Gift Cards vs. Cash

When giving a gift, of course the ideal gift is one that’s thoughtful and exactly what the recipient wants. Even if you’re the world’s best gift giver though, that can be hard to pull off consistently. Sometimes it’s hard to do even if you do know exactly what the recipient would like.

For example, I know that my son would like some more business-casual shirts to wear to his job. I also know what size he wears, the colors he likes, and the style he’s interested in. Despite that, the chances of me picking out a business-casual shirt that he likes are slim-to-none. A gift card or cash might be better in that situation.

And sometimes if you ask someone what they would like, the answer IS a gift card or cash.

So when it comes to gift cards vs. cash, which would you rather receive? Which would you rather give?

When it comes to receiving, my preferences go like this:

1. Thoughtful gift that is exactly right for me.
2. Cash (except from my husband or son, then my 2nd preference is a gift card or time doing something for me)
3. Gift cards IF they are to places I already go regularly.

I prefer receiving cash as a second choice, because to me it’s the gift of getting whatever you want! Cash is always the right size, is accepted everywhere, can be used toward a larger purchase, etc. I prefer any of the above to a generic gift like a candle, or a gift card to a place that I don’t even go. While I still appreciate that the person took the time to give the gift and was thinking of me, gifts like those kind of highlight that they don’t really know me at all. (Of course, sometimes generic gifts are 100% appropriate, like in a gift swap.)

When it comes to giving, I usually give in this order:

1. A thoughtful gift that (I hope) is exactly what the recipient wants.
2. Cash.
3. Gift card IF it’s to a place I know the recipient goes regularly.

I tend to give cash if I don’t have a good idea of what’s actually wanted because I don’t like forcing others to spend money at a certain place. Especially if I’m giving, say $20 or so, a gift card can also be hard to use. The recipient will probably either have money left over on the card, or will have to chip in their own money for the thing they want to buy.

So what are your preferences? Are the answers the same for both giving and receiving?


  • I prefer cash! But I would be wary of gifting cash since I don’t know how one might take it!
    I hate gift cards; I use that as a last option.

  • Personally I like getting gift cards better as long as the person has thought about it a little – I mean, probably not the best idea to give me a gift card for a store I don’t go to. But I think it’s nicer than just plain cash – that seems a little impersonal.

  • I dig cash, but I actually prefer when folks ask me if I NEED anything. If it’s something I need, then I’d love to receive it as a gift (even though I’m always convinced I could find it cheaper). After that, cash works great. Or, a donation to a charity in my name. Lawd knows there are millions of folks who need it more than I do.

    But lo, I am so tired of receiving gifts of crap I don’t need. No more! No more! I’d rather not have a gift at all than yet another trinket I don’t want or need. Yes, even if it came from love and warm fuzzies!

  • Cash! I’m definitely not a fan of those American Express cards…

  • I love cash, but feel tacky giving it. I know it doesn’t make any sense!

    • Oh, I think it makes sense. You probably like cash because you can do whatever you want to with it, but maybe you feel tacky because it “seems” like it doesn’t take much thought. Maybe try wrapping it up real nice in a pretty box? :)