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4 Ways to Still Win the Holiday Shopping Season

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So the holidays are over … now what? You feel like you’ve been giving for months, but the end of the holidays means a respite from giving (your annual charitable contributions being the exception). Now it’s time to focus on returning any gifts you aren’t in love with, get a little something for yourself and think about next year. Here’s what you need to know to maximize this holiday shopping season.

1. Returns

Hopefully, you’ve treated that unwanted gift with kid gloves. Generally, the more pristine an item looks when you return it, the better your returning experience will be. (Essentially, the easier it is for the store to put the item back on the shelf, the better.) If the giver was kind enough to include a gift receipt, you’ll be in even better shape.

In most cases, if you’re returning an item within 30 days and you have a receipt, you will receive the full purchase price back. But, if you are beyond 30 days and/or do not have a receipt, it’s worth calling the store or checking their website to get familiar with the return policy. Best to prepare yourself in advance if, for instance, you’re to expect a partial credit or a gift card instead of cash, so you don’t end up losing your cool at the register. Speaking of that, whether or not you like the options the sales associate is offering you, a little civility can go a long way.

2. Use Your Gift Cards

While gift cards were once viewed as a thoughtless gift, if the 200 different gift cards at the drugstore checkout is any indication, the popularity of gift cards has taken a turn for the better in recent years.

If you were the lucky recipient of gift cards this year, remember to use them. It can be easy to forget to bring them with us or set them aside if we don’t shop at the store where the gift card is from, but there are solutions.

Apps like Gift Wallet and Gyft will store the data from your gift cards so you always have it at the ready. Sites like Gift Card Granny and Cardpool will buy your unwanted gift cards at a discount (offers will vary, depending on the card in question). And there are options like Target’s new gift card trade-in program, where at select Target stores, consumers can trade in gift cards from hundreds of other retailers in exchange for a Target gift card.

3. Post-Holiday Sales

If you can stomach the idea of shopping again, the week after Christmas is prime time to score deals in certain categories. Anything seasonal, like holiday-themed merchandise (to put into storage for next year), cold weather apparel and sporting goods will be priced to move so retailers can create space for the new spring inventory. Keep in mind that the pickings may be slim and possibly disorganized, so if you are planning to shop post-Christmas sales, make sure to bring a healthy dose of patience and tenacity.

Damaged goods are always a possibility at this time of year. At reputable retailers however, damaged items should be clearly marked so you should check labels for such indications. And just because something is marked as damaged doesn’t mean it’s not usable. The flaw could be something small (like a little pull in a sweater that can be easily fixed), and, once repaired, you just scored a bargain.

4. Think About Next Year

If you’re nursing some post-holiday credit card debt, now is a good time to think about doing it better next year. Take a look at how much you spent and make a plan to save that amount throughout the year. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans planned to spend an average of just over $800 for holiday gifts. That might not be your average, but let’s use that number as a starting point. If you can spare $20 a week from your paycheck, you’ll save $800 by next November.

If not, see where you can find that money. How much is that four-latte-a-day habit or lunch at the swanky takeout spot near the office costing you? You could go out to dinner once less a month. Or are you really using that movie channel package or can you watch those movies on a streaming service (assuming you are already paying that membership fee)? Cutting back a little on some or all of these things can get you in the black next holiday.

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