I used to think that gift cards were the cop-out of gift giving. Not much personality, not a lot of thought. And then after being on both the giving and receiving end of a series of lame presents – it happens to the best of us – I realized a few things.

Gift cards give people exactly what they want.

Gift cards save a ton of time shuffling back-and-forth purchasing stuff and making returns. Don't act like you don't do it.

Gift cards can be downright creative.

10 unique ways to give gift cards as a gift

I'm stocking up early on holiday presents since baby number three is due in early December and I know my life is bound to be sheer insanity leading up to and surrounding those days. Instead of trying to anticipate what stuff my friends and family will be into in a couple months, I'm creating unique packages with gift cards to their favorite spots. Here are some of the most clever ways I've thought up to dole out those plastic gems.

  1.  Tied to a bouquet. Totally romantic.
  2. Inserted in a mason jar full of candy. Fill the jar most of the way up, and have the card sticking just a bit out of the top, peeking out beneath a sealed lid.
  3. Sticking out of some open-toed house slippers. Perfect for a gift card to the spa.
  4. Stuffed into a mug. Passport to all the coffee you can drink.
  5. Blown into a clear balloon. Carefully stretch the neck around the gift card before inflating, and add in some confetti as well. Surprise!
  6. Inserted into a clear jewel case with a custom-burned CD. An updated take on the old mix tape.
  7. In an Altoids container. Minty fresh.
  8. Placed in a fancy money clip. Baller.
  9. In a Chinese takeout container. Complete with fortune cookies.
  10. In a small popcorn box.  Perfect for movie tickets.

I often nab gift cards at Albertsons so I don't have to ping-pong around town to various stores. I'm working with Blackhawk Networks to share their fun #WIN5X promotion going on now through the end of September. At participating Southern California Albertsons, you can win five times the amount of money that you spend on select gift cards or airtime (up to $500). You'll receive a printout at checkout with a code for each airtime or select gift card you purchase. Enter your  codes online to instantly see if you’ve Found Your Fortune. Winners will receive prizes direct via email, and people can play up to 5 times every day, with 10 winners a day (there is no purchase necessary to enter or win, and there is a limit of 5 codes per transaction – visit www.albertsonsfindyourfortune.com for official rules and participating stores).

So you could totally dance with pirates and leprechauns and unicorns like this lady.

Or, at the very least, you'll have your holiday shopping done. And your friends and family will thank you.