Unwanted Christmas gifts have always been part and — excuse the pun — parcel of the festive season, whether it’s an unfeasible number of French hens, or an over-pungent celebrity-endorsed Myrrh bath oil.
We all have our favourite stories of mis-judged pressies: from the husband who bought his wife a gravy separator for Christmas (we are still married), to Auntie Mabel’s attempts to buy fashion items for a 14-year-old.
Nationwide, the value of these duff gifts is now estimated to be some £2.6 billion, according to a recent survey by Triodos Bank.
Among the most unpopular gifts are Christmas jumpers, onesies, celebrity autobiographies, novelty socks and kitchenware. That’s what charity shops say, who often find they have a surplus of such items come January.
Economists in the US have even come up with a ‘deadweight cost of Christmas’ theory which shows how billions are wasted each year because the monetary cost of a gift often exceeds the value placed on it by the recipient.
Of course, at the time all you can do is smile enthusiastically and insist how much you love it, or write the obligatory thank you letter. But once these basic niceties have been observed, the trick is not to feel too guilty about turning this economic theory on its head, and extracting some value from these gifts.
The most ‘efficient’ way — according to economists’ glad tidings — is to exchange them for cash. If your relative has included a gift receipt (or the actual receipt) this should be a fairly painless process. Don’t hang around though: most stores will only refund goods for 28 days. If your relative is organised enough to have procured a gift receipt, chances are they will have sorted the shopping well before Dec 25 so you may not have long to get your refund.
Remember too, if the gift has been paid for by debit or credit card you won’t get a crisp wad of new fivers, even with a full receipt. Instead you’ll get a credit note for that store.
Without a receipt, shops aren’t obliged to switch items or offer a credit note – though many larger retailers will, provided the packaging or labelling shows it was purchased there. However, if your gift has already been marked down in the sales, this is the price you’ll get; good reason to join the customer service queues before mid-January, when discounts get discounted further.
This strategy is less successful for more generic gifts, such as Between Us, Peter Andre’s latest tome, which frankly could have been bought anywhere. If you were unfortunate enough to find such an item in your stocking, you could try selling it online, using eBay, or other sites such as Gumtree.
The main downside is that these sites tend to get flooded with such items at this time of the year. Often, gifts are up for sale before the Queen has finished her speech: eBay says that up to 400,000 unwanted gifts are typically listed by Christmas night itself. This competition — particularly for ‘popular’ duds — means the chances of getting a decent price are slim.
‘Re-gifting’ is another option. In economic terms this may sound like the theory of diminishing marginal returns, with the perceived value of the gift reducing each time it is passed on.
But it’s worth remembering that while some gifts might be intrinsically awful, others are just waiting to find the right home. You may not wear those leopard-print gloves, but do you have a friend who would?
This also has the advantage of saving you the time and effort of shopping for future birthday/Christmas presents. Anyone who’s worked through a list of gifts to be bought for family, friends, colleagues, children’s teachers, secret santas — plus that relative we all have who has their birthday in December — will know the cost of Christmas shopping adds up to more than just the price tag.
It goes without saying that it pays to make a note of who sent any presents earmarked for ‘re-gifting’ so you don’t inadvertently give it back to its original owner.
Whether you are looking to refund, recycle or re-gift unwanted presents, it helps if you can keep them pristine and in original packaging.
Economists may disapprove, but don’t overlook donating your unwanted gifts to a local charity shop, or saving them for raffle prizes (school and hospitals are always on the look out for decent gifts).
That unicorn onesie might not be to your taste. But if Auntie Mabel bought it for you, then there’s a reasonable chance someone else may also be tempted to buy it, helping to raise money for good causes.
It won’t put five gold rings in your pocket, but between the Boxing Day cold turkey and the New Year hangover, this feelgood factor can help keep those festive spirits kindled.
Emma Simon is a freelance consumer journalist and former Personal Finance Editor at The Sunday Telegraph