A surefire way not to waste gift cards

Gift card on top of a pile of cash

If you're like many Americans, you probably have a few unused gift cards collecting dust in your house.

According to a survey by Plastic Jungle, a company that buys and sells cards, the average American household has about $300 in unspent cards lying around.

That's a whopping $41 billion wasted.

But there's one guaranteed way not to let this free money languish: Spend it or ditch the card. Fast.

My wife and I are as guilty as anyone else.

We probably have $100 of unused gift cards to restaurants and retailers sitting in a kitchen drawer. And that's just the ones we know about.

So why haven't we used them? I really don't have a good answer, other than to acknowledge we forget about some, misplace others or are waiting for the ideal time to spend the ones we know about.

Gift Cards By the Numbers

81% Percentage of people who planned to buy a card.
$172.98 How much men planned to spend on cards.
$141.66 How much women planned to spend on cards.
59.8% Percentage of people who wanted to receive a card.
Source: National Retail Federation estimates

But when you consider a gift card is good for free merchandise, there isn't much logic in letting them rot away.

The biggest problem is that some eventually expire. Others lose their value over time.

Instead of letting them go to waste, you can visit a site like Plasticjungle.com where you can sell it, swap it or donate it.

The first step is to actually do something with it as soon as possible because once you tuck it away in that drawer, it's probably too late.

So let's say you've got $25 in cards each to the Gap, Target, Home Depot and Walmart.

You don't really want small things from each of those places but you would love $100 to go toward a new camera from Best Buy.

Well, use a site such as this to sell or trade your way up to what you want.

You can also buy discounted cards at the site.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy receiving the gift of plastic, although I have noticed we spend some quickly while others languish, particularly the retail cards.

A couple of years ago my wife discovered a $100 gift card to Target just sitting in a box in a closet somewhere. We had actually received it for our wedding in 2006. It just sat there for four years.

One of our current unused cards is a $50 gift card to Best Buy. The funny thing is that while it has sat there for a year, we've probably visited Best Buy six or seven times and spent more than $200 there.

Sometimes, there just is no rational reason for why so many of us don't use our gift cards.

That's why you need to act almost immediately to spend or get rid of them.

6 Gift Card Rules to Follow

Rule 1: Keep track of your cards. Rule 2: Take them with you.
Rule 3: Mind expiration dates and fees. Rule 4: Be a smart card shopper.
Rule 5: Remember your balance. Rule 6: Regift or sell unwanted cards.
Read more about the 6 rules here.