Gift card for Mom? Pick one that expires soon

Mother's Day isn't too far off, and if you're thinking of giving her a gift card she'll use, you'd better make it one that expires soon and not in a year.

A story in the May issue of "The Atlantic" reports that social scientists have found that tight deadlines force people to get things done or have fun, by encouraging them to quit procrastinating and enjoy themselves.

So a gift card with an expiration date of two months is more likely to be used than one that can be used up to a year later. Even if it's something that's good for them, people will put it off it they can.

For example, the story reports that the social scientists found in surveys that tourists with limited time are more likely to visit local attractions than are residents, who can go whenever they want. In fact, residents tend to make their tourist-like visits when they have out-of-town guests or when they're about to move away. With no immediate reason to hit nearby landmarks, locals put off for tomorrow what they might enjoy today.

I've lived in the San Francisco Bay Area my entire life, but I only visited Alcatraz when my future wife moved here from out of state.

In a recession, people are less likely to shop, especially for luxuries. The Atlantic story points out that businesses need to provide a justification and a deadline, such as Disneyland does by promoting lasting memories and a free pass to visitors on their birthday. Such a deadline -- one day a year -- encourages people to use it and bring other who pay the entry fee to join them.

Having a use-it-or-lose-it deadline is a heck of an incentive, especially if it's for something you wouldn't normally buy. Remind Mom of that when you give her the gift card on May 10.

Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job search at
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