Gift cards

When buying a gift card for a friend or loved one, consider their likes and interests.

I have never been one to give gift cards. I steer away from them because I just felt like it was a cop out to not take the time to actually think about and choose a gift that fit a particular person and occasion.

However, that was then and this is now. In our COVID world, gift cards have become more practical because of social distancing, health and budget concerns. There are ways to make gift cards more personal.

When buying a gift card for a friend or loved one, consider their likes and interests. Do they have a favorite restaurant or retailer? What about a pastime or hobby? Gift cards can be specific to a certain store, product or restaurant — or they can be general through major credit card companies, store chains or even local Chamber of Commerce associations. Consider your recipient’s likes and needs.

New parents? Restaurant gift cards are good for nights when cooking is challenging. Newlyweds? Consider gifting a date night. That picky teenager? Entertainment gift cards for music, apps or gaming are good choices. Busy mom? Select something self-care related, such as a spa treatment. Hard-to-buy-for-dads? Gift a car detail or round of golf. Loved ones on a tight budget? Gift cards from grocers, discount chain stores or general retailers are practical, flexible options.

When selecting gift cards for casual acquaintances — such as colleagues, neighbors, teachers or service providers — remember it is the thought that counts. Never feel pressured to purchase a gift card in a dollar amount you cannot afford. Simple gestures include gift cards for treats at local bakeries, coffee shops or ice cream parlors. Discount retailers may sell multi-card bundles at reduced prices. This is a good option when you want to give several cards in smaller amounts.

Some streaming services sell movie rental codes in bundles. Pair each code with a bag of popcorn and a note for a “family movie night.” Regardless of the recipient or occasion, the key to personalizing a gift card is to include a note that connects the person to the purchase. It shows both thoughtfulness and practicality.

Before you buy a gift card or gift certificate this year, consider how flexible the gift is to redeem. Can your recipient make an online purchase, or will they need to go inside a store or restaurant? When gifting to someone who lives in a different city or state, make sure you select a retailer, restaurant or service that is easily accessible to them in-person — or select an online, more universal option.

Most gift cards bought in-store must be activated when purchased. When giving a gift card, it is wise to include the activation receipt in case your recipient encounters a problem at the time of redemption. Also pass along any instructions, disclosures, terms or expiration dates to your recipient so they can make the most out of your gift. If buying a gift card online, be sure to have your recipient’s email address or mailing address handy at checkout.

There are laws to protect consumers when buying and spending gift cards. According to federal laws, gift cards must remain active for a minimum of five years before they can expire. If no expiration date is printed on the card, it is presumed to be valid until it is redeemed. Always read any fine print that accompanies a gift card or certificate before purchasing, gifting or redeeming it. Look especially for inactivity or service fee disclosures that could reduce the value of the card. Exceptions may include gift cards or certificates sold for fundraising purposes by nonprofits or charitable organizations or smaller retailers.

When giving gift cards, remember they can be both practical and personal. Look for clever ways to personalize your gift cards with thoughtful messages and catchy sayings. Sayings like “Thanks a Latte!” when giving a coffee gift card, “Someone so sweet deserves a treat!” for a bakery gift card, or a sentimental note about why you chose that particular gift card. Whether for a close friend, family member, or a casual acquaintance, the amount of the gift card is not as important as the intention and thought behind it.

Enchilada Rice

1 pound lean ground beef or lean ground turkey

1/2 cup onion, diced or 1 tablespoon onion powder

1 (14-ounce) can no-salt-added whole kernel corn, drained

1 tablespoon cumin or chili powder

1 (10-ounce) can enchilada sauce

2 cups brown rice, cooked

1/2 shredded cheddar cheese

1/4 cup cilantro minced (optional)

Wash hands with warm water and soap, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds. Prepare 2 cups of brown rice or use leftover rice. Dice 1/2 cup onion using a knife and cutting board. Heat a large skillet to medium heat and add 1 pound of ground beef and 1/2 cup diced onion. After handling the raw ground beef; wash hands with warm water and soap, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds. Break the meat up with a mixing spoon and move around the pan. Be sure it is cooked to an internal temperature of 165° F (about 10 minutes). Using a colander, drain the mixture. Return the mixture back to the skillet. Open and drain the can of corn. Add drained corn, 1 tablespoon cumin or chili powder, and 1 can enchilada sauce to the skillet. Stir well. Simmer for 10 minutes. If using cilantro, rinse under water to get rid of any dirt. While the beef mixture is simmering, chop cilantro. Turn off heat and remove skillet. Stir in 2 cups cooked brown rice. Add 1/2 cup shredded cheese; cover with aluminum foil and let sit for 5 minutes. Sprinkle cilantro on top before serving. Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours. Eat within 3-4 days.

Yield: 6 (1-cup) servings

Nutritional Analysis: 360 calories; 14g fat; 6g saturated fat; 75mg cholesterol; 540mg sodium; 31g carbohydrate; 4g fiber; 6g sugar; 28g protein.

Editor’s note: The source of this article is Nichole Huff, Ph.D., CFLE, Assistant University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension professor for Family Finance and Resource Management. Her source of information was Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, U.S. Department of the Treasury. The recipe with this article was downloaded from “Plan. Eat. Move.”, an informational website provided by the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service Nutrition Education Program.

Reach Cecelia Hostilo, Trigg County Extension agent for family and consumer sciences, at P. O. Box 271 (2657 Old Hopkinsville Road), Cadiz, KY 42211, by phone at 270-522-3269, fax at 270-522-9192 or email

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