/ Money

Are gift vouchers only a token effort?

Gift card

Ah, the gift voucher, many kids dread them. But do gift cards and vouchers show real thought, or are they merely a way to weasel out of buying ‘proper’ presents?

Picture the scene – a teenager who, after months of disciplined saving, is within a few pounds of being able to afford a coveted PlayStation 2.

A dozen fivers from distant aunts for his birthday, and games-console bliss is nearly within his grasp.

One final envelope awaits… but what’s this? Some strange currency from a land of bookshops? We are talking, of course, about the vanguard of school prize giving and a fountain of adolescent disappointment – the book token.

The teenager was myself and – although I’m ashamed to sound ungrateful – I’ve always been suspicious of gift vouchers. To some they’re a lucky escape from ill-fitting jumpers and other unwanted presents – the freedom to choose something you’d actually like.

To others, they’re an invitation into a shop you’d normally avoid like the plague, or the promised arrival of an item you could do without.

Gift vouchers expire, money does not

While researching gift cards for an upcoming article, I’ve found many cards soon expire if left unspent, while some impose restrictions on what can and can’t be purchased. Perhaps it’s no surprise unwanted vouchers frequently change hands, find themselves on eBay, or are left to gather dust on the mantelpiece.

To the giver, however, they’re an ideal compromise – showing a fraction more thought than hard cash, while helpfully avoiding the effort of hunting for an elusive perfect gift.

But do you think the gift card is a coward’s way out? And have you ever tried to get rid of unwanted vouchers?


The podcast would love to hear your views on this!

G L Attaway says:
10 September 2010

No, no, no! Not the coward’s way out, but an ideal gift for the “one who has everything”. In fact conscience often makes us give more than perhaps we would have given via the price of a direct gift. Gifts are often not what we would like to receive from others, but this is solved by the recipient being able to choose for themselves. We are always delighted to receive any kind of token e.g. music, gardening, book – keep sending please.

DIY tokens are the best – perhaps attached to crisp banknotes. It’s a great idea for older kids they make the token, highly personalised, and then the parent attaches the tenner. This optimises choice for the recipient. Money Editor James Daley says on the Which? Money podcast that the December Which? magazine will be looking into the token trade with trademark Which? steeliness.

I have some relatives who have children, for whom I buy presents every Christmas. I used to buy books, but not really knowing their interests I found this difficult so changed to tokens from a well-known bookstore. I wanted to encourage them to read books which is why I did not send money. In fact the tokens could (I’m not sure they can now) also be used in a music chain and I know that some of the children did exactly that.

This year I think I will probably give up and send money but I admit my intention was to control the purpose for which the present was used.

I love receiving gift vouchers – especially online stores that sell everything! I can choose to spend as and when on what I like. I also know several people who like to get all sorts of vouchers, either for clothes shops or online stores that they like.
As long as the sender knows the preferred stores and doesn’t just send out some random unwanted store voucher.
A magazine subscription is also a good one to do, if you know the subject someone is interested in, then a voucher can either be homemade with the subscription notification or some companies send these out to use with the present.

Gerard Phelan says:
25 September 2010

As a Godparent who sees their Godchildren once a year, I am poorly placed to know what presents are relevant and would not duplicate what they already have. Whilst In theory I would like to send “improving” books and similar gifts and do so on occasion, it is hard to find meaningful items every year, so gift cards, such as those from W H Smith are the easy way out and cheap to post to remote recipients on the other side of the Capital, which is another consideration.