Remember that great deal you found while out and about? How you scooped it up, and then came home and realized that it didn’t quite look the way you thought it would? Or maybe it didn’t fit just right, or didn’t work correctly.

Well, now’s the time to return the item. You don’t want to waste the money you just spent on something you’ll never use.

But there are some things you need to know first before you can return an item, and most of them start before you purchase the item to begin with.

First, take a look at the store signage. Do the signs say things like “All sales are final!”, “No returns without receipt”, or “Movies may be exchanged for the identical item only”? Those are good indications that you probably shouldn’t buy the item in the first plus unless you are absolutely sure that:

  1. You need or want it and can afford it
  2. It’s exactly what you’re looking for
  3. It is in good condition
  4. It meets your requirements for functionality

If it doesn’t meet all of those conditions, and it’s on final sale, don’t buy the item in the first place.

If returns are allowed with receipt, be sure to keep the receipt for the item until after you are 100% certain that it is fit for your particular purpose.

So, you’ve purchased an item, made sure that you can return it, and kept the receipt. How do you actually go about returning it?

First, don’t delay. Most stores limit the time period that you can return an item, so you want to return it as quickly as possible. If possible, return it within a day or two for best results. Leave the item out where you will see it and be reminded to return it if you can’t do it immediately.

Next, be prepared. Bring the item & receipt into the store with you and head for the customer service desk. Just explain that you want to make a return, and that there is nothing wrong with the item (unless there is, then tell them what is wrong).

If you purchased it with a credit card, bring that same credit card with you as well, as the store will frequently return the money to the card right then.

If you don’t have a receipt, you can still try to return the item, especially if there is something wrong with it or if you received it as a gift. Many stores will issue you store credit in that instance. Just start by saying that you want to return the item, and (if asked for the receipt) explain why you don’t have it.

In some cases you may need to speak to a manager, as was the case when we had to return some opened chocolate (without a receipt) that should have been pulled off the shelves because it was past its expiration date.

Above all, be polite and calm. Remember that the person you are dealing with is trying to do their job. You’ll get much further by being polite and calm than by being rude or yelling. People want to help you if it’s at all possible. Make it easy for them to do so.

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This post is part of a series. See what everyone should know about personal finance for links to additional posts on the subject.

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