Of all the political footballs being kicked around this year, the one we all need to be rooting for is Michelle Lee’s private members bill. 

It’s going to have lasting ramifications for all salt-of-the-earth kiwi families just trying to stretch their meagre resources across all the mounting bare necessities of life. Parents just wanting to do the best by their children. Children just needing to use the little they have for the greatest reward. Grand-dads just trying to help out where they can on their ever-diminishing financial reserves. 

It’s the bill that will counter cost-of-living woes, tackle inflation panic and calm the choppy seas of interest rates. It’ll mean we as a nation can rest a little easier at night, with a little more padding in our pocketbook, knowing the government has got our collective back. 

It’s the Gift Card Expiry Bill. 

It’s an amendment to the Fair Trade Act that will see expiry dates on your book token, your prezzie card, and that voucher Uncle Dave gave you for Briscoes pushed out to three years. When the Bill got picked from the ballot I can imagine Lee slapped her hands together and crowed, “This is just the silver bullet we need!”

Three months out from Chrissie, I have one such token in my handbag that I can’t bring myself to use. It’s for a Vinci’s pizza. But to me it’s worth so much more than six slices of the weekly special (even if it is Prawn Cocktail with Mary Rose Sauce). The voucher is my Break-Glass-In-Case-Of-Emergency, Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free, Golden Ticket. It’s a little packet of potential that means even if I’ve got an empty tank the night before pay day I can host a work shout, bribe a kid, take a mate on a date or simply treat myself. 

For every scenario I can imagine, the value of the card grows exponentially just because it makes so many options possible. As long as I don’t actually turn my aspirational goals for it into hard reality, it retains its promise of good things to come.

Across the country we get hundreds of these ephemeral favours every Crimbo, and sometimes we get them for our birthdays too. Friend just had a sprog? Gift a Farmers voucher. Friend just got a dog? Gift a Farmlands voucher. From New World to Kathmandu, from the big boxes to that cute little craft co-op on the high street, everywhere offers vouchers and every one of them represents a future moment of retail satisfaction.

Not that we always take those moments. Too often we don’t, preferring to let them wallow in our wallets like a happiness timebomb ‘til we pull the pin and trade them for stuff.

Seven out of ten of us received a gift card in the last year. Half of all voucher giftees can’t check the amount, can’t find the shop or can’t find anything in the shop they actually want. A quarter of all gift cards don’t get used because they expire or they get lost or the business they are for goes bust. Mother’s Day accounts for a big slice of the voucher pie. Men buy them more than women. Nearly half are for $50-$70. That $20 K’Mart voucher you got as a “Thank You”? You were robbed! 

Giving money is vulgar and actual gifts can be hard to nail down in terms of taste. If you can manage to narrow gift-buying to an actual shop and a specific amount then you are winning. From that point on it’s up to the receiver. If the gift is crap or doesn’t eventuate at all, that’s on them. 

The real winner – when it comes to gift cards – is retail. Consumer magazine says it’s hard to calculate because business is staying shtum on the details, but when a company is doing their accounts they assume a percentage of gift voucher holders won’t redeem them. Most put the figure at around 5-10%. They win in another way too. The sale of the voucher sits in the assets column of the ledger while there’s no actual item handed over in exchange for ages. That helps with cashflow. And three-quarters of us will spend more than the amount on the voucher when – if – we do go in to use it. Win, win, win.

Before we get too far into the year, ransack your backpack looking for rogue gift cards. There’ll be one in there somewhere even if it’s one that’s half spent. Chances are if you’ve still got it there’s money still on it. 

Here’s some use-it-or-lose-it tips for gift cards:

• Always check the expiry date.

• Make it a mission to use it in the same month as you get it.

• Keep it up front in your purse not just chucked in with the mullock at the bottom.

• Use it to buy a treat for someone else.

• Give it to a kid and see what they can do with $20 at K-Mart.

• Stop daydreaming about the perfect scenario, companions and timing, and just enjoy the pizza! 

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