The colorful cards from popular retailers trigger a desire to spend, spend, spend.
“Gift cards take the cap off of our self-control,” says Kit Yarrow, a professor of marketing and psychology at Golden Gate University in San Francisco. “Having a gift card feels like permission to go shopping and buy things guilt-free.”
A report published in the Journal of Experiential Psychology found that participants spent more when shopping with $50 gift cards than with the equivalent amount of cash. Researchers speculated that gift cards seemed less valuable than cash and, therefore, were more easily spent.
Smart move: Think twice before making a purchase with a gift card. Yarrow suggests asking, “Is this an item I would buy with cash?” or “If I were spending cash, would I be willing to pay full price for this item?” If the answers to both questions are “no,” keep the gift card in your wallet until you spot the right piece at the right price.