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Friday, January 3, 2014

Using gift cards

You are soon heading back to school for another semester – yeah!  One semester closer to finishing, you have enjoyed a well-deserved break, have enjoyed your parents’ cooking (maybe!) and have managed, perhaps, to catch up on sleep.  Ready for another semester, with more wisdom and experience that may help make this semester an even better success than the last.

For many of us, the Winter Holidays mean having received some gift cards.  Most likely, these are gift cards to store you like or shop at.  The temptation is most likely to ‘treat’ yourself to a bit (or a lot) of indulgence, since these were meant as gifts, they can be spent on luxury, right? well, yes, if you can afford it.

For many students, frugality is the only way to survive; money is tight and in order to survive until the end of exams in April is to spend wisely.  Therefore, the gift cards can come in handy and should be treated as cash. As well, most do not carry an expiry date so there is no rush to spend them.

First, do NOT lose them; if this was cash, you would probably put it carefully into your wallet.  Do the same with the gift cards; know where they are, make sure to carry term with you, and write on the back how much money there is left on each. 

Second, plan how to spend them.  They are restrictive because you obviously cannot buy groceries with your Chapter’s card.  However, you can buy some textbooks and study aids with your Chapter’s card and you should check ASAP which of your required texts can be ordered online with your bookstore gift card.

Third, think about ‘need’ more than ‘want’; if you can predict you will need a dress (ok, more a serious ‘want’ than a real need) for the formal in March, save the clothing store gift card for February when you’ll start shopping for your dress instead of blowing it on a cute sweater.  Think of footwear as well: sandals or winter boots are a must in Canada, and if yours are falling apart, they become ‘needs’ very fast.

Four: if you have a gift card to a department store, think housing: will you need new sheets for your bed next school year? Towels, a coffee maker, a toaster or a toilet brush? Most can be found in large department stores and will be more appreciated than a recent DVD or video game.

Finally, think of your midterm or final exam period.  Won’t that gift card to Tim’s or Starbucks be a lifesaver when you are studying hard and need a boost? In January, you can spend the time to make good coffee in residence or at home.  In April, maybe not so much, and you may appreciate a treat more than right now.

And yes, I just made holiday gifts a part of a well-balanced budget!

Happy New Year!

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