Gift cards are the procrastinator's delight. They appear to demonstrate some thoughtfulness, because you had to physically buy something rather than just stuff a wad of cash in an envelope. But these days they're available at most supermarkets and drug stores, so you can pick one up without making a special trip. As a result, thousands of Americans will likely buy up last-minute gift cards in the next two days to give as Christmas gifts. They shouldn't bother.
First, let's debunk the reasons why you might think it's nice to buy someone a gift card.
It Shows I'm Thoughtful!
No, it shows you're lazy and a poor listener. As already mentioned, there's no challenge involved in purchasing a gift card these days. Moreover, buying good gifts is all about listening to people. If you have had dozens of conversations with a person and don't know a gift they might like for Christmas or their birthday, then you weren't really listening.
It's Safer Than Cash
How do you figure? When a gift card is swiped at a cash register it is activated. You put it in a card, and lose that card, then you also lose the gift card. If the card is stolen, then again, whoever takes it can just use it like they would have used cash -- it isn't personalized. Now if you save your receipt, then maybe there's a way to call wherever the gift card is from and try to get a new one. But chances are that most people who aren't thoughtful enough to buy someone a real gift probably aren't thoughtful enough to save all those gift card receipts just in case, either.