We're now coming into the Christmas gift-giving season, and gift cards tend to be very popular. Stores love them since they get cash in advance, and overall the full value purchased on them tends not to be completely redeemed. They get lost, set aside and forgotten, or damaged leaving behind stored value that simply never gets spent. Due to there being no simple way to tell how much money is left on them, they get set aside. Always keep the last register receipt with your gift card, else it's like having store specific cash that has all the ink faded off except for the serial numbers. Some stores do have websites that let you check the money remaining on the card, but who wants to have to go running to the web to find out that there's $0.50 left on a card?
Next year, 2009, is not looking very good for retail, so store closings and bankruptcies are likely to be quite common. Don't be left holding useless gift cards, and I also don't recommend giving gift cards that are likely to become worthless. Assume that any gift card is not going to be redeemed in one fell swoop, and that your "giftee" is going to take six months or more to spend it down. In light of this, only buy gift cards from solid businesses that are highly likely to be around through 2009.