Do We Really Need an Official Holiday to Tell Us Not To Throw Away Money? Apparently, We Do

National Use Your Gift Card Day is an excuse to shop (if you need one.)
Updated May 1, 2024
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Whip out your calendar, print or digital, and in bold print are significant monthly holidays. There are the usual suspects: Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and, of course, Christmas. Then, some holidays only have a little pizzazz. Pity Arbor Day or Grandparents Day for not having parades. 

Then, there are the unique holidays that may or may not have value to you. One of the newest that stores are trying to get you to participate in is National Use Your Gift Card Day celebrated on January 20th

Here's how you can use that day to benefit you. 

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What is National Gift Card Day?

Going into its fifth year, this new way to spend money is held on January 20th. Consumers can celebrate this brand-new holiday not by throwing a parade but by shopping until they drop. They use the holiday as the perfect excuse for why they’ve got all those shiny shopping bags. 

Tilson, the creator of this fest, said in the press release, “National Use Your Gift Card urges consumers to find and use the cards for a post-holiday splurge…”

As a quick aside, brands have helped create holidays throughout the years. Small Business Saturday, the holiday after Black Friday, was created by American Express. IHOP started Pancake Day to get people into their restos. The most famous of the new holidays is Prime Day. Amazon’s one-day sale madness forced other chain stores to participate in it. 

However, National Use Your Gift Card Day doesn’t seem as exciting as many others. That leads to the question, do consumers really need to be told to use their gift cards and use their free money? Restaurants, department stores, movie theaters, and more feel that consumers do need to be prompted to use them. 

After all, when people use gift cards, they often spend more than the gift card amount. According to Capital One Shopping, 61% of shoppers spend an average of $31.75 more than what’s on the gift card. So this is an easy way to bring in new sales, but can it help you? 

How much money is wasted on gift cards

National Use Your Gift Card Day is a fun reminder to dig out gift cards and finally use them. In a way, it finds money. There’s a lot of money lost in gift cards. Billions, in fact. Credit Summit’s recent survey discovered almost $21 billion in unspent gift cards floating around. 

What’s worse than that number is about 60% of Americans are sitting on unused gift cards. If there’s a national reminder to grab and spend that gift card, it could be helpful to get that money back into circulation. However, where are the gift cards hiding? Gift cards could be in a wallet, an envelope, or at the bottom of a junk drawer. But it gets worse.

Some of that $21 billion will never be recouped. Some cash gift cards from Visa or Mastercard lose their value because inactivity fees can lessen a monetary gift card’s value if not used in a year. American Express gift cards have an expiration date. Some stores, restaurants, or experience gift cards also have “use by” dates. 

In the end, not only are consumers, both the giver and recipient, losing money, but they’re also losing out on a night on the town or a terrific new possession. So maybe it’s good to have a (slightly) annoying reminder to use it or lose it so that you can avoid wasting money you already have in your pocket.

You might benefit from using your gift card on this day

The below chains are participating in National Use Your Gift Card Day. The press release states they have “signed on to welcome consumers on the gift card holiday.” That could mean anything from special discounts to a limited-time offer. 

But it could also mean that the company just wants some good press by signing on with everyone else. It's a good idea to check Instagram, X, or Facebook to discover last-minute deals from any of the below-participating stores or the company that issued your gift card. Here are some of the most popular stores participating in some way:

  • Ace Hardware
  • Applebees
  • AMC Theaters
  • Bass Pro Shops
  • Bolay Fresh Bold Kitchen
  • Bonefish Grill
  • Cabela’s
  • Carrabba’s’ Italian Grill
  • Home Chef
  • Macy’s
  • Melting Pot
  • Metro Diner
  • Smashburger
  • White Castle

More stores are likely participating that weren't a part of the press release, but there might be other opportunities to save money while shopping. If you have a gift card somewhere then be sure to check out their social channels and website to see what they might be offering. 

What to do with unused gift cards

If the gift cards you have are for stores or restaurants that aren’t local, or you don’t like what the place offers, you have options. You can always donate the gift card or sell it. 

Charity Choice is a website where consumers can use the monetary value of the gift card and then turn it into a donation to a cause close to their heart. Charity Choice’s partners include the American Cancer Society, Best Friends Animal Society, and the Wounded Warrior Project.

So many people are selling gift cards that it’s become a cottage industry. In addition to selling gift cards on eBay, gift cards can be sold, traded, and bought on a variety of sites such as GiftCash, Raise, CardCash, and ClipKard.

Bottom line

The National Use Your Gift Card Day on January 20th encourages you to find, dust off, and use forgotten gift cards. It's a great reminder to use the gift cards you received for the holidays, or that you still have free money sitting in your wallet waiting to be used from who knows when. If the gift card is utterly useless to you, consider using this nudge to either donate or sell your cards. Either way, someone can benefit. 

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Author Details

PJ Gach PJ Gach is a professional writer who has over a decade of experience covering the fashion, beauty, and lifestyle beats. Her writing credits include Shop TODAY, GoBankingRates,, Reader's Digest, The New York Post, Rolling Stone, and more.