Seth Godin wrote about the gift card scam:
Along the way, we bought the story that giving someone a hundred dollar bill as a gift (“go buy what you want”) is callous, insensitive, a crass shortcut. Buying them a $100 Best Buy card, on the other hand, is thoughtful. Even if they spend $92 and have to waste the rest.
I see Seth’s point, but I want to make a counterpoint. If someone gave me a hundred dollar bill as a present, I might feel guilty if I spent it on something other than bills, food, or savings, depending on how my family’s finances were doing at the time. Yes, there is a hidden cost to gift cards, but Seth neglects to mention the benefit — the benefit of no guilt.
That said, I admit that the fact that guilt farming is an $8,000,000,000 industry says sad things about the emotional state of this society. It kind of reminds me of modern-day indulgences. If we could just let go of our shame about money, then Seth’s idea would be a strict win. Just give cash instead of a gift card, maybe add a little note saying “Please spend this on unnecessary frivolity, and enjoy!” and trust the recipient to be a big boy or a big girl.
So let’s work on this. Let’s help break down the social stigma around money, the social stigma that gives the guilt farmers their power over us. Let’s be open, honest, and unashamed about money. Let’s tell the story that giving money as a gift is nothing to be ashamed of, and that spending gifted money is nothing to feel guilty about. I like that story a lot better. (: