12/28/2011 02:18 pm ET | Updated Dec 29, 2011

Holiday Shopping 2011: Billions Of Gift Card Dollars Left Unspent

Many a gift recipient have smiled politely when they unwrap a present and find something that they know they'll never use.

But as it turns out, gift cards -- which are often marketed as a way to appease the person who is tough to buy for -- are often wasted themselves, according to the National Retal Federation. Roughly $41 billion in gift cards have not been used since 2005, NBC and ABC local affiliate WALB reports.

Even though many don't use the money on their gift cards, eight in ten Americans planned to give them this holiday season, the NRF found. Gift card spending accounts for one part of holiday retail sales that the NRF predicts will rise nearly four percent.

There are alternatives to letting unwanted gift cards languish in your wallet. Unhappy gift card recipients can regift them through sites like Plastic Jungle, which offer customers an opportunity to sell their cards for close to face value, Consumer Affairs notes.

But if the gift cards go unspent some state governments may benefit. Some states demand that stores give unused gift card money to the state after a certain period of time, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Consumers can claim their funds at any time, but until they do, states can use the cash for "general purposes" the Journal reports.