UNITED STATES—Christmas may indeed be over, but the shopping/spending frenzy is still upon us? Why do you ask? Well, those gift cards that many of us received during the holiday. I used to be a big proponent against gift cards. Why? Well I thought it was a way of someone saying, “Well, I didn’t want to put too much thought into getting you a gift, so take this gift card instead.

Now, I’m completely fine with being awarded a gift card during Christmas time. Why? Well it gives me the opportunity to spend money and buy what I want to buy without someone perhaps getting me something that I’m not too fond of.  I mean I tend to get 2-3 gift cards every year and they tend to be for places that I frequently shop so there is no complaint there because I’m not forced to spend hard-earned cash that I had to work for.

In addition, gift cards have become so universal that people actually ask for them as gifts to prevent family and friends from stressing about picking out that perfect birthday gift or Christmas present. I will admit a few years back so many people were frustrated with the notion of getting gift cards and having them expire without notice. Now that is something that raises a few eyebrows if you ask me. If someone makes payment for a gift card, that balance or whatever amount is left on the card should still be there 6 months from now or 5 years from now.

I think the notion that so many people were getting livid about such situations, the government stepped in to alleviate the problem. However, those who are purchasing those prepaid Visa, American Express and other credit cards for spending use be aware there is a fee to activate the card. Yes, I’m not a fan of that because why give someone a $50 prepaid card if I have to spend $10 to have it activated. Do you know what makes the situation even worse? When you make purchases, you have no idea what balance is left on the card.

Yep, you have to call that number on the back of the card to learn if you have enough on the card for a future purchase. How frustrating? If you’re going to allow people to purchase these cards that can be used anywhere where MasterCard, Visa, Discover and American Express is used, how about making things a bit more convenient and to the point where fees are NOT taken on if the card is not used within a particular time frame.

Heck, I know people who have had gift cards in their possession for 2-3 years and completely forgot they had the card. It sometimes happens; you place the item in your wallet and don’t remember until you clean that wallet out you had some extra cash that you could have spent without using that moolah that is in your pocket.

What I like about gift cards the most is the ability to teach children about how to spend and count money. Many kids fail to realize that money really does not grow on trees. You have to work super hard for it, and with a gift card it gives them the opportunity to spend THEIR MONEY and not YOURS! Some kids are not always fans of this notion, but it’s a good teaching tool for them about the financial world that we live in. You have a $25 gift card, if you spend $20 that means you have only $5 left on the card. You know what that means? You can’t purchase an item that goes over $5 because you’re maxed out at that point.

So the spending frenzy for the holidays might be over, but those gift cards that so many of us received are likely to be used in the next 2-3 months so those retailers and restaurants should prepare to see plenty of plastic being used, only this time it’s plastic that won’t cause a headache when you get that credit card statement at the beginning, middle or end of the month.