Can I get a gift card that can't buy alcohol or tobacco?

Everyone knows them - those poor/poor-ish people who you just want to help out at this time of year, but you’re afraid that if you give them a Visa (or other network) gift card, or even a gift card to a grocery store, they will spend the money on cigarettes or beer and not what they actually need.

Is it possible to buy a gift card that can only be used on certain types of products, such as food only, food and clothing only, or anything except alcohol and tobacco?

I know that food stamps in the US are now distributed via a card (I think they call it “EBT”) that the user swipes like a debit or credit card, and that will beep or otherwise refuse to work if you try to buy a six-pack of Mickey’s with it, so the technology is obviously not far in the future.

One solution might be to get a gift card that is only usable at stores that never ever sell alcohol or tobacco, but that is harder than it looks, especially when it comes to food.

The issue is that the technology is on the stores side. It’s their system that says this item can be purchased by EBT, and this one can’t. So you can’t just make a card that won’t pay for certain items, unless the store coded their system that way.

On one level, cigarettes and beer are what they actually need. Unless and until these folks rearrange their priorities, sensible gifts are not going to change their lifestyle. Give them food or clothing and they may well trade it for booze and smokes.

Money is fungible. You probably don’t know anyone who literally spends all their money on booze and smokes, they have other expenses as well. So if half their budget is booze and smokes and the other half is food and rent, giving them a gift care usable only for food and rent just lets them use their other money for more booze and smokes.

And it’s not unheard of for people to purchase goods with an EBT card, then sell those goods at a discount for cash, and use the cash to purchase other things.

I know this isn’t what you were getting at, but I wanted to point out that EBT not working for banned items is entirely dependent on the store setting it up to work that way. At my store, with a standalone credit card machine, the only reason an EBT card won’t work for alcohol is because the cashier catches it, refunds the wine/beer, swipes the EBT, then re-rings the wine/beer and asks for another form of payment for the banned items as a separate purchase.
If the cashier didn’t catch it, wasn’t paying attention or didn’t know the items were not allowed the purchase would go through without a hitch.

What you might be able to do is find a small mom and pop type store and talk to them about it and work something out. If you came to me and asked about this I’d be happy to sell you some gift cards that I would write “FOOD ONLY” with a magic marker on them with (or some sort of other marking, or maybe punch a hole in them so it can’t be erased) and then fill my cashiers in on what’s going on with these cards.

Giving sensible items to spendthrifts results in them spend less on sensible items and using the remainder on crap they don’t need.

A few months ago, I returned something (don’t remember what, but it was about $15) to my local supermarket, where I spend at least $1000 per year, and even though I had my receipt, had used my “frequent shoppers card” and recognized the cashier who was completing the return, she told me that they couldn’t return the $$$ to my credit card and would have to give me a store gift card instead.

I wasn’t thrilled, but didn’t say anything, as I knew that I would use the credit up at some point over the next week or two, but after the transaction was complete, the woman wrote on it with a black Sharpie “Not to be used for alcohol or tobacco!” and then handed it to me.

I was shocked (I am 42) and would have normally asked what the hell was up with this, but there were people in line behind me and I decided to just get going.

The more I thought about how it was handled, the more confused and upset I got, even though there was no real reason why it should have pissed me off, but it just seemed like Mickey Mouse bullshit from a store that I spent a lot of money at.

Then a few days later, I saw the gift card laying on the table and got pissed off all over again, so I got a bottle of rubbing alcohol, and used a cotton ball to wipe the writing off of the card and then headed down to the store, where I used the credit to buy a case of Tecate.

I still have no idea why the “No booze” was written on my gift card in the first place, but it was pretty bizarre, even in a place like Utah.

(Maybe it was due to tax laws or something, although tax on beer is paid at the cash register, just as it is on all food items here)

Even if you obtain such a card, addicts will find a way to trade the card or purchases from the card for the substances they crave.

I agree with the “money is fungible” comment.

Even if you give them food or something else they would normally spend money on, now they can use that saved money on booze/cigs.

Just cut out the middle man and get 'em a carton of Marlboro.


I know the OP heart is in the right place but it don’t work like that.

If you were to give a homeless person a $10 gift card to a grocery store, that couldn’t be used for alcohol or cigarettes, he’d just trade it to a druggie in the park for cents on the dollar. So you’d be giving away $10 and he’d only wind up with $2.00. Usually the going rate is 20¢ on the dollar. That’s what they trade for food stamps anyway.

So basically not only is your $10 turning into $2 and still going to buy alcohol for the homeless now, some pusher or dealer just made $8 off of you too.

I would suggest a public transit pass or a McDonald’s gift card instead. Sure they still can be traded for booze, but it’s less likely because homeless people, need to warm up. McDonald’s $10 will alllow the homeless dude to buy a coffee and warm up for an hour. Then go to the next McDonald not too far away and repeat.

Since shelters close during the day and you can only hang in the library so much, they’d be less likely to trade it and use it. Same for a public transit pass. They can ride on it to warm up.

There’s always the option of a gift card to a restaurant, but of course that’s not always the best use of one’s money either. I think you just have to let go of the idea that you will be able to control how someone spends (or trades) the money you give them. If it will make you happy to give them giftcards, do it and assume the best. That’s all you can do if you want to give money directly…it’s still an act of generosity on your part.

A restaurant is a good thought, but remember a lot of homeless people are not going to be allowed into restaurants because of the way they look. I’ve even been in some McDonalds (which I suggested) that will deny homeless people entry.

Having worked with the homeless, I can say that socks and individually packaged easy to chew food are both greatly appreciated. Last year I bought a few dozen irregular heavy wool socks, bundled them with food bars and they were very popular.

According to the experts, money really isn’t a good thing to give. Not only do they too often use it to buy “the wrong thing” but it brings about thefts among the homeless, strong-arm tactics for the best spot to beg, and also intimidating tactics to scare others into giving. Don’t.

In many areas there are legal restrictions on coupons, discounts, etc. No reason to get pissed.

My old job bought gift cards to Kroger (big supermarket chain) every year for T-day and Xmas gifts for employees. I’d call in the order and the person creating the cards (or in the olden days the gift certificates) would ask if we wanted any restrictions on them denying alcohol and/or cigarettes. I always said no, but I’m assuming from the question that they can do them the other way. Since I never did it, I don’t know if it’s a programming issue or just a sticker or the like.

Have you ever bought a beer for someone who could afford it. Why not for someone who can’t ?

Yes. The problem is when I am attempting to help with basic necessities at a time when money is extremely tight for them (no job, almost homeless…) and I’m afraid that they are going to go out and buy another carton of Marlboros rather than buy food. Anyone whose ever known a smoker knows what I’m talking about. There’s a time when luxuries are not the order of the day. When they get a job, even if they are on food stamps, a luxury or two for comfort is fine.

And I recognize the fungibilty of money, but the fact that food stamps have existed for so many years seems to indicate that people high-up in the government seem to think that giving restricted purchasing power to poor people has some benefit over just giving them a check.

It’s also a psychological thing. Even if they end up using my money to buy food, and because of that, decide to spend a bigger chunk of some other money on cigs than they were planning to because they used my money to buy the food that they would otherwise have bought with the other money, it feels better to know that I’m not actually giving them cigs or booze.

I do not think I really approve of you urge to compel people to live their lives they way you think they should, but if those are the only conditions under which you will actually help them, and you really want to help, why not just give actual food.

I came here to find a way to buy a gift card that would not be used for alcohol and I figured out a way on my own…I can either have the grocery store do a delivery or go on to amazon and buy groceries and they will be delivered in a couple days. Problem solved.