It’s My Gift Card and I’ll Spend If I Want To

The Boy is at a tricky age for gifts.

At 11 years old, all he wants to do is read, play video games, ride his bike, play Lego or watch TV (not necessarily in that order).

So in September, when friends and family were asking me for birthday gift ideas for him, I was at a loss. If I couldn’t come up with something fun and original to give him myself, what could I tell them?

Enter the gift card.

This year, he received several: Walmart, Chapters, EB Games…enough to go on a bit of a shopping spree. And that’s exactly what he wanted to do, the minute the party guests were out the door.

Time for a little background…Luc and I, overall, have similar values when it comes to money. We don’t live extravagantly and we try to live within our means. We never carry a balance on our credit cards. We hate debt and can’t wait until we’re mortgage-free. And while we may approach the purchase of big-ticket items differently, we usually both end up comfortable and satisfied with our spending and saving habits.

So why, then, did The Boy’s birthday gift cards become such an issue?

If I understand correctly (and Luc WILL correct me if I’m wrong!) Luc saw the gifts cards as:

  1. an opportunity to teach The Boy about managing his money
  2. a lesson in appreciating when you already have enough of a thing and
  3. an exercise in delayed gratification

While I saw the gift cards as:

  1. a chance to go SHOPPING!!!

OK, so when I see it written down, I concede that Luc does have a point (or three). Yes, The Boy needs to learn that just because you have money in your pocket (or on your plastic) doesn’t mean you have to go out and spend it all. And yes, The Boy has so many books, video games and Legos that honestly, he doesn’t need any more. And YES, if he held onto his gift cards, he could buy something he really wants later, as opposed to something he kinda wants right now just for the sake of spending.

But I also stand by my argument that had he not received gift cards for the things he wants most, he would have received the items themselves (because really, what else are you going to buy for an 11-year-old boy?). He’d be reading the books, building the Lego sets and playing the video games the minute he tore the wrapping paper off. So if the gift cards were given in the spirit of The Boy getting himself something he wants for his birthday, then he should be allowed to go out and get himself something he wants, parental misgivings be damned.

In the end, we reached a compromise. The Boy immediately spent his Chapters gift card on a new book (because, as book lovers ourselves, how could we deny him that?). And he was also allowed to spend his Walmart gift card in full with the caveat that it NOT be spent on a video game (he bought a Pokemon DVD and a Minecraft stuffy…still not what I would have chosen for him, but they are his gifts, after all). As for the EB Games cards (three of them) we instructed him to hang onto those until November, when the new Pokemon video game he really, totally, absolutely has to have is being released (instead of wasting them on a lessor game now and not having the money to afford the other later).

All in all, I think we worked this one out well.

But just for the record: If I get any gift cards for Christmas…I’m going SHOPPING!!!

Check out Luc’s thoughts on birthday gift cards.


2 thoughts on “It’s My Gift Card and I’ll Spend If I Want To

  1. Lynn says:

    Ugh, this is such a tough one, for us as well – for exactly the same reasons. My kids often get cash for Christmas and their birthdays from their grandparents and aunts and uncles, and we struggle with letting them buy something for themselves (as was intended), or making them save.

    These days we are working with a new rule – you can’t go to the store just to buy “something,” but must have something *specific* in mind. This usually means we will do one trip “just to look around,” then take a week to think it over, then actually go and buy, We are trying to find a happy medium between letting them get a treat, but also putting some thought into it, and not feeling like just because they are in a store with money they should get some whatever something that they may or may not actually want. If they see something, and are excited, and a week later are still excited, then it’s a win.

    Works better with some kids than others – definitely still a work in progress!

  2. Joyce says:

    I love gift cards! It’s not just the gift of the “stuff” you get with the gift cards, it’s the gift of the shopping spree! And that’s just as enjoyable as the stuff.

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