It was my 30th birthday, and I wanted one thing and one thing only for my birthday dinner: the Bang Bang Shrimp from Bonefish Grill. Too bad the appetizer costs $9 in my area, leaving me with just $16 to reach my max budget of $25 to feed my family of four. With the restaurant’s mid-range menu, I knew the remaining $16 wouldn’t stretch far enough to give me much more than just a glass of water to go with my spicy shrimp.

That’s when a frugal friend reminded me of one of her favorite ways to save money: using a gift card exchange. “Don’t those sites only work for merchandise?” I naively asked my friend. She shook her head emphatically. “Absolutely not,” she replied. “They’ve got discount gift cards for everything. You really need to check it out.”

So I did.

Plastic Jungle

Plastic Jungle is one of the two main sites where you can buy and exchange gift cards. Everyone from Oprah to the Today Show has featured Plastic Jungle’s services, which include buying gift cards you don’t want and selling discount gift cards you’ve gotta have.

When I logged on to Plastic Jungle, I clicked on the “Buy A Gift Card” link at the top right of the home page. From there, I clicked on the “Gift Card Categories” drop-down menu on the right side of then and selected “Dining” from the list.

I was redirected to Plastic Jungle’s selection of restaurant gift cards. They’ve got everything from specialty shops like Jamba Juice and Starbucks to fine dining options like Fleming’s and Morton’s Steakhouse, all at a discount. At first, I was disappointed because I didn’t see a Bonefish Grill gift card; then I remembered that Bonefish is owned by the same company that owns Outback Steakhouse and Carrabba’s. I located the “Outback Restaurant Brands” gift cards. They only had one $50 gift card available, but with Plastic Jungle’s 10 percent discount, it would only cost me $45 to buy. Not bad, but I decided to keep looking.


CardPool is the second of the two major discount gift card sites. Unlike Plastic Jungle, you’ll find all the dining gift cards under the “Restaurant” tab on the left side of the “Buy Gift Cards” page.

At first, I didn’t see the Outback Grands gift cards, like I had over on Plastic Jungle. Then I remembered that gift cards for the restaurants owned by Outback are interchangeable, meaning I could use an Outback gift card at Bonefish. That’s when I noticed that the discount available for the Outback gift cards on CardPool is 12 percent – two percentage points higher than over at Plastic Jungle. On top of that, CardPool had the denomination I was looking for – a $25 gift card, which I could buy for $22.

(Note: the gift cards available for purchase on both these sites vary day to day and even hour to hour. Sometimes, the discounts can also change without notice.)

I Got Exactly What I Wanted

Thanks to the discounted gift card, I was able to put an additional $3 towards my birthday dinner budget. Now equipped with a $25 gift card and $3 left over in cash, I was able to nab the Bang Bang shrimp I’d been craving, while still managing to feed my husband (we opted to leave our two young children at home). In addition to my shrimp and his main course, I also had a glass of wine and we shared a dessert, all for $27 with tax. We did leave the waitress a $5 tip, meaning we went over our budget by $4 – but it was my birthday! And if there’s one day of the year when I’m willing to pay a little extra to get exactly what I want, celebrating my 30th birthday is definitely it.

Libby Balke

Libby Balke