Spent Too Much on Gifts? How to Make the Most of the Christmas Return Policy

Christmas refund money. Know the return policy and have a spending plan in place.
What will you do with your Christmas refund money?

Christmas has come and gone and, if you’re like many Americans, you are waking up to the shock of having spent too much money on gifts the kids didn’t really like, were the wrong size, or that they already had. We won’t even discuss at this point how many gifts were really needed or even really wanted.

If you’re sitting at home thinking of all that wasted money and feeling badly, now is the time to begin to change your life. The New Year is just around the corner and every Monday I will discuss ways to get your money in order and thrive financially in the upcoming year, but let’s begin a little early by examining those Christmas returns.

Know the Return Policy:

Stores have vastly different return policies which can affect how to handle the return. Ask yourself he following questions when considering returning an item (or, ideally, when considering buying an item).

  • How long do I have to make a return?

    Stores can allow a very small window in which to accept returns. If you generally shop in a store with a 180 day return policy and find you bought something in a store with a 14 day return policy, you may be in for a surprise.

  • Are there exceptions to how long I have to make my returns?

    Even within the same store, returns can vary widely from department to department. Check the return policy on the specific item you wish to return.

  • Where can I make the return?

    There may be restrictions. For example, some companies allow online purchases to be returned only online. You may incur shipping and restocking fees as well as other expenses.

  • How will I receive my refund?

    Most stores return to you what you gave to them so if you pay in cash, you will get cash. If you pay with credit, you will get credit, but watch for stores only offering a gift card for returns. This can happen anytime, but often happens when the receipt cannot be found.

  • How much will I actually get back?

    You may get back less than you thought since there can be significant charges such as restocking fees. Electronics often need to be “scrubbed” even if you walked out the door and went right back in. There may be other charges too depending on the store and the individual item.

  • What else do I need to know about the return policy?

    Return policies vary widely from store to store. For example, some allow labels and tags to be removed. Many do not. Many stores post their return policies on their websites. Know the details.


When Making a Return, Go in With a Plan:

Stores know half the battle is getting you through their doors. Once inside many of us are weak when confronted with sales and shiny new things. We think we will feel better if only we had that great new pair of jeans or the latest gadget. Having a plan is better than wandering past displays that will distract you from your mission.

  • Know where returns are accepted.

    Many stores allow returns at any register, but if you must go to a courtesy desk, know where it is and park at the entrance closest to it. Remember your goal is to return, not to browse.

  • Spend your money before you make the return.

    Okay, I don’t mean literally spend your money. I mean have a plan for your money. Dave Ramsey tells his clients to spend their money on paper first and this is excellent advice. Know where your money is going before receiving it. Use an envelope system as soon as possible to divvy up money appropriately.

  • Return with a goal for good.

    Avoid the letdown of the return by portioning a bit of it to something worthy:  make a charitable donation, increase savings, and save for a long-term goal. For example, I immediately put about 10% each in an envelope for CareNet, for savings, and for an RV we hope to purchase someday. I bring envelopes with me so I am not tempted to think it is play money rolling around in my pocketbook. I use “about 10%” because rounding makes it simpler, and simple is more likely to be followed through on. This still means I will walk out of the store with 70% more than I did when I walked in and I, in a way, bought an RV with that return money which, when we count it, will make my boys happy too!

Remember, Christmas is not the season of giving THINGS. It is the season of giving of YOURSELF as Jesus did. May God Bless You and Your Family. Merry Christmas and many happy returns!