Holiday gift giving can be fraught with anxiety. You want to buy the ideal gift, but sometimes that’s easier said than done. And you want to make sure your purchases are easy to return.

You’re not alone. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans returned $260.5 billion in merchandise in 2015, with about a quarter of that — $63 billion — coming from holiday sales.

But retailers sometimes aren’t crazy about returns. Here are 8 tips on how to make returns easier.

If you’re the gift giver … 

1. 2 words: gift receipt

Most stores offer them these days, but be sure to ask if you don’t receive yours. Even if you aren’t planning to include it with the gift, it’s nice to have just in case.

2. Keep your receipts in one place

Most of us recognize the panic of knowing we have a receipt, but not being able to find it. Here are 3 easy ways to keep track of your receipts:

  • Train yourself to immediately file all your receipts as soon as you return home from a store. Your system might be as rudimentary as throwing them in a file folder or as extensive as separating them by gift recipient. Either way, it’s easy to recycle them later.
  • Ask for your receipt to be emailed to you. To avoid email overload, you can create a free email account specifically for shopping. It’s a handy place to store your receipts. You can also use it to sign up for sales emails and track purchases you make online. Plus, you never have to visit this particular email account unless you need it. And if you don’t want to create a separate account, you can simply store all your shopping-related emails in a designated folder in your regular email account.
  • Use a receipt-scanning app, like Shoeboxed or Wave.

3. Use your credit card for purchases

No, we’re not suggesting you rack up debt. In fact, it’s best to use your credit card when you intend to pay the balance off in full so you can keep your credit score clean. But having a purchase on a credit card can make it easier for the store to look it up later. Many credit cards also offer “purchase protection” in case the battery-operated toy car is a lemon or the strap on your new sandals breaks.

If you received the gift …

What if you’re the recipient of a video game you already own or those hideous fringed boots? (What WAS Aunt Marge thinking?) Typically, no one wants to come right out and ask the gift giver for the receipt. Here are 5 tips for getting your money back.

1. Don’t delay

Make sure you pay close attention to the return policy. For most major stores, customers are able to return gifts all the way into mid-January, but it can vary. Several popular mall stores have recently tightened their return policy from 90 days to 45 days, so make sure to check online if you’re unsure.

2. Bring your ID

Most retailers will ask for your ID, but be aware they will note it in their system. Many stores have a limit on how many “no receipt” returns you can make in a certain period.

3. Keep the tags and all the packaging

Many stores won’t accept clothing without the tags intact in an effort to reduce instances of “wardrobing” (which is when inconsiderate shoppers wear an item of clothing for a special occasion and then return it). So don’t cut off the tags or throw away the packaging if you’d like to return it.

4. Plan to accept store credit

That’s often your only option without a receipt. Also, if the item is now on sale, you’ll have to accept the sales price, even if the gift giver paid full price.

5. Give it a new home

When all else fails, you might need to give your gift a new home, whether that means selling it online, regifting it, or even donating it.

And when you’re done with all your holiday shopping, don’t forget about yourself. One of the best gifts of all? Making sure you and yours are protected with quality auto or home insurance.

DIY hacks | For your finances


about Cathie

Cathie Ericson writes about personal finance, real estate, health, lifestyle, and business topics. When she's not writing she loves to read, hike, and run. Find her @CathieEricson.