said.
Retailers like gift cards even more.
“The upfront money is good as gold,” Forker said.
Paul Tougas, a manager at the 14 Union Street restaurant in Plymouth, said his eatery’s gift cards “bring people in.”
“Most people who buy them have eaten here and like the place,” he said. “Then they give them to relatives who haven’t been, so it gets us exposure.”
Gift-card recipients come in and are “more likely to try something more expensive” than their card’s value,” he said.
Joan Dorsey, owner of Dorsey Sports in Pembroke, said the store began offering gift certificates a few years ago when customers began asking for them.
“A lot of people don’t know what size to buy other people, so they get gift certificates,” Dorsey said, “and those sales definitely help.”
Brian Benson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.