The Importance of Returns

Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom

The shopping is done. The wrapping paper is all recycled. You may have even packed away the ornaments until next year. (Were there any you decided to declutter?) But I bet there’s still one task you haven’t tackled, one that goes on all year long: Returns. Returns are a vital part of a well-organized and decluttered home.

You can return practically anything to practically anywhere. Even if you’re outside the store’s stated time limits for returns, you can still request a return. Speak to the manager. Really and truly, it doesn’t hurt to ask. (This is more applicable to the United States than it may be to other countries. Australia for one is much less flexible)

Surely you’ve looked on Craigslist or Ebay and seen a listing like these: “Bought for daughter but did not fit. Lost receipt, my loss your gain.” Or, “My loss is your gain. These are easily $70 at a store. If I had a receipt I would take it back, but I don’t.”

The first ad was for five pairs of Target brand jeans. I know that Target will take items back for 90 days, and that you don’t have to have your receipt to get a store credit, so why isn’t this mother returning the jeans? Placing an ad for clothing on Craigslist is way more inconvenient than any trip to Target could be and you will unlikely get the full cost you paid.

In the second case, why doesn’t this fellow ask where his $70 item came from? Even if we assume that he’s not asking because he fears hurting the feelings of the gift-giver, he can still try a return. While I don’t advocate intentionally returning something to the wrong store, many stores sell exactly the same merchandise, and especially after Christmas, will take back something that you’re not 100% sure came from there. Don’t feel bad; they stock ones exactly like it, and they’re going to resell it. If you feel uncomfortable, you can even say, “I got this from my sister. I don’t know if it came from here.” If it didn’t, they’ll tell you.

Buying online is a very popular option, but I am careful not to have something shipped to me if I’m not certain that I want it, particularly if return shipping is not included. Postage costs are very high, and I feel cheated if I pay for something to be shipped to me, then pay for it to be shipped back, and the only thing I have to show for my efforts is less money.

Big ticket items are the hardest to return but the most deserving of being returned. You’re only going to buy one TV this decade. If you get it home and don’t like it, it needs to go back. My girlfriend returned a gas stove once! Can you image how inconvenient that was? The thing was hooked up in her house and functioning, but she hated it and knew she did not want to live with it for the next 20 years. Any time you buy a big ticket item, make sure you understand the store’s return policy before you purchase. Sometimes furniture and art can be taken out “on approval” where the store charges your card but allows you to take it home for a day or two. The store won’t volunteer this; you have to ask.

When I buy something I’m not quite sure about, or something that won’t get used right away (which could translate to won’t get used … ever), I tape the receipt directly onto the item. Recently I was able to return house numbers that I’d had for almost 12 months because I still had the receipt. The store’s policy is that returns are only accepted within 90 days. First I called to assess if there might be a problem, but the clerk sounded pretty sure “we can work something out.” When I walked into the store, I checked to be sure that they still stocked the house numbers. They did, and as predicted, there was no problem getting a store credit, which I immediately used. (See Day 294 for my tips on managing your gift cards and merchandise credits.)

Especially as you’re decluttering, you will find brand new items that you could have, should have returned. Don’t fret! You probably still can.

Colleen – There is some good advice in this article and I like Cindy keep all receipts for items other than food for a certain length of time just in case. I keep my receipts in a coupon folder or in my file with warranty papers. I have had to retrieve such receipts many times over the years when…

  • Things break during normal use within a short length of time or within the warranty period.
  • When clothing shrinks, fades, goes out of shape/seams undo/ etc within the first few times of wearing and washing.
  • When something doesn’t live up to what the advertising suggests it is capable of.
  • When I have chosen and item because the sales person insists it is the right product for what I require and it turns out  it isn’t.

Just remember to clean out old receipts on a regular basis. And like Cindy says be reasonable about what you expect to the retailer to accept. It never hurts to try though because the only stupid request is the one you are to shy to ask for. Please try to investigate big ticket products where possible before making your purchase and remember to be open minded. Investigating doesn’t mean to only try to justify the exact item you thought you wanted in the first place and not having an open mind that the trendy/cutest/smaller/larger/ faster… product may not the one that best suits your needs.

Today’s Declutter Item

This is the sweater Liam was wearing when he had his accident needless to say they had to get it off him quickly. It went in the trash today but we kept what once was his favourite T-shirt that is in much the same condition.

Liam Accident Sweater 05012011

Things I am grateful for today

  1. Lunch with a friend again – I have been a bit spoiled the last couple of days.
  2. Listening to other peoples troubles and realising how lucky I am.
  3. More cherry tomatoes ripening on the plant in my garden that just popped up from one of last years seeds.
  4. Liam happily co-operating with me when I asked him to help declutter a couple of drawers in his bedroom today- eBay here we come.
  5. Friends that feel they can always be honest with me.

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow.

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  1. This is a great kick in the butt for people like me who wait until the last possible minute to return something.

    I love the idea of taping the receipt to certain items. It’s so frustrating if you return something that you know you paid $30 for but you only get back the last sale price – $15, due to not having a receipt.

  2. How right you are Marnie. I have to admit, the problem of markdowns is one I had not considered when writing this. Another good reason to hang onto those receipts.

  3. Great advice Cindy! Time can get by us all so quickly and before we know it, it will be May…organizing receipts and being aware of timelines is a good skill no matter what you’re doing.

    I don’t want to sound like a pessimist but for those of you out there looking to add to your clutter, be wary of those ebay and craigslist ads. When I see lost or cannot find receipt or I would take it back I read “this item is stolen and I’m trying to make money off of it”. I work in Law Enforcement, so my view is somewhat jaded, but I also know that ebay and craigslist have become the new “black market” (apoligies to any legit sellers of these types of items). People who shoplift and can make money off of it as well as the people who are OK with buying from them are what make the cost of everyday items for you and me to go up to cover store losses. Just be careful.

    • Hmmm, food for thought. I’m sure you’re right, but being the optimist that I am (or a different kind of pessimist), I like to think these people are just disorganized.

    • Hi Kathleen,
      good point here. I read on another blog about thieves following UPS vans during the Christmas period and waiting for the inevitable “not a home drop off” and then they go and grab the parcel sitting on the door step. Nice way to ruin Christmas for families and make a few bucks on the side on ebay. I hope the smarmy bas****s got caught. Hopefully they would be stupid enough to not think that the Police would have a list of the missing items. I can understand theft to survive but I can’t understand theft for greed. That is a whole other kind of consumerism isn’t it.

  4. I also always keep receipts. I started using a notebook to store warranty information, instruction manuals and receipts a few years ago as part of an attempt to have a record of our possessions for insurance purposes. It has been a great help when something breaks or we have to return an item–we know exactly where to look. I put them all in page protectors so they’re easy to find.

    • Has your notebook not gotten crazily unwieldy? I must have 10″ of manuals, etc. in my filing drawer. As for insurance, I was thinking of borrowing a digital video camera from a friend and doing a fairly quick walk through the house. I imagine it would still take half a day to open all the doors and drawers and then download it, but that’s the way I was thinking I would go for insurance purposes.

      • Hi Cindy, last year I went on a bit of a mission to find free pdfs of my appliance manuals online and I was surprised at how easy it was. I even found some for appliances that I didn’t have the hard-copy manual for. Now I have about 20 of them filed in a special folder on my computer (backed up too, of course) which has considerably reduced the size of my manuals, warranties and receipts folder.

        • Smart to have searched them out before getting rid of the hard copies and before you need them.

        • Hi calico ginger,
          I did the same thing it is a good system and a lot less space consuming. You can even get ikea assembly pdf’s. Now all Australia has to do is catch up with the 21st century and start doing the same thing. I live in a rental house and there were no instructions left for a couple of the built in appliances and one manual that only had every second page. None of these Aussie companies have posted on-line manuals. Oh well where we lack in one area we make up for in others I suppose.

      • Cindy,
        I have one 1 1/2″ binder and one 2″ binder. The mauals for house items (refrig, washer, dryer, etc) are in one binder and the other is for everything else. In order to be perfectly honest on the amount of space needed, I will say that there is also about 1/2″ of bike manuals in page protectors that are not in either notebook. But we have a fairly small home.

        Colleen, One of these days, I’ll digitalize the manuals but not until after the photographs are done.

  5. Cindy, thank you for your post today, this is all great advice!!! If we don’t ask, then there is a 100% chance of a ‘no’ answer…if we ask, kindly and with honesty, we’ve reduced our ‘no’ answer chance to 50%, if not less!

    One reason I adore shopping thrift stores, yard sales, etc, for mine, husband and kids clothing, I figure the item, maybe, has already been worn/washed, and if it survived that and still looks good, chances are it will be a good piece to survive a while longer.

    • I like shopping at thrift store because I seem to be rather hard on my clothing and staining a shirt that cost me $4 breaks my heart a lot less than staining one that cost $30 (or more!).

      Also, frankly, once you know how little you can pay for things, it’s a huge disincentive to pay full price.

  6. One other thought – if we don’t (NEED to) buy it to begin with, then we won’t NEED to return it later…(excluding gifts – both to give and receive).

  7. This is a great post. I’m good aobut hanging on to receipts until I know we are going to keep an item. After getting bitten by the “no receipt no return” bug I learned to hang on to them. I used to have a binder of manuals, etc. I finally put the ones with 5 year repair warrenties into a hanging file and the rest I tossed after making sure there were online manuals. I’m investigating the ones with the warrenties to see if I can find the online stuff. They came with the house and I’ve had a bit of a time finding them.

  8. A tip that has helped me recently is this:
    I tend to lose those receipts or misplace them. I found a cheap ($1) cardboard accordion folder used for coupons. The slots are perfect for receipts. I put each month’s in their own slot: divided by Jan in one, Feb in another, March in another, etc. I keep the receipt until either 1). the item has been opened/used/etc. or 2). a certain time limit has ended. I now don’t have to wonder where the receipt for that movie went….it’s right there in its own slot.

    • Hi Gen, I usually file mine away with the warranty if there is one but for things that don’t I hang them on a clip on my whiteboard. That way they are staring me in the face so I don’t forget to go through them and declutter the ones that are no longer relevant.