Four ways to get the most out of gift cards

You can maximize the funds on a gift card by combining it with a store sale, registering a gift card online, and re-gifting when necessary. 

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    A gift card kiosk in New York.
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Unless you know exactly what a person wants, shopping for a gift can be a real pain. But a gift card is quick and convenient — and since the recipient can pick and choose the right gift, it removes any guesswork on your part.

Whether you're the recipient or the giver, it only makes sense to get the most out of a card, however. Using a gift card isn't rocket science, but here's a look at four ways to maximize the funds.

1. Combine Gift Cards With a Store Sale

I'm a big believer in never paying full price, so just because you have a gift card in your wallet doesn't mean you should spend it without considering potential savings. Many retailers begin marking down prices two or three weeks after an item hits the floor, so a little patience pays off. Since a gift card isn't a discount or coupon, a lot of retailers let you combine these cards with a storewide sale. Combine the gift card with a "buy one, get one free" sale or a "buy one, get one 50% off" sale, and you'll get more than the face value of the gift card. And always, always look for coupon codes before checking out online and in-store; you might save even more.

2. Re-Gift Smartly

Even if you're a fan of gift cards, you've probably received a card to a retail store you didn't particularly care for. If you know you're not going to use the card, it makes sense to re-gift the card so you don't waste the giver's money. Just know that if you give an unwanted gift card to a friend, there's a possibility that he'll re-gift the card to another friend and so forth. The gift card might pass through several hands before someone uses it.

It's a completely different scenario if you know a friend will use the gift card. But if you're not sure, you're better off selling the card for cash using websites like Gift Card Granny orCard Pool. You'll put cash in your pocket — which might be the gift you preferred in the first place — and the buyer gets a gift card he actually wants.

3. Register Your Gift Card

I've received tons of gift cards over the years, but I've never registered one. Luckily, I've never lost or had a gift card stolen. But if you have, you know the frustration of missing out on freebies and digital cash. Registering your gift card protects the balance in the event the card falls in the wrong hands.

Just head over to the retailer's website and provide basic information like your name and the gift card number. If the card's ever lost or stolen, the retail issues a new one after verifying you're the owner. Registering the card also provides an easier way to track your balance.

4. Go Digital

Gift cards are the same size as credit cards, so they fit easily in wallets. But with everything else going on in your wallet (identification, bank cards, credit cards, insurance cards, etc.) adding gift cards to the mix can make your wallet bulky and heavy. Going digital might be the solution, especially if you never leave home without your smartphone.

There are apps to store and manage all your gift cards in one place, such as GyftGoWallet, and Passbook. Not only should you consider digital cards for yourself, but also when shopping for others. Physical gift cards still rule, true, but a recent gift card study found that 14% of Millennials are more apt to go digital. Digital cards might be a new concept for some, but the convenience is undeniable. Pull up the gift card on the app, let the cashier scan the barcode, and you're done. There's no need to shuffle through your wallet, and you don't have to keep up with a bunch of cards.

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