Albany Times Union - Sunday - - UNWIND -

Over­come any lin­ger­ing sheep­ish­ness about buy­ing gift cards — peo­ple love them.

Gift cards. They don’t gush with sen­ti­ment, but once again they are the most-cov­eted of all Christ­mas gifts.

For the 12th year in a row, th­ese prized bits of plas­tic re­main the most pop­u­lar items on wish lists, re­quested by 60 per­cent of those sur­veyed in this year’s Na­tional Retail Fed­er­a­tion 2018 Hol­i­day Spend­ing Sur­vey, con­ducted by Pros­per In­sights & An­a­lyt­ics.

No longer re­garded as the lazy per­son’s go-to gift, th­ese bits of buy­ing power are prac­ti­cal and easy to pur­chase. You can find the gift cards just about ev­ery­where, in­clud­ing gas sta­tions and gro­cery stores.

But, as I’ve said in the past, don’t blindly pluck plas­tic cur­rency from stores shelves. Seek out pro­mo­tions be­cause you can save on th­ese ubiq­ui­tous gems by pur­chas­ing at a dis­count, earn­ing cash back or tak­ing ad­van­tage of abun­dant bonus of­fers and your re­cip­i­ent will be none the wiser.

A num­ber of stores and restau­rants — lo­cal­ly­owned and na­tional chains — of­fer bonus cards with a min­i­mum pur­chase. Dunkin’ is be­stow­ing a

$10 bonus gift card when an­other val­ued at $25 or more is pur­chased on­line. Buy a $50 gift cer­tifi­cate to Yang’s Asian Bistro in Latham and you’ll re­ceive a $10 bonus. Know that in most cases, the re­wards can only be redeemed dur­ing a lim­ited win­dow and can’t be used un­til the new year, so be sure to check the fine print.

There are also a count­less num­ber of on­line gift card clear­ing­houses, like and Card­, that pur­chase and re­sell un­wanted, cred­i­ble gift cards at re­duced rates. Re­tail­ers like Sam’s Club, Sta­ples, CVS, ebay and rou­tinely of­fer dis­counts on tan­gi­ble gift cards.

Six­th­con­ti­nent, said to be the fastest growing so­cial e-com­merce plat­form in the world, is an­other cash-sav­ing op­tion. Earn cred­its and points ev­ery time you log in, pur­chase a card, in­vite friends or write a re­view. In turn, use those perks to pay for dig­i­tal gift cards you can put to­ward an on­line or in-store pur­chase.

“Gift cards are a great way to in­crease your pur­chas­ing power,” says Francesca Roveda, CEO of Six­th­con­ti­nent, who adds that get­ting your loved ones a gift card from a site like Six­th­con­ti­nent means you know they’ll ac­tu­ally en­joy what they’re get­ting and you’re sav­ing money. “It’s win-win for hol­i­day shop­ping.”

Sav­ings aside, there are clever ways to step up your gift card-giv­ing game, es­pe­cially if you’re concerned they are im­per­sonal and just, meh.

Trans­form­ing generic gift cards into ap­pre­ci­ated presents doesn’t re­quire Joanna Gaines-like skills. Just stick with the gist and bun­dle the fa­vored gift card with some­thing pal­pa­ble for a truly heart­felt and sen­si­ble of­fer­ing. Here are a few ideas:

Movie the­ater gift card: This re­ally is an easy one. Pop the movie gift cer­tifi­cate and a few boxes of the­ater candy into an in­ex­pen­sive pop­corn tub (you can usu­ally find them at a dol­lar store). Voila, you’re done.

Spa gift card: Al­ways a pop­u­lar Christ­mas gift, go be­yond a soli­tary spa gift card and pack­age it with slip­pers, lo­tion or can­dles so the re­ceiver can con­tinue to in­dulge at home.

Beauty store gift card: If a gift card to Sephora or Ulta Beauty are on a loved one’s wish list, wrap it with nail pol­ish and files or a beauty brush kit for a lit­tle some­thing extra.

Home im­prove­ment store gift card: If you’re gift­ing a cer­tifi­cate to Home De­pot, Lowe’s or a sim­i­lar store, punch a hole in the cor­ner of the gift card en­ve­lope and string it around the neck of a ham­mer or the han­dle of a small tool kit. For an extra-per­sonal touch, choose a fam­ily heir­loom tool or trin­ket if you have one on hand you’re will­ing to part with.

Restau­rant gift card: This one may take a tad more fi­nesse. Just go with the restau­rant theme. If it’s an Ital­ian restau­rant, pick up a set of oven mitts with an Ital­ian chef. French restau­rant? Pair the card with a bot­tle of cham­pagne. Brew­house? Go with a pair of per­son­al­ized beer mugs.

Travel gift card: Ifa fam­ily mem­ber or friend likes to travel, con­trib­ute to their next trip by pur­chas­ing a gift card for an air­line or ho­tel chain. Com­bine the card with in­ex­pen­sive neck pil­lows, per­son­al­ized lug­gage tags or a travel bag.

Shan­non Fromma

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