Gift giving II – A case for gift cards (A response to Brett Mackay)

Gift giving II – A case for gift cards (A response to Brett Mackay)

Editors note: This is a (surprise) follow up post from my previous post on gift giving where one of my suggestions was a gift card. I recommend reading that one first, but of course you’re welcome to simply read and enjoy this one also.


On Guard Sir Mackay


Hey fellas,


In my last post I laid out a case for putting some serious thought and consideration into your gift giving this year for Christmas and other occasions. Then, mostly for the ladies in your life, I made a short list of gifts I have that I think are great or are otherwise thoughtful enough to be worthy of a good gift. One of the items on that list was the recently invented and humble gift card.


Serendipitously, Brett Mackay from the Art of Manliness has since published a great post about gift cards and why you should shirk the tradition of gift card buying this year and opt instead for something much more thoughtful and meaningful. This post is my humble response.


First let me say this. Brett is a legend. His blog is legendary. His recent post on Gift cards is great. This is not a criticism of his post, it is a light hearted response, and a defense of my use of the gift card as a potentially good gift.


So with that said,


On guard, Brett.


Common ground


First thing’s first. Brett and I clearly agree that gift giving is an art form. Whatever the occasion, gift giving is an important affair and no matter how close you are to the recipient, there is always some room for thoughtfulness.


For example, you will not necessarily give the same gift, or kind of gift to your sister’s husband, as you would to your own. You’re no doubt going to spend more on your spouse than someone else’s. It’s not practical and not really appropriate to spend the same amount of money or invest the same amount of time on increasingly distant relations, or friends etc.


Just because it’s not always economical or appropriate to spend a lot on someone, doesn’t mean you can’t invest some care and thought into getting them a great gift.


There is always room for some thought. However, sometimes no matter how good your intentions, you will be faced buying a gift for someone you simply know nothing, or not enough about to get something you know will have the desired effect. This is something I’m sure even Brett Mackay would understand.


For the die hard anti-gift carder, this is likely to lead to a visit to the local tobacconist for a pack of novelty cards or a lava lamp.


The problem with this, as I explained previously, is that these trinkets are exactly the type of thing the thoughtful gift giver should be avoiding like the plague.


Enter gift cards.


The parry


Brett’s argument goes after the gift card as a source of shadow work. This is a term that describes the modern trend of jobs being increasingly outsourced from corporations to the customer. For example customers now having to fill their own car with petrol, when that used to be performed by the station attendant.


Brett argues in his post that giving gift cards is a form of this, and he labours on the point that pouring through endless online shopping websites, or department stores looking for the perfect item can be exhausting and he states that “we’re often actually better off with a bum gift that requires no thought or energy to deal with besides stashing in a junk drawer” as opposed to decision fatigue created by a gift card.


I strongly disagree.


That a gift card creates a burden of selection for the recipient is a fair point. But I would argue that this is not as bad as it sounds for a few reasons.


– Many people enjoy shopping


Myself included. I enjoy shopping.


Just because I’m becoming more minimalist and focused on quality and usefulness these days does not detract from this. If anything, the more focussed I become on minimalism and reducing clutter, the more I enjoy the art of keeping my eye out for only those things that I know are quality and will significantly enhance my life.


I find casually wandering through electronics/hardware/gentleman’s clothing store to be a rather enjoyable and relaxing experience. I’m sure many blokes, though they might not admit it, get a real kick out of just wandering around a hardware store eyeing off all the big boys toys. I know I do.


This experience is only enhanced when I have a gift card or two and I know I will be making a purchase with someone else in mind. I know that the card was bought with the intention of me using it to get something good. All the sweeter when I’m not using my own cash to pay for it.


– Many people already know what they want


Yes one of Brett’s main criticisms of the problem of gift cards in the context of gift cards was his disdain for wasting hours scouring online and elsewhere searching for the perfect item to purchase with his gift card.


The problem with this view is that as soon as most recipients see a gift card, they will almost immediately start to create a mental list of potential items that they can use the gift card to purchase.


This not only means that they will mentally associate the gift card with a gift when they get it from you, but the purchasing process is unlikely to be the stress inducing laborious task that Brett is envisioning, since they will already have narrowed it down before they start shopping.


I often have a very specific wish list in mind that I carry around in my subconscious and I am often shopping with a purpose, even if I have range of potential items, they usually have a scope. Say I’m looking for a new polo shirt, or a couple of movies or books, I’m almost never wandering aimlessly around Amazon or Kindle hoping for something to catch my eye. The trick to a good gift card is to be accessible to a persons wish list as this will go a long way to reducing the shadow work required in buying stuff.


If you know someone who does not think like this, and often has no idea what they want, then your better judgement might suggest that a gift card is not for them, and that’s great. But you see this is the whole idea behind being thoughtful in your gift giving, rather than random or passive and leaving everything till the last minute.


I understand where Brett is coming from. Decision fatigue is a real thing. However, I don’t think that gift cards are a sure fire situation for a debilitating case of it.


I for one know that when I get a gift card, it’s going to get spent on something great, that I know I really want and that will always be way better to me than getting a gift I know is going to collect dust and increase unnecessary clutter. Which brings me to my final defensive point.


– Mindless junk is, and will always be, mindless junk


Towards the end Sir Mackay expressed his preference for a bum gift over a gift card.


My response here is that mindless junk, no matter how thoughtful is still mindless junk. Now this could simply be Brett and I having a difference of opinion, but I would take a gift card over mindless junk any day.


The throw away items so common around Christmas are exactly the things we are trying to avoid when we want to give a thoughtful, meaningful gift. Are they not? What is it about a gift that is thoughtful if it’s not because it is a gift that the recipient will cherish (or gobble down instantly)?


Brett and I both agree that we need to give thoughtful gifts, but no matter how much thought has gone into it, if you get a gift that fails to convey that thoughtfulness, whilst it may be acknowledged and well received, is only going to leave a bitter taste in the mouth of the recipient when the time comes to find a dark bottom drawer to stuff it into.


Picture the heartbreaking guilt of really hating a gift that was given to you and knowing it’s destined for a dark and dim existence before being heartlessly tossed into the trash in few years time; worse still if you know that some serious but misguided thought went into it. This has to be worse than the horrible inconvenience of shopping for something nice with someone else’s money.




Gift cards are not that bad.


Just to be clear, gift cards are not the be all and end all of gifts. Far, far, from it.


I laboured in my last post on the importance of giving a thoughtful and meaningful gift that will really wow someone. The goal is something that will remind them of you every time they use or eat or look at it. We should always be thinking of the recipient, our relationship to them, and various other factors that go into getting a really great gift. Occasionally (maybe rarely), a gift card does fit this description.


A gift card does not have to be a last resort, but it should almost never be our first. It should be used, like all good gifts, when it happens to be the most thoughtful, prudent choice for an individual.


Here are some points to be considered when deciding if a gift card is the way to go.


– Sometimes we really have no idea what will make a great gift


To be fair Brett acknowledged this in his post, but I want to go a little bit further. Brett gave some examples where, try as we might, we simply don’t know the person well enough to get the perfect gift. In this situation a gift card can be the most thoughtful option, as opposed to a sell out. When you know that no matter how much thought you’re putting into a gift there’s still a reasonable chance the person in mind will not like it or worse, they will feel completely neutral about it, be honest with yourself and accept that a gift card might just be the best option.



This is important because even if you know the person is say a tradie and extremely fussy about what brand of tools they use, then you’re still going to be off if you get a really nice ratchet set, but it’s not sidchrome.



Personally, I can’t help but think of the person who gave me a gift card when I’m swiping it to make a purchase, and I’m always grateful.


– Gift cards can be given with a gift in mind


Sometimes if all you know about someone is that they are well dressed, or enjoy a good laugh, or love their movies then you can get a gift card for a store that you know they likely frequent themselves.


The tradie friend is the perfect example. If you know a man who can never have enough tools in his shed, but you don’t know his choice brand or what he needs, then a gift card for a reputable hardware store can still say to them that you know what they like, without looking like a stalker.


Brett’s disdain for decision fatigue is also not really a factor here. If you have a specialty store in mind, then it dramatically narrows down the range of items that a gift card can purchase.


Conversely, you may actually know the recipient really well. The problem is that whatever comes to mind as something they will truly cherish, is simply out of your price range for that person.


As someone who has been a full time student on Government assistance in the past, I can tell you that this is nothing to be ashamed of.


If you have an idea for someone that you know will knock their socks off, but you can’t afford it, then instead of opting for some inferior substitute, you can get them a gift card with a little note that it is intended to go towards something specific. Of course another solution to this problem is to simply pool your funds with someone else, but if this isn’t feasible, then covering a portion of the cost with a gift card is a very reasonable alternative. This overcomes the problem of them having to decide what to get, and it maintains a level of thoughtfulness because you still know what they will really appreciate.


– Gift cards can be pooled together to make them more useful and valuable to the recipient


Lastly, one of the best things about gift cards is they can be pooled to get something really valuable. The whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.


If there are other people you know who are buying for the same person, and you are all equally at a loss for what to get them (or as above, the recipient is somewhat of a connoisseur), then you can resolve together to all get gift cards for the same store (for quality), or different stores (for variety).


This again shows a level of thoughtfulness in the gift giving process. Not in the same way as a gift that really says something to the recipient, but it definitely shows that you (and others) went the extra mile to coordinate your gift carding because you considered the person important enough to coordinate gifts with others.


Just the thought that my family and friends would care enough to coordinate their gift cards in this way would speak volumes to me of their thoughtfulness, far, far more any useless trinket.




Gift cards have their pros and cons like any potential gift. The important point that I want to finish on is that they can either be used as a thoughtless last minute scapegoat, or they can be done with almost as much consideration as any other well thought out Christmas present if they are purchased with a bit of intention.


That being said, even if you find yourself in a pinch at the last minute (as is so often the case), then a gift card has to be a better choice than a random shot in the dark.


Brett and I definitely differ on this. Where Brett see’s the general act of gift giving as an opportunity to shake off conventionality and get something real, I see it as an opportunity to rid the world of life sucking clutter when a gift card is a perfectly acceptable alternative to be distributedly wisely and with consideration of the recipient.




It is important to note here that in my previous post I harshly railed against the cesspool of mindless listicles about gift ideas with some of the most abhorrent junk ever conceived.


The Art of Manliness has consistently for a number of years provided comprehensive lists of gift ideas for men which gets expanded and updated each year…


These lists do not reflect the majority of nonsense listicles that I am describing. The Christmas gift ideas found on the Art of Manliness are the refreshing exception to the rule and are loaded with fantastic ideas that will absolutely fill anyone with great potential ideas for any man in their life.


I want to clearly reiterate that gift cards are just one of many potential great gift ideas, many of which you will find over at the Art of Manliness.


Brett Mackay is a true gentleman and a scholar and it will not be said that this post is in any way a negative reflection on his views, or his incredibly thoughtful Christmas gift ideas which undoubtedly took much time and research on his part to put together.


I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and never forget why we celebrate.


Luke 2:9-14,

And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest, 
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

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