How to Spend Money or Gifts Cards Received?

If you’re a lucky one like me, you received some money or gift cards for Christmas. Not that I really need them, but might as well take some time to really think about the best ways to use them. When I was younger, I’d spend it all without really questioning my decisions, thinking I “deserved” to treat myself. However, it’s not always the smartest thing to do and regrets come fast.

3 Categories List

After a couple years of experience and thinking, I ended up making a list of uses for money or gift cards. This list is separated in three very different categories: Needs, Desires and Savings (or Debt).

*To make sure you don’t forget about one card, simply put them all in your wallet as soon as received. That’s my favorite method as I use my wallet daily.

1. Needs

In this category, you name two to four articles you actually need. Careful! These are not desires, but real needs. For example, if you’re a runner and your shoes are worn out, you need a new pair sooner than later. It doesn’t have to be an essential need, but something you truly use.

Two other aspects that can help you differentiate needs from desires: you don’t already own one or the one you own is broken. This category is not made for accumulating unnecessary belongings like clothing, decorating items, furniture or books.

2. Desires

Because, yes, we can also treat ourselves a little! 😉 Personally though, I think this category shouldn’t contain more than two items. Why? It’s too tempting to find excuses to turn these desires into “needs”. If you find more desires than needs, chances are you’ll regret your purchase or end up accumulating things that you don’t use.

3. Savings or Debt

This is the boring part, I know. However, if you received an amount of money, it’s a very smart move to invest some or apply it to a debt you may have, like Christmas gifts bought with a credit card for example! ;-). It will be worth more that way than actually buying some stuff.

Setting Priorities

Once your list is done, set your priorities by keeping one thing in each category. Then, you will calculate the amount of money or value left and add one item at a time until all is used. Remember to keep more needs than desires and to leave some space for savings if possible.

Of course, if you only received gift cards, you may want to first verify which ones fit into which category. For example, I got $45 worth gifts cards at Starbucks. I can’t use it elsewhere and it’s truly a desire rather than a need. Therefore, I won’t add many desires into my list. I know that some places in US allow gift cards exchange, meaning you can trade a gift card for another store’s one applying a small fee. If that’s a possibility for you, might as well use it to prevent buying things you don’t really need or want.

My Own List!

Here is how I’ve been spoiled by Santa this year! 😉

  • $75 in money
  • $40 in a well-known drugstore (that sells a lot more than drugs)
  • $20 at a nearby mall (can use it in any store in the mall)
  • $30 at another nearby mall (same here)
  • $25 in a Library


  • Hair Blower: Mine is about to really die. It even has a burning smell! Will use my $40 in drugstore.
  • Gas for the car: We used the car more during the Holidays so the usual monthly cost for gas is higher. Already used $50 in money.
  • Wok: Mine has rusted, which is really not good for cooking. Since I use my wok about once a week, I think it’s more a need than a desire. Will use my $30 at the mall.
  • Knives Sharpener: I received nice knives from my husband more than a year ago. They are of quite good quality, but I never sharpened them. Since I cook a lot, a knives sharpener is a good investment to keep them in good shape. Will use my $20 at the other mall.

Note: It’s a good time of the year to find 50% discount and other sort of rebates. I’m confident I’ll find what I need for about the same value of my gifts. Be careful though to not fall into the “It was so cheap, I couldn’t leave it there!” disease that comes with such rebates! Focus on your list. If you don’t find it now, you might as well find it in a couple weeks.


  • Coffee: I enjoy having a cup of coffee per day. I often make it at home, but my Starbucks cards will make it a real treat once in a while! Will use my Starbucks cards
  • Novels: I love to read novels, but don’t have much time to do so and I try to not accumulate too many. However, I’m very happy that I received a gift card there because it has been a long time since I allowed myself to do so. I have already treated myself with two new stories that will surely replace TV time… which is not a bad thing!

As you may have noticed, but the gift cards I received clearly influenced my two desires. I’m lucky that the people who gave them to me know me so well! Otherwise, it could have been deceiving for me.


  • Applying what’s left to our credit card bill: That seems boring, but I know I won’t regret it at all. Besides, I already have the feeling of treating myself with the other two categories. I don’t need more. Only $25 left, but that’s better than nothing! 😉

I could have kept more money for that category, like using $25 for gas and keep $50 for the credit card payment. I must admit I might have acted too fast on that one! However, I already put more money aside for this payment when I realized it.

Will you use my technique? Other tips you’d like to share?

Image credit: Gift CardsMoney box, Starbucks Coffee Card

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