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Emily Starbuck Crone

Emily's list: The gift card dilemma edition

It's hard to believe that Thanksgiving is next week, which means it's nearly Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Then we really won't be able to avoid the holiday commercials and music everywhere we go.

Companies with existing gift cards are already pushing them hard. Groupon recently launched its own gift card, allowing recipients to use it toward any deal on the site. I went to Jamba Juice earlier this week and at checkout, they asked me if I wanted to buy a gift card in exchange for a free smoothie (it turns out you have to buy at least a $25 gift card to qualify). A local Austin company that sells prepared food, My Fit Foods, sent out a newsletter today that announced its new gift cards.

Gift cards are extremely convenient, especially since so many can be sent by email. But the thing that kills me is that the recipient knows the exact value you spent on the gift. With any other gift, we desperately remove any tags or stickers with a price on it. But with gift cards, you're putting yourself out there. Money fluctuates. What if you can't afford to give everyone the same amount? What if you can afford to get someone a $100 gift card for a birthday, but can only afford a $70 gift card at Christmas? The gift card dilemma edition

Gift cards are also inherently risky since it's not guaranteed the stores will be there forever. For instance, in July, my colleague blogged that people with Borders gift cards needed to use them immediately since the stores were closing. This has happened with a variety of other businesses, such as The Sharper Image and Steak and Ale. If you don't use your gift card before the store shuts down, you're out of luck. Then again, it's very hard to beat the luxury of getting to buy whatever you want in a certain store or restaurant.

Read on for my list of my 10 favorite personal finance blog posts from the past week, many of which offer great tips for holiday shopping!

1. I've written before about how easy it is to go overboard with deal sites such as Groupon and Living Social. The Digerati Life provides some tips and helpful sites that make it easier for you to stay organized with your coupons.

2. Downs With Debt, a new personal finance blog, opens with a post that explains why she decided to start a blog that chronicles her family's journey out of debt.

3. Zero percent balance transfer cards can really get you out of a high APR jam, but it's very important that you know what you're getting into first. Bargaineering tells you some of the things you should know before you apply.

4. Help Me to Save explains why credit cards can be a hugely beneficial financial tool.

5. Weddings are disgustingly expensive, and the dress can be one of the most expensive pieces of the puzzle. Well Heeled Blog helps budget brides everywhere with this list of 10 places to buy an affordable wedding dress.

6. Money Thinking lists six tips for smart shopping on Cyber Monday, from scoping out the deals in advance to making sure your credit card purchases are secure.

7. Gen X Finance shares eight bad shopping habits to avoid, all of which are especially important with holiday shopping on the horizon!

8. One Money Design discusses the envelope budgeting system and the pros and cons of managing your money this way.

9. Cash Money Life explains the importance of identifying your values and creating spending priorities.

10. Beating Broke reveals how her family is able to use "gazelle intensity" to pay off debt and keep that pace sustainable over time.

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