Stretching your dollar: using your gift card wisely

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Did you know, 4 out of every 5 shoppers bought at least one gift card in 2013? They are convenient, but they’ve had common problems.

“I’ve had them run out before. I just forget that I’ve had them and then I don’t use them in time. And when I finally realize I have the

gift card, I discover it has expired,” said gift card user Lisa Ellison.

Here’s the good news, changes to federal law mean gift cards must now remain valid for 5 years. But even with the 5 year shelf life,

the sooner you spend it, the less likely you are to forget you have it. And in some cases, the sooner you use the cards, the more they will be worth.

That’s because some places still charge fees that pile up the more the cards sit unused. Try adding a reminder to your calendar to use your gift cards

well in advance of expiration dates or fee schedules. You can also stick to gift cards that have no fees, like Starbucks.

“Our cards never expire. So you don’t have to worry if you have 5 cents left on the card, that we will take a fee out, because we won’t.

And if you find our gift card five years later, you can bring it in and we will still honor it,” said Starbucks worker Heidi Jensen.

Here’s something else to keep in mind. Not all stores will honor your bank gift cards if you don’t have enough money on the card to pay for your entire purchase.

That means, you could be left with some odd unused amount. So, here’s a creative idea to use up all the money on a bank gift card. You can buy an Amazon gift card for

the exact amount of the remaining balance and immediately apply it to your account. Then, you’ll be able to apply that odd amount to your next purchase.

And like Starbucks, Amazon Gift Cards are top rated with no fees, and they never expire.

If you’re not sure how much money you have left on a gift card, just check on the back of the gift card. Most of the cards have a phone number and a

website listed on the cards.

Log on if there’s a website and put in your account number. Or call and then put in your account number to see how much money you have left.

You can also go to Gift Card The site allows you to check almost all the major retailer card balances you have at one site.