Gifts That Will End Up Costing The Recipient More Money

Everyone loves getting free stuff. But not everyone is a fan of getting free stuff that requires them to then spend money just to use it.

SmartMoney took a look at a handful of gifts that are going to end up eating away at the recipient’s bank account. So be sure that the gift is something the giftee truly wants — and for which the giftee is fully aware of the associated costs. Or just buy these gifts for someone you don’t really like.

3G/4G-Enabled Tablets:
Spending money on apps is optional, but if the person on your holiday shopping list really wants a 3G or 4G-enabled tablet, they may be required to sign up for a two-year contract that can cost them several times the purchase price of the device. And even the iPad 2, which allows for month-to-month, non-contract options, requires you to pick either AT&T or Verizon as a carrier. According to SmartMoney, the 2GB/month plan will cost you $120 more over two years if you choose Verizon. But if you go for the 5GB plan, it’s $120 more expensive to choose AT&T.

According to the ASPCA, a cat costs $1,035 over the first year of ownership and $670 thereafter, while a large dog generates $1,843 in bills the first year and another $875 each subsequent year. The association also warns against the idea of surprising someone with a pet, as these often end up in shelters because the recipients either weren’t prepared for pet ownership or are not pleased with your choice of pet.

Gift cards
We’ve been writing about the perils of gift cards for years, but folks continue to purchase them, so this merits repeating. In addition to hidden fees that can erode the value of the card if its not used immediately, research shows that people tend to spend 140% of the value of the gift card, so while you did give someone $100 worth of free stuff, they ended up still spending another $40 of their own cash.

4 Gifts That Keep On Taking []


Edit Your Comment

  1. Bsamm09 says:

    Any gift that requires electricity.

  2. pop top says:

    Pets only generate that much in bills if you care enough about them to feed them properly and take them to the vet! Just feed them the cheapest food you can buy at Wal-Mart and ignore any and all health problems they may have. Simple!


    • Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

      Even with the sarcasm tag, I found that to be somewhat distressing…

    • Bsamm09 says:

      OLD ROY dog food FTW!!!!

      • CosmosHuman says:

        That crap dog food is poison!

      • tsukiotoshi says:

        Oh Old Roy! A friend of mine left her labrador with another friend while she did a fellowship in Africa for a year and when she came back to visit the dog had put on about 20 pounds and was suffering from a few ailments. Turns out her friend had been feeding the pup Old Roy, and too much of it at that!

    • caradrake says:

      If one animal gets sick or hurt, just abandon it and get a different one! You can usually find a replacement for free on craigslist anyways.

    • Coffee says:

      I just made my dog hunt for his food.

    • chatterboxwriting says:

      If someone specifically asks for a gift card, check your grocery store for cards before going to the store in question. My Price Chopper sells cards for Amazon, Barnes & Noble, chain restaurants, Lowe’s, etc. PC also offers 10 cents off per gallon of gas for every $50 you spend. If you buy $50 or $100 worth of gift cards, that’s automatically 10 to 20 cents off per gallon. You might as well get the discount if you are going to spend the money.

    • RandomHookup says:

      Make sure your neighborhood has predators that can hunt your pet. Your pet’s health will improve immensely (though he may be very jumpy) or you can decide to get a new pet when it doesn’t.

  3. Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

    I’ve always hated gift-cards, even before I came to the Consumerist.

    They’ve always seemed stupid to me.

    • Fumanchu says:

      They are simply a way to give some one money without the stigma of just giving someone money for christmas. As far as I know, its still considered bad taste to ask for or give money but gift cards are an exeption.

      Still a lazy gift or idea but it doesn’t have the stigma of money.

      • caradrake says:

        If someone gives me money, I’m more likely to spend it on groceries, or on something for the kids, than I am to buy myself something.

        If someone gives me a gift card, I am much more likely to splurge and get myself a gift.

        I’m honestly not sure why this is. I guess money just gets seen as being part of the household pool, and gift cards don’t.

        • Fumanchu says:


          The same thing peopel complain about is whay people like about gift cards, it forces the person to buy something from the store of the gift givers choosing. If I buy a victoria secret gift card for my girlfriend she has to use it there and not use it to buy grocries (unless she counts edible underwear as food).

      • maxhobbs says:

        AYFKM that gift cards are different than giving money? If I was a kid I would hate to get a gift card, if you are going to go that route freaking give me MONEY that I can use anywhere I want.

        • theduckay says:

          Yea if you were a kid…kids would love to receive money because its not like they have any other expenses to take care of. Adults would probably put that money in the bank and spend it on food or rent or bills instead of something enjoyable, which is why I think gift cards are a good option.

        • zibby says:

          Well…I see your point. But I know some people that will just blow the cash on gas or what-have-you (typically more out of laziness than need); the card forces them to get a gift-like item, but also leaves some freedom in the equation.

          If a recipient doesn’t like the gift card, I do hope they will make their feelings known – I’ll just get them nothing going forward, and that’s a hell of a lot easier for me.

          • raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

            If you give someone money, it is their money and they can use it on gas or groceries if they need to. I’d rather them spend gift money on something they need if they really need it, than to have something potentially frivolous.

            • zibby says:

              I agree that if I give people money, they can spend it as they see fit. Which is exactly why I don’t. Groceries and gas for your car are your end.

    • Jane_Gage says:

      They’re nice for second tier friends and associates. “I like you more than sending you a stupid card, but not enough to buy you something substantive.”

    • pop top says:

      Guess what I got you for Xmas!

    • Cat says:

      At least if it’s at a place I shop at, I’ll like it better than a Chia Pet.

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      i only give them if they are on a registry and the person specifically says to me “bill and i would love to get enough home depot gift cards to get that riding mower that’s on our registry” because they know no one is going to give them a $2500 riding mower or whatever but if ten people give them $25 gift cards they’d be all set

    • TheCorporateGeek Says Common Sense Is The Key says:

      I still don’t see the problem with them. Practically everyone knows you need to spend them within a time frame and I really don’t care if they spend 40% extra…

  4. Pixilox the Lock says:

    Smartphones also fall into this category. While the phone itself might be cheap, the monthly cost can be a big hit to the budget especially if one will most likely need a data plan to go along with it.

    • JoeDawson says:

      I am curious how one buys a smartphone as a gift if they are cheap? In my experience you cannot buy a phone from a carrier unless you already have an account, and if you buy it unsubsidized, it will cost you like 600 dollars…

      • Rocket says:

        Yeah, I didn’t think you could make a new contract in someone else’s name, or transfer your contract.

        • Pixilox the Lock says:

          Well, what I should have stated is if your kids want an IPhone (or Smartphone) that requires a data plan and you yourself don’t have one it could jack the monthly bill up. I have prepaid phones because I couldn’t see paying over $100 a month for something I only use occasionally.

          • Misha says:

            But buying a smartphone for your kid isn’t something that’ll cost the recipient money, it’s something that’ll just keep costing YOU money.

      • Fumanchu says:

        you can buy pay as you go smart phones now. They aren’t iphones but they are still smartphones. So you buy just the phone and can even buy minutes for it with out having a contract with any carrier.

        Boost mobile does this in the united states where its more common to find that sort of thing under virgin in europe.

  5. StarfishDiva says:

    I hate it when someone gets me an accessory that has no color coordinates of my current warddrobe… If it’s family they expect you to wear it…. so you have these gray and orange “WTF” gloves and…. nothing in that color scheme…. then your mom is all like “Hey why aren’t you wearing those lovely $1 gloves I found in a trash heap behind the Dollar General” and then you are like “MOM WHY DID YOU DRINK SO MUCH!!!”

    …..Cool story bro?

    • synimatik says:

      Speaking of drinking moms… mine called my son (her grandson, see how that works?), twice in a period of 2 hours to wish him happy birthday. Forgetting she already did so, because she’d been drinking all day.

      I wish I could just drink all day.

  6. Coffee says:

    I would curb stomp someone if they gave me a pet as a gift, even if I wanted one. The control freak that I am, I don’t trust you to pick the right one…I need to go with you to look at all the options available and see if I “feel it” with any of the puppies. And if you unilaterally give me one, you best know I’m going to secretly blame all it’s bad behavior on you because you picked the wrong one.

    Why are you looking at me like that? You know what? Maybe we just shouldn’t be friends at all if you think I’m such a petty person. Fine! Good riddance!

  7. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    I buy gift cards for my wife and I… When I get get $100 for $80 (almost always at Costco), or even $150 for $100. Otherwise they are a bad idea.

    • maxhobbs says:

      And I’ll bet your wife loves you for being so thoughtful as to give her a gift card.

      • Martha Gail says:

        If someone gets me a giftcard to place I was going to buy from anyway, then I’m all for it. My grandma gives out giftcards now (usually along with a homemade crochet item) because her knees and lungs are both too bad to shop for a long time. Sometimes they make sense.

        Now, if it was a giftcard to a place I have no intention of ever going…I might resent that a little.

  8. Cat says:

    A FUCKIN’ CAR? Who the fuck gives CARS as a gift?

  9. CosmosHuman says:

    Cosmo: Revolution (heartworm and flea spot treatment combo) Costco price: $68-$74. every 6 months (estimate, I totally forgot how much it costs)
    Yearly dog license: $15.00
    Once a year vet check-up and needed shots: $100.00 (estimated)
    Food: I buy the 23# bag, last 2-3 months: ???
    Treats and toys: reasonable priced
    Clothes: Well, MYOB!
    Hugs and love: Free!

    • caradrake says:

      The sight of Cosmo sprawling in the midst of shredded furniture and shoes: Priceless.

      • CosmosHuman says:

        Cosmo does not chew up anything anymore. When he was a pupster he chewed up the tongue of a tennis shoe…only once. I get thick and big marrow bones from the butcher, boil and clean them and then he is very content.

        Not everyone is a “pet person”. I totally understand. Cosmo is the son I never had.

  10. Cat says:


  11. Jane_the_cynic says:

    A tablet doesn’t have to cost anything extra… we got one for BF’s bday this year and we just use it with Wi-Fi…. Its an excellent gift and if the recipient chooses they have the option to get a plan, but absolutely not necessary.

    As for pets… like the article states, its tough to pick out the puppy/kitty/or whatever for someone else, it is such a personal choice. Further more, would breeders really be OK with selling one of their puppies or kittens to someone as a gift? I think maybe if you already have an established relationship with them, otherwise you would be forced to lie. BF and I want to get a puppy for his parents (not as a surprise) but they have reservations about getting one for other reasons but it is defiantly a topic we discuss frequently.

    • pop top says:

      A majority of breeders are in it for the money and don’t give a shit about testing or showing or who they sell the dog to. Also, why do you need to get them a puppy? Wouldn’t an older/senior dog (i.e. one that isn’t rambunctious and is already housebroken) be more suitable for an older couple?

      • Jane_the_cynic says:

        I guess I don’t know a lot about breeders except the one bf and I worked with, but I know she would not have adopted to us had we told her we were getting him as a gift. Actually, she wasn’t even sure if she wanted to adopt to BF and I because we had no experience with dogs.
        Also, they need an active, energetic dog… they exercise (run/walk/jog) habitually. Anyway, I think a family can build a stronger emotional bond with the dog if it is brought into the household at a younger age.

        • SmokeyBacon says:

          A lot of places won’t adopt out an animal that is going to be a gift – reputable breeders and also pet rescues. They know what a bad idea it is.

        • pop top says:

          “Anyway, I think a family can build a stronger emotional bond with the dog if it is brought into the household at a younger age.”

          You can bond with an animal of any age if you put the effort into it.

          • tsukiotoshi says:

            Indeed! I had a labrador as a kid that we adopted when she was about two years old. I loved that dog and I was absolutely heartbroken when she died. You can bond with a dog at any age.

  12. The Brad says:

    The tablets issue assumes that the gift recipient only uses cellular data exclusively. The real hidden cost is in the apps that they won’t stop downloading.

  13. Rebecca K-S says:

    I would love gift cards if my mother-in-law would stop buying us Darden (Olive Garden, Red Lobster, etc.) cards. I hate feeling so ungrateful, but we really hate their food.

    • pop top says:

      Have you told them you hate those restaurants? Or at least politely hinted you’d prefer to get a gift card to X or Y restaurants instead?

      • Rebecca K-S says:

        I’m actually not sure if my husband’s ever said anything to her, but she doesn’t really respond to hints or direct statements. She loves to give random crap – “Oh, here’s a hand sanitizer holder! Here’s a neato bungee cord! Here are some ‘stay fresh’ produce containers! Have one of these lovely Scentsy things!” – and my husband has explicitly told her we don’t really like stuff, knick knacks, etc., and those giving habits haven’t changed in the least.

        I just don’t really know the polite way to go about saying, “Those things you’re always getting us? We hate them and want to kill them with fire, so stop.” Obviously that would not be it.

        • Kate says:

          Can you sell the cards? I think there are places online you can do that.

        • SmokeyBacon says:

          If you figure out something let me know because my family is the same way. At this point I just use the “oh, we can’t really afford to do gifts this year” excuse (which sadly is true this year) to get out of any sort of gift exchange with them.

        • Rachacha says:

          My mom does the same thing. Once in a while she will knock a gift out of the park, but is usually bad neckties, bungee cords, and other random stuff that I really have no use for. Most of it was sold at a garage sale.

        • HogwartsProfessor says:

          My mother is the same. We think she has a shopping addiction and justifies it by getting stuff she likes as gifts. That way she gets the thrill but can rationalize it. I don’t know how to make it stop either.

  14. catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

    oh yes, i wish people would never give pets as a gift. or at least not as a surprise and the person chooses their own pet. the rescue i am with gets all kinds of cats in because of this. either a person was given a cat and they aren’t allowed to have it on their current lease or they didn’t really want one or it doesn’t like their kids/dogs/other cat.
    and then they look for someone to take it or they drop it off somewhere and it becomes part of a feral colony, gets injured, or shows up on someone’s doorstep who also isn’t prepared to deal with a cat.
    pets are bad gifts. not even turtles to little kids.

    • littlebigland says:

      This is how I got my rabbit. Someone probably dumped her (which happens to rabbits frequently) and she found me. I used to own rabbits so it was no big deal to set her up in a hutch. She’s such a sweet thing too.

      • Misha says:

        Set her up in your home and give her some opportunities to run around freely in a section of your home and she’ll be even sweeter. They’re litterbox-trainable and have amazing personalities that aren’t really apparently until they’re letting you know that it is treats time, or climbing on your back, or disciplining you for using your laptop when they want you to use your hands for petting instead.

        • tsukiotoshi says:

          My roommate in college had a rabbit and when she moved out she left it behind…so I got a rabbit. I was pretty amazed at how easy he was to litterbox train, as well as how cuddly he turned out to be. I usually just left his cage door open and let him run around when I was home. Never had any problems!

  15. Tokarev_Makarov says:

    Firearms… While I think they’re a wonderful present (and probably one that fits the category of “it’s as much for me as it is for you”) – there are a lot of additional costs – training classes, range fees, targets, magazines, ammunition and cleaning supplies.

  16. Brenell says:

    Most everyone in my family prefers to get gift cards. Though we tend to use them for things we were going to buy anyway. I tell people to buy me gift cards for places such as Amazon, etc. because I really am horrible to shop for and if they just give me cash I end up spending that on things like groceries instead of splurging on myself (which is what the gift was intended for).

    • theduckay says:

      Exactly. Most of the time I can’t think of anything specific I want until I get a gift card and walk around the store the card is for (or surf the shop online) and find things that I like.

  17. j2.718ff says:

    Also, cars. Even that fancy new Lexus requires gas to run.

    • Cat says:

      $60,000 for a new Lexus (without taxes, yada, yada, yada)

      Sell for ~$55,000
      Buy *NICE* used Toyota, Under $30,000

      $25,000 buys a lot of gas.

  18. CosmosHuman says:

    I really would be happy to get a tablet, any gift, or even cleanning supplies. I have wi-fi set up, so no added expense there.

  19. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    I HATE HATE HATE multi-page articles with one paragraph per page.

  20. teke367 says:

    The article assumes too much. It assumes that the only reason the person spent $140 is because you gave them a $100 gift card. You didn’t cost them $40, they did. Maybe if the gift card is in an amount that wouldn’t cover one full item ($25 card for a store that sells nothing under $40), but otherwise, no, its stupid to say giving somebody a card (or cash) cost them money because they bought more stuff.

    And cars, if you are assuming the giver paid the taxes, like the article states, I’m not sure how they come up with over $6K. But even still, they aren’t deducting the savings. They add the price of gas etc, not realizing the person would be paying for gas for their old car. If they are using public transportation, they save on the fares they had to pay for. Or if they had a junker, they save on repairs they would have had to make.

  21. theduckay says:

    I really don’t understand the hate on gift cards. I love getting and giving gift cards, and most of the time I ask for them. I wish everyone would just get me a gift card (as long as its for places I love to shop at) rather than attempt to buy me something I didn’t ask for and will probably not use or wear. So what if I go over the gift card amount by a few bucks? (I would never go over $40 bucks) I’m getting something for myself that I actually picked up and will therefore use…that’s worth it to me.

    And to the people saying it is a “lazy” gift idea? A gift is a gift…and I would much rather the person I am giving it to be able to get something THEY want rather than me trying to pick out something they won’t use. I’ve received gift cards from close family members and my boyfriend, and I don’t view them as lazy gift givers…I appreciate the fact that they spent money on me and that I have the opportunity of picking out something that I will definitely enjoy. Writing me a check for money will just equal me putting it in the bank and spending it on bills. That isn’t special at all.

    • milehound says:

      Bonus: the money will go further in the post-holiday sales!

    • SmokeyBacon says:

      Thank you – I am with you on the gift card thing. I don’t even care if it is a gift card I end up using for groceries because hey, that still is more useful to me then, for example, some weird candle holder that doesn’t go with my decorating style that just immediately gets put into the garage sale box when I get home with it.

  22. brinkman says:

    Use the pets to generate revenue.

  23. SmokeyBacon says:

    I agree pets are a terrible idea for a gift because they take a lot more work then a lot of people realize, and it causes a lot of pets to be abandoned (and don’t even get me started on what I think of people that do that).

    But I don’t think gift cards are a bad idea – I would take a gift card over a piece of crap gift from my family (who suck at getting gifts) any day. I don’t need more useless crap but a gift card to target or a store like that could get me lots of household stuff I would need anyway.

  24. sprybuzzard says:

    I don’t mind receiving gift cards as I use them immediately but I don’t generally give them to people. I had to warn my dad that my brother wants to get him a new dog for Christmas, but our step mom is very against it right now. My dad would probably have a new one already, we lost our much loved golden retriever this September, this is the longest he’s been without a dog in years. :( As much as I’d love a puppy brother to spoil I know it’s a bad idea. I really, really hope he doesn’t just go do it anyway.

  25. gparlett says:

    When I was in college my roommate starting dating my sister (another long story for another time) she went to visit his Mom and mentioned offhandedly that she loved golden retrievers and always wanted to own one. A week later my roommate shows up with this ugly, mean little dog that his Mom found for my sister. The dog is most certainly not a golden retriever, but even if it was, who in the world buys a dog for someone else, for someone they’ve met one time? My sister refuses to take ownership of the dog and tells my roommate that he has to give it back to his mother. He doesn’t want to confront his mom, so he just leaves the dog in our apartment. I come home after class and the dog has crapped everywhere and ripped up our couch. Also our lease does not allow pets and we were very close to getting evicted from that place for a number of other reasons (old roommates who paid rent late, having 3 people living there when the lease said we could only have two, one of the roommates storing junk cars on the property, it was a very college experience). It was clear that neither my sister nor her boyfriend were going to take care of this, so me and the other roommate called the ASPCA, only to find out that it would cost us nearly a $100 to leave the dog there, that was money we simply didn’t have. We ended up driving out to the ASPCA 15 minutes before they opened and tied the dog’s leash to the front door knob. I felt terrible about, still do, but I really didn’t have the money and I couldn’t afford to lose the apartment. You do crazy stuff when you’re poor and working your way through college.

  26. Conformist138 says:

    My dog was a gift. But to be fair, they asked if I wanted a puppy and I had pick of the litter. So, I got a great dog for free from awesome friends.

    The same friend got a truck as a gift from her parents in high school. She knew what color and interior she was getting because they all picked it out together.

    This list is more “gifts you may wish to discuss in advance” or “gifts that may not be suited as surprises”.

  27. HogwartsProfessor says:

    I don’t have any problem with gift cards; I would spend the money at my favorite store anyway, so all this does is give me a hefty discount. If I’m careful and not too greedy I can get whatever it was I wanted for free. Just make sure your loved ones know WHICH stores you like the cards from.

    A couple of years ago, I was having serious money difficulties and could only pay bills and not buy gas or anything, and I whined about it at work. Santa (?) put a $50 Walmart card in my chair. I STILL don’t know who did it. Thank you, whoever you are.

  28. Maltboy wanders aimlessly through the Uncanny Valley says:

    So are you saying that the hooker and crack dealer I got my friend for Christmas was a bad idea?

  29. nikalseyn says:

    Why would a large dog cost $1843 the first year?? The amounts in this article are simply dead wrong. For example, you tie the dog up outside near his dog coop, feed him scraps, and the cost per year is minimal—maybe $10 if you have to build a coop out of scrap wood. Why or how could anyone pay hundreds of dollars for a pet???????

  30. parv says:

    Down with apple pussy cards!

  31. Levk says:

    Really, 3 out of 4?? you could not fit the 4th one anywhere in the article? And it was cars easy one really Gas, insurance, repairs, etc…

  32. legolex says:

    My boyfriend has talked about getting Roku boxes for his (divorced) parents. While I think they’d like it since they don’t have the big cable packages, they’re not tech-savvy and the boxes will cost them money if they want to add streaming Netflix. Not to mention getting internet to the boxes and if something should go wrong he’d be the tech support. I suggested gift cards! lol

  33. DrRonster says:

    I bundle cash to the size of a gift card and tell them to get the gift card(s).
    When I give a camera, I also make sure it has fresh batteries and a flash memory card.
    Giving away 2 DVD players and giving the AV component cables for both as well as new batteries in remote as well as HDMI cable for the one that can use it.
    Don’t want anyone getting the wrong assessories and blaming me when it doesnt work. I dont get too many question on how to hook something up. Easier to give them everything they need to be up & running. And they don’t care about my spelling or grammer either.

  34. blueman says:

    I think a gift card can actually be a little bit thoughtful, though hardly original. If it’s a restaurant the recipient loves, or a favorite coffee shop or local bookstore, that’s perfectly acceptable, particularly for someone you’re not very close to.

  35. XTREME TOW says:

    US Currency.
    It’s the only ‘gift card’ recognized and accepted by more merchants than any other.