Island Resilience, November 2023

Corporate Gift Cards? Give Cash!

By Jane Valencia

The holiday season approaches, and with it, choosing gifts. If you’re like me, you often send gift cards to your teen and young adult loved ones, so they can purchase just what they want. But if you’ve been reading the “Cash On Vashon” articles these past months (see, and striving to use cash more frequently yourself, you may be rethinking that choice. I know I am!

Please note: this article refers to corporate gift cards (Amazon, name brand corporations, etc.). If you wish to give gift cards, I encourage you to purchase them from local and other small businesses. These businesses directly benefit., and our choosing them helps them to thrive.

Here are a few things to consider regarding giving corporate gift cards.

1. Hidden costs

As we’ve seen in the “Cash On Vashon” articles, digital payments of any kind come at a cost, from processing fees, typically applied to the business owner, and other times to yourself, or both. Gift cards, particularly general purpose cards that act like a “purse” and which can be used anywhere, can be loaded with hidden fees. From an initial activation fee, to a monthly inactivity fee that kicks in if the card isn’t used for a certain amount of time, to a processing fee incurred by the businesses who accept the card for payment. This sort of gift card can chisel away an astonishing amount of what you intended to give, with everyone involved paying along the way. If you are going to purchase a gift card, definitely take time to understand how the card works.

All this said, it is worth noting that WA state is actually unique in having some strict laws against profiteering on gift cards. Take a look at “Chapter 19.240 RCW: Gift Certificates” at You’ll get a good sense of what the law intends to protect against.

2. Money left on the table

It is rare that your loved one will use the exact amount of a gift card/ecard. They will either need to add more of their own to purchase what they want, or they’ll “leave money on the table.” How many cards given to your children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews contain a few dollars here and there that never get spent? The amounts may not seem like much, but this is another way that companies nickel and dime, benefiting in this case from what isn’t spent. How many physical cards get lost in a messy bedroom or tossed out? How many emails delivering the ecard and access information quickly disappear in an overflowing and rarely viewed email inbox, and from your loved one’s memory?

3. Teaching through gift choice

As adults, we want our gifts to connect with our younger loved one. And we hope that our gifts pass along wisdom and values as well, at least to some degree. While choosing a gift that is just right for your loved one is an ideal choice, a gift of cash can be both meaningful and convey lessons to the next generation, especially when we explain why we’re giving the latter rather than a gift card/ecard.

You can let them know that:

– They are receiving the full amount of the gift.

– They can spend it however and whenever they want. They aren’t limited to patronizing a single business, and they won’t lose money if they don’t spend the full amount.

– They have spending privacy (from big tech and the various businesses and corporations that would be involved when using a gift card)

– They are helping to keep cash alive by using cash

Make it personal:

During the December art walk, buy greeting cards from Island artists. Gather your cash, maybe some beautiful new bills. Write a special message to your loved one. Point out that they can enjoy spending the cash when and where they wish. They, and whomever they patronize, will receive the full worth of what is there.

If you are concerned that your gift might be stolen when you mail it, just be sure that the bills are tucked into the note card and that you can’t feel them. You could write a check, but often that money just ends up directly in a bank account. Cash has immediacy. If you are concerned your gift might be lost in the mail, then be sure to send it with tracking.

Or go ahead and buy a gift card from a local or small business. Share in your note why you enjoy patronizing those businesses. Personal connection, unique services, vitality to the local community are just some reasons you might name.

Join in the beauty of the gift-giving season by taking the opportunity to share and teach about the value of cash, and of supporting local and small businesses!

Thanks to March Twisdale for her discussion and ideas on this topic that inspired this article.

November 8, 2023

About Author

jane Jane writes about what it means to be an Islander, and how we can nourish healthy community. A harper, storyteller, and herbalist, she also shares tales and art that she is sure the Island told her. Having lived with her family on Vashon for 20+ years, she is convinced of the Island's magic.