Surviving holiday gift-return madness

(CNN) — Once you’ve made the moral decision to ditch the sweater from Aunt Suzie (which looks just like the sweater she gave you the year before), make sure you do it right.

Here are four rules for smart gift-returns.

1. Stay home the day after Christmas. It’s the second busiest day for foot traffic in stores all year. Lines are longer, parking lots fuller, tempers shorter. Spend the time gathering your gift receipts and repacking what you are returning instead. (And yes, gift-givers: always include the gift receipt in your gift. Even if you are certain your gift is perfect.)

2. Don’t wait too long. Know a store’s return window. It varies by retailer, and sometimes by item. Nordstrom’s, for example, is the gold standard. You can return something any time, receipt or not, with few exceptions. But many teen retailers won’t accept returns after 14 days and some require a receipt for any return. Without a receipt, you’re stuck with store credit worth the lowest sale price of the item. Ouch.

3. Never sign up for retail store credit cards. It’s a familiar scene. There you are, returning a gift and picking up something you want instead, and the clerk is pushing you to open a card for another 15% off.

Don’t do it! It’s one more bill to keep up with. And credit experts say opening multiple specialty store cards makes you look financially weak and can ding your credit score.

4. Don’t lose track of those gift cards. Better yet, cash in unwanted cards. There is a brisk online market that will buy your gift cards for 90% of the value or more, depending on the store.

A few examples — CardPool.com or GiftCardGranny.com.

Have you overspent this year? The best gift you can give yourself is to cash in gift cards and pay down your own holiday bills.

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