How to make money off those unwanted holiday gifts

By the time the holiday dust settles, the odds are good that you will end up with at least one unwanted holiday gift that you don't know what to do with. According to research from Optoro, a company that helps process returns from retailers, nearly $70 billion worth of holiday purchases are returned each year — that's more than 11 percent of the estimated $630 billion spent in total during the holidays.

Returning a gift doesn't mean you're ungrateful; some gifts simply aren't useful in your life. Rather than letting these gifts gather dust in a closet, consider turning them into something useful, such as cash.

If you received items that were misses this year, take a look at these five ways to make money off your unwanted holiday gifts.

woman paying at a clothing store

1. Return Them

If you have an unwanted holiday gift, the first thing to do is see if you can return it.

"If you are looking to get the most money back possible for unwanted gifts, your best bet is to return them," said Paul Moyer from "Places like Walmart, Target, Kohl's and other [stores] will allow you to return items in exchange for a gift card."

And if you don't think you'll use a gift card to the store, you can turn around and sell it for actual cash. Moyer said, "If you received a gift card to a store that you do not use, you can get as much as 92 percent of the card's value using gift card selling services, like Cardpool."

Even if you don't have a gift receipt, there might still be a way to turn an unwanted present into cash. Many retailers can use a packing slip in lieu of a gift receipt — Walmart will even use the sender's email address to issue a store credit for an unwanted gift in some cases. Additionally, Amazon can take back unwanted gifts through its Online Returns Center, and Bed Bath & Beyond will take back items without receipts and issue exchanges or gift cards for the item's current selling price, minus 20 percent.

Don't Miss: 50 Stores With the Best and Worst Return Policies

friends on computer together

2. Trade Them

If you love to bargain, then trading your unwanted holiday gifts is a great way to satisfy your inner bargain hunter while scoring stuff you actually want. You'll have better success if you stick to bartering sites that specialize in specific items, so avoid the ones that say they trade everything. Here are some of the best sites for different gift types:

Game Trading Zone specializes in trading video games and gaming accessories. Users deal directly with one another, and there are no fees to buy, sell or trade items.

PaperBackSwap is perfect for trading away those novels you don't plan on reading. The site uses a credit system, so you don't actually sell anything. You simply list your unwanted books and use the credits you receive to get new ones.

Another option is A repository for a wide range of items, the site boasts a wide array of children's items, including toys and clothes. You can trade all the gifts your kids got for the holidays and don't intend to use for things they actually need and want.

RELATED: 10 sneaky tricks retailers use to get you to spend more money during the holidays:

10 ways retailers trick you to spend more during the holidays
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10 ways retailers trick you to spend more during the holidays

1. They play relaxing music.

If a crying baby and crowded theater can get you to bow out of a movie, chances are you won’t enjoy venturing to a crowded mall to go shopping — or spend very long in stores. Queue the calming music.

Research reported by the American Psychological Association and European Journal of Scientific Research shows that when you go into a store with relaxing music, you’re much more likely to spend more time there. If you’re already in a buying mood, chances are you might end up with an extra item or two in your basket.

Shoppers who hear classical music while shopping, for example, might spend more money than they planned because the genre is connected to the perception of affluence, reported U.S. News. This tactic is used more frequently during the holiday season, said retail specialist Mari Corella, who has worked with large national retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Williams-Sonoma and Sears.

“Retailers pump Christmas songs through their stores to invoke emotions of nostalgia and generosity, all leading to a greater basket size,” she said Corella.

2. They use warming scents.

Retailers also use holiday-specific scents to try to increase your will to spend money, said Corella.

“Retailers often scent their stores during the holidays with seasonal fragrances such as gingerbread and pine,” she said. “Similar to Christmas music, this tactic invokes a sense of warmness and generosity, all leading to larger purchases.”

This tactic is used by small and large businesses, and can be especially effective when the scent complements music being played, said Bruce Sanders, a retail consultant, consumer psychologist and author of “Sell Well: What Really Moves Your Shoppers.”

“Small retail stores use candles, and large retailers use fragrance diffuser machines,” he said. “If Christmas music and Christmas scent in the store match up, people say they like the store and merchandise better and are more likely to shop at the store.”

Sensory experiences can play a large role in your perception of a store and brand. The more pleasant the shopping experience, the more likely you’ll walk out the door with less money in your hand.

3. They make you nostalgic.

Retailers frequently sell items that appeal to people’s feelings of nostalgia, such as a ’50s-style dining set, an old-school video game system or a retro turntable.

Gifts that trigger a memory or inspire a young person to try something from the past can offer richness that general gifts like candles cannot, according to Fortune Magazine.

Creating these feelings of nostalgia seem to have a significant impact on the spending behaviors of shoppers. Nostalgia led shoppers to pay more money for products and value their money less, according to a study from the Journal of Consumer Research.

4. They offer bulk pricing.

You might be accustomed to two-for-one deals, but you can expect even more of them — and larger bulk offers — during the holidays.

Grocery stores, in particular, use this tactic frequently, such as by offering 10 items for $10, making you think you have to buy 10 to get the $1-per-item deal. But, usually, you can get the deal price regardless of how many items you buy.

Research has shown that adding the sentence “maximum eight cans per customer” to the price tag of soup cans caused sales to increase by giving the illusion of a great discount even if none was offered, according to Time.

5. They use the number 9.

While shoppers are accustomed to the majority of retail items going for prices such as $39.99 instead of $40, not many shoppers stop to think about why merchandise is priced this way. Not using round numbers is another trick intended to make you spend more, said William Poundstone, author of “Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value.”

In his book, Poundstone looked at eight different studies on the use of what is called “charm prices” and found that using this pricing method increased sales on average by 24 percent when compared to the use of rounded, even pricing.

While this pricing structure probably won’t change anytime soon, customers should just remind themselves that while $39.99 looks cheaper than $40, it’s only a 1 cent difference.

6. They put more profitable items at eye level.

Stores often put items with the best price margins at eye level so that you see the products easily. Items that are better buys for the customer — and therefore not as profitable for the retailer — are more likely to be found at the bottom or top of aisles.

“This is a classic retail tactic,” Corella said. “Eye level is such valuable real estate that retailers charge manufacturers to have placement there. This cost is then passed on to the consumer. And kids are not exempt from this tactic either, as products targeted towards children are placed at their eye level.”

7. They mark up prices before the holidays.

Kyle James, founder of, a site that helps consumers save money, said the holiday season is notorious for what is called “high-low pricing,” which often tricks consumers into thinking they are getting a much better deal than they really are.

“[High-low pricing] is when retailers have relatively high everyday prices, then release ‘holiday’ coupons to make you think you’re getting an amazing discount via the coupon,” said James. “In reality, retailers that use high-low pricing know they’ll sell minimal items at full retail, and if they do, it’s a bonus.”

James said you’ll likely see this tactic used by many popular retailers during the holidays, such as from Ann Taylor, JCPenney, Kohl’s and Old Navy.

8. They sell you gift sets.

Head into a place like Bath & Body Works or Williams-Sonoma, and you’ll find plenty of gift sets, whether it’s a set of lotion, body wash and perfume, or a barbecue essentials kit. These gift sets even come in nice packaging, which means you have a beautiful-looking gift ready to go.

Gift sets seem like a great deal because the value of all items priced together is typically lower than if you were to buy them separately. The stated value of the set, however, is the full retail of all items in it, so it can sometimes be cheaper to buy the items separately if they are on sale, said Corella. Buying gift sets also can lead to overspending, she said.

“This is also an upsell tactic where you come in to buy a single item but end up with a gift set because it seems like you get so much more for just a few more dollars,” said Corella.

9. They mix high-cost items with regular-priced goods.

The holiday season is a popular time for some retailers to mix luxury items with other products so pricing on regular items look much more reasonable by comparison, Sanders said.

“When Neiman Marcus publicizes their annual Christmas Book, they highlight the Fantasy Gifts, which for 2015 include a $125,000 bourbon tasting tour and a $90,000 balloon ascent to the edge of space,” said Sanders. “Leading off by thinking about these, the Christmas Book browser starts to consider that $895 price for a designer triacetate-and-polyester gown as a little more down to earth. The price of the first item considered becomes an anchor for what the shopper expects to pay.”

10. They make finding clearance items hard.

Clearance racks or shelves are often located all the way in the back of the store or are hidden as much as possible because retailers want you to have to walk through the entire store to get to them, according to Business Insider. By walking through the store, you’re more likely to see higher-priced items first, which you might end up buying.

Once you do find the clearance section, it’s purposefully in a state of disarray. True bargain shoppers don’t mind sifting through the mess to find the great deals, but the average shopper is more likely to be turned off by the obstacle and instead buy non-clearance items, letting the retailer win.

While shopping this holiday season, be aware of these tricks that retailers use to try to outsmart you. Your wallet and bank account will thank you.


3. Sell Them

If you are set on turning unwanted Christmas gifts into cash in your pocket, consider selling items online. You probably won't make back the original value — after all, second-hand buyers are looking for deals too. However, this method offers a way to beef up your bank account rather than just trading goods for others. Here are some popular online sales sites where you can find eager buyers:

With more than 60 million monthly users in the U.S. alone, Craigslist is one of the most popular sites for selling your unwanted stuff. It's generally free to list your items, but sellers have to deal with meeting buyers face to face to exchange money for goods.

Poshmark is used exclusively for clothing and accessories. Simply download the free app, and you can be on your way to making money off your unwanted fashion items. Shipping is paid by the buyer, but sellers do have to pay fees ranging from a flat $2.95 to 20 percent of the total sale.

See More: How to Sell Used Clothes Online With Sites Like Poshmark

Also known as "the world's online marketplace," eBay boasts a huge network of users. As a result, you have a better chance of finding buyers for more unusual items than you would on other sites. However, because of the wide array of products on eBay, it's also easy for your item to get lost in the crowd. Additionally, you'll have to pay a seller's fee, which is based on the total amount of the sale.

A mobile-only app, OfferUp is a hybrid of Craigslist and eBay with a local twist. Buyers search for items near them, and all communication is kept within the app, so you don't have to give out your personal contact info. However, you still have to meet with the seller in person to exchange goods and money.

Letgo is similar to OfferUp, but users join local selling groups. Items for sale are posted in the app, users can message one another and there are no seller fees, as transactions happen face to face.

woman with a box of donations

4. Donate Them

If you don't want to deal with the hassle of trading or selling your unwanted holiday gifts, you can donate them for a tax break. It's important to note that a nonprofit has to be approved by the IRS for donations to be tax deductible. However, most religious and educational organizations qualify, as do many volunteer groups, thrift stores and animal rescues.

If you decide to donate your items, make sure you make a list of exactly what you gave, the dates they were donated and the organizations that accepted them. Also, you can only write off the "fair market value" of the items, which will probably be less than the price of the unwanted gift. Still, this is an easy way to turn your unwanted gifts into tax savings, while helping a worthy cause.

gift wrapping supplies

5. Regift Them

Regifting doesn't mean you aren't grateful for a present — it just means the item might serve someone else better. Not only is regifting a great way to get rid of unwanted clutter, but it can also save you money. Because you don't have to fork over cash to buy a new gift, you can keep more of your paycheck in your pocket.

Here are some tips for regifting successfully:

Keep it on the down low. Just like with "Fight Club," the first rule of regifting is that you never talk about regifting. Not everyone appreciates the act of giving away unwanted gifts, so it's best to keep it to yourself.

Always regift with intention. Don't give away something just to get it out of your house. The regift should always make sense for the person on the receiving end.

Keep track of where the gift originally came from. Place a sticky note on the unwanted item with the name of the person who gave it to you. The last thing you want to do is accidentally give a gift back to the original buyer.

Carefully inspect the package and then rewrap it. Make sure any nametags and other identifying information are removed from the item. Then rewrap the gift, so it doesn't look like it's been sitting in your closet for months.

Regift outside your circle of family and friends. You know that coffee table book your Aunt Lynn gave you for your birthday last year? It would be pretty embarrassing if she saw it in your sister's living room. For best results, make sure there is no way your regift can cross paths with its originator.

Up Next: Product Warranties, Insurance and More: Are These Extras Really Worth the Cost?

This article originally appeared on How to Make Money Off Those Unwanted Holiday Gifts

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