Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Toilet Paper Tootsie Roll Gift Certificate

I know that post title sounds strange, so I'll explain.

As hard as this may be for some of you youngsters out there to believe, there used to be a time when every retail store and restaurant did not offer handy-dandy swipe 'em credit-card-style gift cards.


Instead, a few stores, like JCPenney's or Waldenbooks or Macy's, offered paper gift certificates. My first job in high school was at Waldenbooks, and we sold lots of paper certificates. Then someone would come in and use some of the amount, and we had to issue a paper credit slip for the balance, which they would then come in and use part of, and we had to issue another credit for that balance, and so on and so on. Not quite as convenient as a plastic gift card for the recipient or the store.

And in any case, often my mother would want to get each of us a pair of pants and a sweater for school, for instance, but she didn't want to limit us to a particular store, or perhaps the store she had in mind didn't offer gift certificates. So she would write up a generic gift certificate: "To Amy, one sweater of your choice, Love Mom & Dad." Then she would slide it into an empty toilet paper roll or a portion of a paper towel roll, wrap that in red or green tissue paper, tie off the ends with curly ribbon, and maybe stick on a Christmas decal or two. Presto! A large, colorful, Christmas Tootsie Roll!

Nowadays, not only are convenient plastic gift cards available for just about every store and restaurant under the sun, there are even general Visa gift cards and American Express cards. But. Have you been reading the papers lately? What happens when you buy a loved one a gift card in December and the store goes out of business in January? Unless the store/chain specifically names its gift card holders as creditors in a Chapter 11 filing, those gift card holders may be out of luck. Furthermore, some gift card issuers still get away with charging convenience charges of $1 or $2 per month after a certain length of time (the laws on this can vary from state to state), or they try to enforce an expiration date.

So it seems to me that we've come full circle. The plastic gift cards are very convenient if the store doesn't go out of business, and the card has no convenience/service charges associated with it, and the recipient doesn't lose it. (I had my purse stolen a few months ago, and lost three gift cards that still had balances. Because I didn't have the giftcard numbers or remaining amounts written down, they couldn't be replaced.)

Which means that a Toilet Paper Tootsie Roll Gift Certificate, for a pair of jeans, a DVD of choice, or a dinner out at a favorite restaurant, is still a pretty darn good way to go. And you can make the intended gift as inexpensive or as expensive as you choose. For an extra touch, in addition to your paper certificate, you can fill the roll with actual Tootsie Rolls (which now come in Christmas-colored wrappers) or other candy.

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