Gift Cards: Use Them or Lose Them

The days immediately following Christmas rank as some of the busiest shopping days of the year. And if you received gift cards in your holiday stocking, it is a good idea to use them sooner rather than later. Here are a few reasons why:

1. Reduced Value. If your state does not have laws protecting the value of the cards, you may find the redeemable amount has been drastically reduced after a few months. Even before the expiration date on the card, some retailers begin charging "account service charges" against the value of the card for each month that the card is unused.

2. Bankrupt Retailers. Unfortunately, a fair number of retailers have recently declared bankruptcy or at least closed their storefronts and transitioned over to internet-only companies. Don't assume you can tuck the card away for a rainy day, especially if the card is for an apparel store where you may prefer to try items on for proper fit.

3. Gift Card Fraud. Be cautious when buying gift cards from the public racks featured in some stores. It has been reported in the news that crooks are copying the card's unique number and PIN number, waiting a few days for the card to be purchased, then calling the telephone number on the card to determine the dollar amount added to the card before they go on their online shopping spree. By the time the recipient gets the card, it's all used up.

To prevent this type of fraud, avoid buying from the miscellaneous cards available on public racks and, instead, buy from the store where the card will be used. Better yet, look for cards that are kept behind the counter. Employee fraud is possible but a lot less likely than the fraud occurring on cards kept in the public kiosks.

4. Lost Cards. I can't tell you how often I find organizing client's gift cards buried in paper piles, in drawers, or in old purses and wallets. In many cases, these cards have long since expired. According to, 27 percent of those who received gift cards in 2006 did not use one or more of them nearly a year later.

I am convinced that main reason people fail to use their valuable gift cards is because the cards simply are not with the person when they need them. I recommend that you either keep the cards locked in your car's glove box or keep them in a special place in your wallet or purse. I have a card-sized change purse that I keep all of my coupons and gift cards in and it lives in my purse all the time. That way, if I happen to be in or near a store, I can easily redeem the card.

Some retailers will even let you register your card on their web site so that you can get a new one if you lose yours. You can also easily check your balance once the card is registered.

Interestingly, the Associated Press reported in an article on December 26th, that fewer people bought gift cards this holiday season and opted, instead, to take advantage of the awesome discounts that were being offered by starving retailers. It will be interesting to see if this trends continues.

You can bet I'll be keeping track of that Natural Body gift card my parents gave me this Christmas! There is an hour-long massage in my near future.

Last Minute Clutter-Free Gift Ideas

In the world of procrastination, "last minute" is a relative thing. For some of you out there, last minute Christmas shopping involves scurrying around Walmart or the mall on December 24th with a bunch of other panicky shoppers. Others may have had most of their shopping done weeks ago and think those of us who are still finishing up are slackers.

This list if for those of you who are still shopping less than 10 days before Christmas. It is my hope that, instead of snatching and grabbing a gift doomed to the re-gift pile, you'll consider giving some of these consumable, experiential, or clutter-free gifts. Here's a list to get you started:

  • Create homemade coupons for spring cleaning, baby-sitting, or lawn mowing services that you can personally offer the recipient. These service gifts are especially appreciated by the elderly and crazy-busy moms (is there any other kind?).
  • Make a video of you and your family or friends for loved ones out of town. If you really want to be clutter-free, post it on YouTube and simply send the recipient the link in an e-card.
  • Give gift certificates to nearby restaurants or coffee shops that you know the recipient frequents or is too cheap to splurge on.
  • Bake a bunch of holiday cookies, banana bread, or other tasty treats that won't take up room for long (except on the hips of the lucky recipients). If you want to go lighter and healthier you may consider a gift bag of tea or coffees or a batch of homemade soup.
  • In my neck of the woods, we have some really good bakeries for bread. A nice fresh loaf wrapped in a tea towel makes a wonderful gift for the hostess of your next holiday party.
  • My mother-in-law has amaryllis bulbs growing as gifts for her daughters-in-law right now. Once we get to her house, they should be in bloom or pretty darned close. After mine is done blooming, I can either pitch it or save the bulb for replanting next year.
  • Give to a charity in the recipient's name. I have friends who contribute to a charity that provides goats to impoverished people as a food source of milk and cheese. When I Googled "give a goat,"several different organizations came up including
  • Give a Cheese of the Month, Wine of the Month, or Chocolate of the Month annual membership. There is a *insert name here* of the Month club for just about anything that your friend or loved one is jonesing for.
  • Invite a friend without nearby family to join your family or friends for some holiday gatherings. Depression can hit hardest during the holidays, so be on the lookout for folks who may not have the same loving support network that you have.
  • Purchase movie tickets from your nearby theater. Yes, many of us tend to stay in and watch our Netflix, Tivo, or On Demand movies. But it's really fun to go out to see a flick on the big screen ever so often. And if you're feeling really adventurous or nostalgic, see if there is a drive-in theater near you and pick up some passes.
  • And my personal favorite: A gift certificate for a massage! I recently told my parents that they can give me a gift certificate to my favorite spa for every birthday and Christmas. It is such a guilty pleasure, especially since I'm always sore from my Crossfit workout.
Hopefully, this list gives you a little food for thought for those last-minute gifts you need to take care of. Some of them won't even require you to wrap them or leave your house to pick them up. And simple is always better this time of year!

Thriving After Adversity

As many of you know, I am a breast cancer survivor. I am excited to report that I will soon be celebrating my fifth year of survival following diagnosis. Yay! In case you didn't know, the five-year mark is kind of a big deal in Cancer World.

My life has changed in so many positive ways in the last five years and I am incredibly grateful for all the wonderful people I have come into contact with during and after my cancer experience.

I have often thought that my life would not have moved in the incredible directions it has were it not for cancer. I'm not sure that I would have been motivated to start my organizing business so soon. Or that I would have pursued the Coach for Life life coaching training program that I have just completed. These two things alone have brought me amazing happiness, fulfillment, and spiritual contentment.

Instead of wondering, "Why me?" when I discovered I had cancer, I chose to face the experience with a sense of wonder, hope, and even humor. This helped make treatment more of an adverture than a penance.

As I approach my five-year diagnosis anniversary, I would like to gather and share some stories from other people out there who have thrived after adversity. The challenges that they found themselves faced with don't have to be cancer or other illnesses. I would also love to hear from people who have thrived after the death of someone close, who found success following financial disappointments, or who have found hope and happiness after a disaster or accident.

You get the picture. I'm looking for people who made their own silver linings for the dark clouds they found themselves under. If you know someone whose story fits this bill, please forward this request to them or email me at suellen at creativeorder dot com and let me know how I can get in touch with them. I would like to include their stories in either this blog or a new one I may create devoted to the coaching side of Creative Order.

We could all use some positive mojo right now, don't you think?