22 Uses for Dead Gift Cards


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What do we do with all that empty plastic, especially because the holidays probably mean even more gift cards coming our way? We get creative. Or silly. Or both!

In the past week I’ve gone through several discounted gift cards, i.e., used them up and asked the cashier to “recycle” them. Wonder if they ended up in the circular file rather than the “clean this up and reload it” bin?

Probably the former, because the ones in the typical “gift card mall” look utterly pristine. You can’t really say that about the cards that I use and toss. Not only were they secondhand when I bought them, they’ve suffered tremendous indignities in my wallet and purse. (Hint: In both those locations I also carry keys, paper-clipped items, a comb and the occasional gleaned My Coke Rewards.)

Maybe you, too, buy from the secondary market and thus aren’t interested in reloading them. Or maybe you get gift cards for places you don’t generally frequent and thus have no interest in adding more dollars to the scrip once it’s depleted.

What do we do with all these plastic rectangles, especially because the holidays probably mean even more gift cards coming our way?

We get creative. Or silly. Or both!

Useful life skills

Use your now-empty plastic to:

1. Clear off frosty windshields. Shout-out to all you surprised-every-now-and-then Floridians: How many of you actually own real ice scrapers?

2. Grate cheese. No, really. Apparently the name-and-numerals part of the card will turn Parmesan or Romano into cheesy particulates. A nice trick at your next dinner party, as long as everyone knows you washed the card beforehand.

3. Break into houses. Kidding! But apartment dwellers should get into the habit of keeping a dead gift card with their laundry supplies, the better to save their butts if they inadvertently hit the knob-lock button before heading down to the washing machines in the basement. (As a former apartment building manager, I speak from bitter experience.)

4. Never buy a shim again. Instead, stuff old gift cards in there until the spirit level says, “You got it.”

Off, off, damned spot!

Sometimes, it’s all about removal:

5. Remove dried-on food from last night’s dishes.

6. Remove hardened candle wax from wherever it has dripped (that way it doesn’t end up under your fingernails).

7. Remove gum from the floor.

8. Remove adhesive from windows. Yes, you told the kids not to put stickers on the panes. But did they listen?

9. Remove dog poop from the sole of your sneaker. (Speaking of “damned Spot.”)

Cutting and shaping

Show off with some crafty crafts:

10. Seedling markers! Cut them into strips and use a Sharpie to write “beets,” “turnips” or whatever.

11. Turn them into a Jacob’s ladder toy. Or make it with canceled credit cards and staple on a moral about “escalating” debt.

12. Create a mosaic. Extra points if you frame it and give it a name, e.g., “Why I can never retire.”

13. Earbud holder. So clever!

14. Get picky. Cut cards into teardrop shapes and give them to guitarist friends. (Or sell them on Etsy.)

15. Turn them into earrings. Cut to the size/shape you prefer. Those bold Target or Subway logos will surely turn heads at the next opera gala.

Health, beauty, survival

16. Impromptu finger splints. Jam a joint in a backyard volleyball game? Tape the injured digit – plus one or two others to keep it company – to a gift card. Make sure someone else drives you to the ER, though, as immobilized fingers make it hard to shift gears. (Also to change stations on the radio. You might get stuck on the “all show tunes” channel or something.)

17. Measure chocolate. Some doctors now advise eating up to 3 ounces of dark chocolate per day as a health measure. (Where can I get a prescription like that?) Apparently this is a piece about the size of a gift card.

18. Conform to patriarchal grooming standards. Applying a cream depilatory to your legs? Use a card to “shave” off the kaput follicles.

19. Make a zombie apocalypse weapon. Trim card into arrow shape, sharpen by rubbing against concrete, and bind to broom handle or tree branch with duct tape. You gotta use what you can get, right?

Finally, you could also go the cruel cruelties route:

20. Mess with the neighbor kids’ heads. Glue the card to a sidewalk and watch them fume and scheme.

21. Psych out your best friend. Let him think he’s getting a $50 Hooters gift card!

22. Mess with other people’s heads. A commenter on my personal website does the psych-out even better. She saves all expired gift cards until it’s time to give new presents. Then she wraps a new, unused card with a bunch of defunct ones and a note saying, “Enjoy your gift — once you figure out which one it is.” Inspired.

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Stacy Johnson

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