By Gillian Bullock, ninemsn Money
Gift vouchers were top of many shopping lists this Christmas, but if you were one of the many people to receive them, make sure you check the expiry date.
While not all gift vouchers expire over time, some do, so it's important that you check if that is the case for you.
Hardware chain Bunnings has gift vouchers with no expiry date while David Jones' gift card expires 24 months after purchase and under the terms and conditions any balance that remains will not be available for use.
However David Jones says that when the gift card reaches its expiry date, it is up to the individual store to consider the customer's situation and there may be some flexibility here to still use the funds.
While 24 months is a reasonable time in which to spend the money, some stores only have a six- or 12-month window.
Michael Lonie of the Retail Traders Association of NSW says there has been a significant uptake in the use of gift cards as a Christmas gift in the last two years.
Recognising this trend, Retail Decisions launched a gift card selling program in December using a number of third party outlets such as Australia Post, Caltex, newsagencies and 7-11 to sell other retailers' gift cards.
The cards available at these outlets are for use in a whole range of places such as HMV, Coles and Peppers Resorts. In some cases the cards have multiple places in which to spend your money for instance you could spend half the voucher at HMV and the other half at Bras 'n' Things.
A spokesperson for Retail Decisions says half a million cards were sold in just one day ahead of Christmas.
She said the average amount placed on a card is $100.
At David Jones, gift cards are available from $5 to $1000 while its Premium Gift Card can run up to $99,999.
Ann-Maree Kelly, publicity manager at David Jones, says gift cards should be treated as cash as they cannot be replaced if lost or stolen.
You can use the cards for several purchases over a period of time. Say, for instance, you had a $500 gift voucher, then you could spend $250 on one purchase and months down the track make subsequent purchases of $100 and $150.
Or if the article you purchased was worth $750, you could simply use the $500 voucher and pay the balance with cash or credit card.
Sadly you cannot use your gift voucher to pay off your David Jones card or to receive cash.
However one way round this would be to sell your gift card on to somebody else. There is a roaring trade going on eBay where you can offload your gift card at a discount.
In recent times, for instance, a $50 David Jones voucher was selling for $45 with four hours left to go on the clock while the going rate for a $500 Coles Myer card was $460 with less than two hours' to go.
Meanwhile a $5000 Domayne gift voucher with a 12-month expiry was being offered at $4700. If you were to pick up a bargain in a Domayne sale then add the $300 discount, you would get to enjoy a double saving.
Given there is no name on the actually gift card and it is tantamount to cash, then there is no legal reason why you can't buy somebody else's unwanted gift at a discount.
There's a certain irony in gift vouchers being given because you can't think what to buy somebody and then they don't even want that …perhaps just plain cash is the better answer.