Getting a Grip on Gift Cards: Tips from Professional Organizer Amy Tokos

A member of The Freshly Organized team, Amy Tokos helps consumers learn the secret to easier, stress-free days. Active in the National Association of Professional Organizers
(NAPO), the team’s mission is to create a personal organization plan for clients that is simple and easy to maintain.  Amy transforms lives by helping with time management, paper, closets, kitchens, and much more. 


Q.How do you personally keep your gift cards organized and handy?

A.  You can’t just let remembering your gift card organically happen because that’s when we forget about them. You need a strategy.  National Use Your Gift Card Day brings attention to not letting gift your gift cards go to waste.

Being in the organizing profession, I approach gift cards more strategically than most people.  When I get gift cards, I put a monthly reminder on my calendar to use them. Sometimes I’ll have a gift card for a place where I just don’t need it for anything when I receive it, so I’ll mark on my calendar when I foresee being able to use it. On a calendar it’s helpful to keep a rhythm for using gift cards – such as once a month – so you’re constantly thinking of it.  And I also consider when will I be in the geographical area of the gift card location.  I go a step further and set an alarm to use my gift card the day before I’ll be near that location.

Q. If someone who is not particularly organized receives a gift card and wants to save it for a rainy day in the future, what would you recommend they do with it?

A. Mobile devices are helpful, but not everyone is comfortable relying on them. So, there has to be a visual cue if you can’t let electronics do it. At home, you can have little clipboard of gift cards, organized by month and keep it near where you walk out the door, so you have the visual of them, and have them in order that you want to use them.  What you put at the top should be something that triggers your memory. Keep it current though, because if you put your clipboard up in January, by July you might be so used to it that you walk right by.

It may be better for some people to list gift cards on a paper calendar because it gets out of your head and onto your calendar. No matter how you organize them, be strategic about using gift cards. Of course, sometimes the opposite happens and people use all their gift cards right away so they don’t forget about them and purchase things that they don’t need or really want.

Everyone is completely different.  Some people may have an old-fashioned kind of coupon organizer or Rolodex –but you still have to remember to pull them out or keep handy at home to use as needed. No one solution fits everyone – except for keeping it out of your head and onto your calendar.

Q. Any simple “do’s and don’ts” for organizing gift cards?

A. Whatever system you have keep it simple. Don’t create a complicated system – like an excel spreadsheet in alphabetical order. It may work once or twice, but sometimes you get busy, you’ll fall behind and the system is not updated, because it’s just too hard to maintain.

Q. Do you have any special suggestions for gift cards your children receive, when they are too young to manage using gift cards by themselves?

A. When it comes to kids and gift cards, you can’t just let remembering your gift care organically happen because that’s when they go unused. You need a special strategy for kids.  I was working with one client and her kids get gift cards for Christmas and found that they weren’t being used.  They received quite a few gift cards to the local book store, so they started scheduling going to the bookstore as a monthly event. Having those dates on the calendar got the family into the routine of using their gift cards.

 Q. We know from your website that you love gift cards, especially for an experience.  Why?

A. Because people have enough stuff and they are more likely to remember experiences. If you think back to your childhood and think back to the stuff you’ve receive over your life, there are probably very few things you remember getting excited about. But we remember experiences because they build relationships.  Gift cards for activities such as family zoo passes, movie passes, ice skating passes and the like create a culture of experiences.

Q. Do you recommend booking your experience as soon as you receive the gift card and why?

A. Don’t keep it in your head – think about when you’re going to use it and get on the calendar. For example, if you receive a gift card for a restaurant that has a great patio with music every Friday over the summer, and just think, “I’ll save it for July,” there’s a good chance you’ll forget about it. You need to put on your calendar approximately when you want to you use the gift card or need to make a reservation. For that July patio experience, set an alarm for May 1stto remind you to get it on your schedule for July.

 Q. Is using a gift card itself an experience that could be memorable? 

A. Yes, absolutely.  One of my friends’ husbands bought her gift cards to ten different restaurants and scheduled ten date nights – that was a great gift because it combined experiences with gift-giving.

Q. Have you ever forgotten about a gift card?

A. Yes, I have. I just recently came across a $5 gift card for a yoghurt place – it was stuck in a drawer because I’m almost never in the area where it’s located.

That’s why I love the idea of National Use Your Gift Card Day. It prompts people to be intentional about using their gift cards. Sometimes people have so many gift cards that they don’t have time to use them. There’s also opportunity to give those extra gift cards away. High schools will use them for needy students, or they can be given to a women’s center or to people trying to get back on their feet.  Other people can use the gift cards you can’t.

Q. Do you have a simple tip for young people starting out in the “real world” to stay organized in general – and why should they make it a priority?

A. My daughter recently moved out on her own and is now having to maintain real-world paperwork like title for car, passport etc., which are things we were maintaining previously on her behalf.  The biggest thing I helped her do was create a file box with just a few files for important things. Millennials are electronically savvy so they use alerts on their devices for gift cards, or they use them right away.

Q. What would you tell a college student about how to manage their gift cards when setting up their dorm room?

A. They typically spend it right away, so they should just have them in their own wallet and keep them with them.

Q. Lots of people give gift cards for all kinds of holidays: Christmas, Hanukah, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and graduation – not to mention birthdays. What’s your best strategy for keeping them at hand when shopping in a store or online?

A. If you’re and online shopper, the gift cards should be where you do your shopping – for example on the nightstand if you shop on your iPad while in bed. Similarly, if you’re usually shopping online at your office desk, they should be on your desk.

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