Stocking up on gift cards this holiday season may net you free return on your investment

It's the season of giving.  Or at least, that's what people say. But it's also the season of getting free stuff.  While people go from store to store, scooping up gift cards to stuff stockings, you could be filling your own stocking.

During the holidays, many retailers offer a bonus for buying gift cards. Here are a few:

1) Spend $100 on gift cards at Outback and get a free $20 bonus card.

2) Spend $50 at Applebee's, and get a free $10 bonus card.  

3) Spend $50 at Benihana, get a free $10 bonus card.

They're called gift cards, but they don't have to be gifts.  If these are restaurants you or your family go to on a regular basis, you should give these to yourself.  It's as if you are spending $50 and getting $65 worth of food which is like getting a 30 percent  tax free return on your investment.  

It's mostly chain restaurants such as Olive Garden, Pei Wei, Red Lobster that have these deal.  Even Taco Bell has a deal. There you get two Doritos locos tacos and a large drink when you buy a $20 gift card.  

However, lots of local restaurants offer something similar and it's worth checking with your favorite local restaurant to see if they do a holiday promotion. In most cases, the gift card itself doesn't expire, but you have to use the bonus card within a few months.

You know your eating habits.  You shouldn't pour your life savings into White Castle gift cards just because you can get a bonus $5 for every $25 you spend, but if you've got a favorite restaurant where you know you're going to be spending some cash in 2014, well, forget the stocking - it's time to start stocking up.

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