Save That Receipt!

By Tamara Jane and Donna Lee Schillinger

I have a friend who has things in her closet that she has never worn, and has no plans of ever wearing. I’ve always thought this was crazy and a waste of money. You know what… it is! Even if she got these things at 75% off, wouldn’t she rather have the money back than for the clothes to be taking up critical closet space?

Even when we try a garment on in the store, there is still a chance that it will end up as closet clutter. Here are a few common reasons why clothes don’t make prime time: They shrink or tear after one washing; they don’t actually match with anything we already own; a roommate or family member vetoes them before we make it out of the door; we thought we might shrink into it (you know, lose 10 pounds, but we never did).

Fortunately, none of these scenarios is incompatible with returning a bad buy and getting our money back. If you have ever found yourself with less than $10 in the bank before your next paycheck, you cannot afford to harbor never-worn clothes or shoes in your closet…unless perhaps, you bought them at a garage sale or thrift store.

So go on, get your money back…if you can. Oh, no receipt? Depending on where you shopped, this might not be a problem. Some stores (the bigger the better in this regard) will take clothes and accessories back as long as they have the tags with them – not even on, just with them. WalMart is one. Other stores, like Macy’s, affix a customer return label to the tags, making a receipt obsolete. See more major retailer return policies at Whatever the policy, here are some proactive measures that will put money back in your pocket (or at least on a gift card) and keep your closet lean and mean.

1. Organize with the possibility of needing to return your purchase. Get a decorative hat box or some other easy-access container into which you can toss receipts as you’re removing things from the shopping bag. A desk drawer dedicated to this purpose also works.

2. Leave the tags on your purchases until you launder the item or wear it, whichever comes first. The ultra-organized will paperclip the tags to the receipt. The rest of us can just toss the tags in the box or drawer with the receipts. Hold on to tags for at least two launderings. If the garment distorts or falls apart after proper laundering, you’re within your rights to take it back.

3. Every couple of months, go through the box and remove receipts and tags for things you know you’re going to keep. While you’re sorting through, if you spot a receipt for something that you’ve owned for a couple of months and have never worn, it’s time to ask yourself the hard question: What do I need more, the security of this unworn garment in my closet in the remote case that I might someday actually wear it, or the cash (or store credit). To get saner answers, try cleaning out the receipt box when your bank account is at its monthly low.

4. Finally, get over your bad self if you have a hang-up with returning things. If you have ever worked retail, or know someone who has, you know that there’s no shame in it. Regardless of what you think the salesclerk might be thinking about you, you’re wrong! They don’t know you have $10 left until pay day. They are probably thinking to themselves as they transact the return, “My feet hurt,” or “I think I’ll have Subway for lunch.” Don’t be silly, go get your money back!

The best strategy is to prevent returns in the first place by only shopping when you have time to try things on, going with a friend who you know would tell you if something makes you look frumpy, and knowing your closet. Figure out what you need before you leave the house and avoid impulse buys.

Smart shopping involves more than the purchase. A smart shopper will also be prepared for a possible return.

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