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Gift Card Girlfriend: 5 Lessons Kids Learn from Gift Cards

From setting a budget to calculating sales tax, Shelley Hunter, the Gift Card Girlfriend (GCG), says parents can teach their children valuable lessons when redeeming gift cards.

Danville, CA, January 22, 2010 --( According to the National Retail Federation, 55.2% of American adults want to receive a gift card this holiday season.* Shelley Hunter, the Gift Card Girlfriend, says 100% of the children in her home want to receive one as well. While her kids enjoy the shopping freedom provided by gift cards, Hunter appreciates the opportunity to teach her children the following valuable lessons about money and about life.

There is a limit. Though it may seem like the debit and credit cards in mom’s wallet are an endless source of funds, kids need to learn that an account balance or credit limit actually dictates how much money can be spent. Gift cards also have a limit. Hunter strictly enforces that limit when redeeming gift cards with her children. She says, “I want my kids to learn to shop within their means. If one of my kids wants to buy something for $20 but only has a $15 card, I tell him to make another choice or be prepared to use his own money to make up the difference. I won’t subsidize the purchase because doing so would send the message that it’s okay to overspend.”

Want vs. Need. Hunter says that on a routine shopping trip, nearly everything the kids see in the store is something they really, really need. With their own money (gift cards), however, her kids become more shrewd in their definition of “need.” At the start of each gift card shopping trip, she reminds her children of things they asked her for recently. This helps direct their shopping. Hunter explains, “The kids aren’t forced to shop for the things I suggest, but when they have a mental shopping list of needs, they become less overwhelmed by the store and make better purchasing decisions.”

Quality vs. Quantity. “My son once blew through a gift card buying an armful of junk toys that I warned him wouldn’t last. A couple days later, when the toys broke, stopped working, and otherwise proved to be poor choices, he cried and begged me to take him back to the store to buy something else. Of course, I wouldn’t take him, ” explained Hunter. But the next time he received a gift card, her son picked out one durable toy instead of several cheap thrills. Though she offers suggestions, Hunter does not place too many restrictions on what the kids buy. If they waste their gift card money, she knows the poor decision will have a lasting impact.

Save it. If her kids cannot find something they really want, Hunter encourages them to save the card for later instead of wastefully buying something simply because they can. Responsible spenders know when to refrain from hasty purchases in order to save their money for a future, more beneficial purchase.
Do the Math. Obviously, kids learn practical applications of math by calculating the cost of desired items—is the item more or less than the amount on the card, how much will two things cost, and how much money will be left on the card after this purchase? Hunter says her 4th grade daughter is old enough to do most of the calculations and even knows to include sales tax. Her kindergartener, on the other hand, simply asks, “If I buy this, do I have money left over for something else?”

While Hunter readily admits that redeeming gift cards with kids in this way may require a longer shopping trip and an extra measure of patience, the lessons learned are worth the effort. As her kids become increasingly savvy shoppers, they have also made some surprisingly mature gift card purchases—new church pants, school shoes, and a toy the entire family shared.

* “Economy to Impact Two-Thirds of Families this Holiday Season, According to National Retail Federation Survey,” Press Release October 20, 2009. (

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Gift Card Girlfriend
Shelley Hunter

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