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How to return or exchange holiday gifts that are just wrong

The holidays are a time of great fun and generosity, but chances are, a lot of us are getting gifts we don't really want. Usually, we can return or exchange those items when those gifts are from major retailers.

But what about those other times?

Whether your mother-in-law gives you an itchy sweater you can barely touch or a friend gives you a gift card to their favorite steakhouse when you hate meat, here's how to turn it into the gift of your dreams.

Exchange gift cards

One man's (or woman's) trash is another's treasure. When you receive a gift card that you know won’t use, it may just be a gift card someone else will love.

Here's where gift card exchange sites — like Raise.com or Cardpool.com — come in handy. You can sell a pre-owned gift card for close to face value and receive either cash or an Amazon gift card.

If you prefer something more personal, you can always exchange gift cards one-on-one with friends, coworkers or family. Just be careful.

"When it comes to trading gift cards remember: It’s not dollar-for-dollar because money is only worth what it can buy,” says Brett Graff or The Home Economist and author of "Not Buying It: Stop Overspending And Start Raising Happier, Healthier, More Successful Kids."

Other ideas for cards include donating them to the school auction or another cause. Then you get a far more valuable gift come April: a tax deduction!

Or, Coinstar kiosks allow you to trade in unwanted gifts cards in person.

"You can also donate your gift card to a good cause at Plywood,” adds Jamie Novak, expert organizer and author of multiple books including "Keep This Toss That."

Donate

Rather than rolling your eyes at a sweater you'll never wear, use an unwanted gift as an opportunity to give to others by donating to worthy causes, like Dress for Success.

“A huge way to deal with frustration is to contribute, which may shift our perspective and enhance our sense of gratitude. Plus, constantly looking at the sweater bag will just leave you with lots of opportunities to feel annoyed,” says Jennifer L. Taitz, a clinical psychologist.

Trade it in

Few people know that Amazon.com offers a great trade-in program. You don't even need to be a Prime member.

"Any account holder can trade an item into Amazon for account credit on a future purchase,” says Novak. Amazon even pays the shipping fee!

Re-sell

What do you do with clothing you'll never use or wear?

"Instead of burying gifts at the back of the closet, be proactive and turn them into something you'll use,” says Natasha Rachel Smith, money-saving expert for shopping website TopCashback.com. "If you can't return them, sell them. There are plenty of websites for this, eBay being one of the most notorious. You'll likely pay less fees with other sites like Bonanza and eBid."

If have designer goods, it's worth checking out Tradesy.com or Poshmark.com. For electronics, BuyBackWorld.com and Raise.com will, in many cases, actually pay you $1.50 per gift you list.

"For those who are less patient, pawn shops or yard sales are a quicker cash-in-hand option," Smith adds. "Although, you may not make as much as selling online."

And there are plenty of places to find or sell niche gifts. For example, Reverb.com has made a name as a music gear marketplace. But there are a few best practices:

  1. Provide as much detail as possible. "The more information you provide in your listing, the more searchable your item will be," suggests Dan Orkin, director of content at Reverb.com.
  2. Be professional. Excellent grammar and error-free spelling can go a long way when you list an item online. “Avoid crazy claims, exclamation points and all caps in your listing title — those can come off as spammy,” says Orkin.
  3. Make your listing stand out. Add lots of high-quality photos that show the item from every angle. You can and even add videos, if applicable. Another way to make your item standout? “Tell a great story about where it came from, how it will make the buyer feel or what you hope it will be used for in its new home,” says Orkin.

Re-gift

Re-gifting is a great option if you received a lovely item that just isn't right for you. But make sure that the item is right for its new recipient and won't just be passed on again, like that infamous Christmas candle. And, of course, make sure you don't accidentally give it back to the person who gave it to you.

Have a party

Host a re-gifting party where guests bring gifts they'd otherwise return. Then each person "shops" for a new gift. Whatever is leftover can be donated to charity, says Novak.

Give them a hint for next year

If you've received a gift from someone you feel close to, you can gently acknowledge why the gift wasn't a great fit.

“If you use humor and warmth and say something that's an incentive to them, like, 'I don't want you to rack your brain trying to think of what to get me anymore,' you won't have to run back and forth to do returns,” suggests Taitz.

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