We've all been there before: Frantically searching through our purse to find the receipt that we just know is in there, trying to ignore the dirty looks from the impatient customers huffing and puffing behind us.
This year, take a deep breath, and then take some time to plan before you venture out to the mall. There are several ways to return a gift — whether it's one you dislike or a gift you're returning for someone else — without the receipt. Before you make that long haul to the customer service line, here are a few tips and techniques to help you keep your sanity and get your money back sans receipt.
1. Do Some Research
Before you do anything else, you should do your homework and make sure you're keenly aware of the store's return policy. We're not saying you need to hire a lawyer or anything, but you should be able to hold your own when asked "Are you aware of our return policy?"
"If the policy isn’t written in your favor, give the store a call before heading out," Kathy Spencer, expert shopper and author of How to Shop for Free ($13, Amazon), told Fox News. "Always be polite and courteous, and ask if exceptions are ever made."
Fortunately, a lot of stores couldn't care less about you having a receipt. In fact, retailers like Wal-Mart and Target will let you make returns anytime without a receipt. Don't waste your time plotting your rebuttal if you don't need to; just check the store's policy first and then call ahead to ask specific questions.
2. Bring in Evidence
If you've searched through the store's return policy and you know it's going to be a rough ride, bring in a little evidence to back your claim. After all, saying "It was a gift," even if it's true, will only work some of the time.
If you can, bring in the credit card you used to purchase the item, as sometimes stores can backtrack using your card to see what it was that you purchased and give you the full refund that way. If you don't have that card on you, try showing them your bank statement that shows the exact date, time, and amount of your purchase. The more info you can give store employees, the smoother your transaction will go.
3. Be Nice
No, we're not your mother, but yes, being nice to others does help. Despite any frustration you may be feeling, staying cool, calm, and collected will get you further in nine out of 10 cases. (Like the old saying goes, "You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.") Not only that, but it's rude to behave otherwise: Rarely is it the sales rep's fault that your item is defective, and it's most certainly not his or her fault that you lost the receipt.
Salespeople are just doing their job, after all — and remember, you want their help! "Sometimes, common courtesy can get the stores to pull a few strings for you," Spencer added.
4. Ask to Speak to a Manager
So pulling the manager card isn't exactly everyone's favorite play, but sometimes it's necessary.
"Any time I don’t get the answer I wanted from the service desk, I kindly say, 'I understand that this is all you can do, and I appreciate your efforts, but can I please speak to the store manager?' You can also call the corporate office [from a phone at the store] … and that usually does the trick," Spencer continued.
5. Return Items as Soon as Possible
The longer you wait to return an item, the more excruciating this process will be. We know you're busy, but if you can get in that line before the item goes on sale, you'll have a better chance at making a successful return.
"Most stores [only] take back merchandise without a receipt for store credit at the last sale price," Spencer said. "So if you see the item is going on sale … you will want to get to the store now and get the higher value."
Holiday season is rough, especially if you're forced to go back into the retail madness you swore you wouldn't set food in for another year. But sometimes we have to do the things we don't want to do, in order to get something that we want. And when that "something" is our own cash back, the extra effort is worth it.