5 Ways Unwanted Gifts Can Make (or Save) You Money

Man disappointed with his present

Man disappointed with his present | iStock.com

The unwanted gift is one of the least fun parts of the holiday season. We’ve all been there. You unwrap a present, fake a big smile, thank the giver as sincerely as possible, and then take the item home and wonder, “What were they thinking? And what am I going to do with this thing?”

If you’re faking happiness during your family’s annual gift exchange, you’re not alone. Nearly three-quarters of people Groupon surveyed this year confessed to less-than-honest reactions when receiving a present, and 80% of people will lie and say they love a gift when they really can’t stand it. In many cases, gift givers are in on your act. A recent study by researchers at the New York Institute of Technology found that many people intentionally give bad gifts. (In other words, your aunt who bought you that weight-loss book really is mean, not clueless.)

Aside from making you feel like you need to lie to your friends and family, unwanted gifts present another problem: They take up space. America’s basements and attics are cluttered with all those ill-thought-out gifts, which many people hang on to out of guilt or laziness. Among people who said they’d received a gift they didn’t want last year, 53% kept it, a 2016 ING survey of consumers around the world found, by far the most common response. Another 5% simply tossed the gift (Americans were more likely to throw unwanted gifts away than people in Europe or Australia.)

Rather than letting ugly sweaters, useless gadgets, and gifts cards to stores where you never shop languish in your closet or fill up a landfill, put them to good use. Here are five ways to get rid of your unwanted gifts and possibly save (or earn) some money in the process.

1. Regift

man giving a gift

Man giving a gift | iStock.com

In the U.S., regifting is the most popular way to deal with unwanted presents, ING found, with 40% of people saying they’d passed a present on to someone else, compared to 31% who returned it to a store. Though some decry regifting as tacky (not to mention poor etiquette), most people see it as a practical – and frugal – approach to getting rid of stuff you don’t want. Roughly 75% of people surveyed by American Express said regifting was OK, and 57% said they were likely to engage in the practice themselves.

If you’re going to regift, there are some basic rules to follow. Unless you’re headed to a white elephant party, any regifted item should be something the recipient actually wants or needs. Regifts should always be new and unused, and you should rewrap them and check for any gift tags or messages from the previous round of gifting. Finally, avoid hurt feelings by never regifting within the same family or circle of friends. And you definitely don’t want to be among the 5% of people surveyed by Consumer Reports who say they’ve accidentally regifted a present to the original gifter.

“You need to be 99% sure that the person you are giving the gift to and the person who gave it to you won’t ever find out about your regift,” etiquette expert Lizzie Post told Money.

2. Return

returning a gift

Man returning unwanted gift | iStock.com

By the far the easiest way to deal with unwanted gifts is to return them. If you’re lucky, the giver included a receipt, so you can exchange the present for an item you’ll use or a merchandise credit. But even if you don’t have a gift receipt, returns may still be possible. Stores like Kohl’s, Macy’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, Nordstrom, and Dick’s Sporting Goods allow returns without a receipt. You may only get a credit for the current price of the item, though, not the original sale price.

Before heading to the store, check a store’s policy online to make sure you’re still within the return window, and bring your ID, which some stores require to reduce fraud. Finally, make sure you don’t open any packaging and keep tags attached.

Online gifts can be more of a hassle to return. Amazon allows returns provided you have the order number (found on the packing slip), and retailers with physical locations may allow you to return online items in store. But only 49% of stores offer free returns for online purchases, according to Invesp, with less generous retailers requiring you to send the gift back to them at your own expense.

3. Donate

thrift store shopper

A woman shops at a thrift store | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Many charities would be happy to receive donations of your unwanted gifts. Thrift stores like Goodwill are always an option for castoffs, but other organizations, like homeless shelters, churches, hospitals, and schools, may also want your stuff. Edible gifts can go to food banks, provided they’re unopened and unexpired. If you itemize your taxes, you can also claim the value of a donation as a deduction. High-value gifts might be a good fit for charity auctions.

Want to get a little something extra from your unwanted gift? If you live in the Miami area, you can drop your loot off at the Burger King located at 910 Arthur Godfrey Road. You’ll get a free Whopper in exchange, and your gift will be donated to the Miami Children’s Initiative. In Toronto, you can pay a visit to the Skittles Pawn Shop, where you can trade your white elephant for Skittles. Donations will be given to the United Way. Chicagoans can donate unwanted gifts to charity in exchange for a theater ticket.

4. Sell

ebay sign

An Ebay sign | JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images

You may be able to turn your unwanted gift into cash by selling it. Sites like eBay, Amazon (which also offers trade-ins), or Craigslist are a good place to start if you’re trying to unload items. Apps such as LetGo also help you find people nearby who want your stuff. If listing an item, communicating with potential buyers, and shipping it all seems like too much work, services like eBay Valet will do the hard work for you, for a fee.

Depending on the gift, you may also want to try to sell it on a more targeted site. You can sell smartphones, tablets, and other technology on sites like Swappa and Gazelle, while Grailed keeps unwanted clothes out of your closet. Tradesy is an online marketplace for high-end fashion and accessories.

5. Exchange

gift cards

Gift cards are on display at a Walmart store | ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Chances are, you received a gift card from someone this holiday season, though whether it’s to a store you actually shop at is another question entirely. Fortunately, getting rid of gift cards or merchandise return credits you won’t use is easy on sites like Raise, CardCash, and Giftcard Zen, which help you sell your cards to bargain-hunting shoppers for a percentage of their face value. You can use Gift Card Granny to find the site offering the best value for your card. (WalletHub has a round up of the best gift card exchange sites for both buyers and sellers.)

If you prefer an in-person gift card exchange, head to Target. Select Target stores will take your unwanted gift cards to major retailers and hand you a Target gift card instead. You can also exchange gift cards for cash at Coinstar machines. Many charities will gladly accept gift card donations.

Follow Megan on Facebook and Twitter

More from Money & Career Cheat Sheet: