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4. Strategize: Use on necessities. Want to buy that winter coat but couldn’t afford it? Use the gift card toward the big purchase.

Gift cards may be free money, but experts say you shouldn’t just buy anything, particularly in the difficult economy.

“You have to plan what you want to use it for,” Mr. Blossom said.

Ms. Gurski said customers getting an all-purpose card such as an American Express gift card should use it on necessities such as groceries.

5. Exchange with friends. Don’t like that particular store? Then get together with friends and swap cards.

You can even do it online., a leading credit card comparison Web site, just launched a gift card application for Facebook.

Its main feature is the Gift Card Wish List, which lets users pick favorite stores so friends know what gift cards they would like.

But it also has a gift card exchange, which lets friends post cards they want to buy or sell at a discount.

6. Sell or swap cards with strangers. Card-bearing customers can turn to sites like or to exchange gift cards or even donate them to charity.

But there is a price. At, customers can list the gift cards on the site, or just sell the card for cash and get up to 85 percent of the balance. (There’s a minimum gift card value of $25).

7. Regifting. If you receive a card as a gift before the holidays, regifting is always an option.

You can also use the card to buy a holiday present for someone on your list.