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Holiday return etiquette: Get the gift you really want

Chances are there's a gift (or maybe more) you received over the holidays you really don't want to keep.

A surprising two-thirds of Americans polled by the National Retail Federation said they returned gifts "most" or "some" of the time. With that many people dissatisfied with their holiday haul, how do they navigate the potential problems that may come along with gift exchanges?

The etiquette of returns is "really about being kind, being grateful and being gracious," Emma Johnson of the blog wealthysinglemommy.com, told CNBC's "On the Money" in an interview.

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Johnson said a lot of times, you can really return that gift, without hurting anyone's feelings.

"How often has someone said to you, 'Look, if it isn't the right size or the right color, I have the receipt.' Take them up on that offer," Johnson added.

$43 billion in unused balances

With sales this year totaling $26 billion, the most popular gift for the ninth year in a row is gift cards—even though sometimes they don't fit, either.

"Luckily with a gift card, you don't have the social awkwardness," said Stacy Tisdale, Black Enterprise Magazine's personal finance editor. "The person who gave you the card really doesn't know what you spent it on."

Tisdale said that "gift cards kind of bring out our inner hoarder." People think, "I'll save it now and use it later," she added.

Yet according to Tisdale, since 2008, Americans have racked up more than $43 billion dollars in unredeemed gift card value.

"Be present and realize the power in these cards. You can redeem them for cash, you can pay bills, you can pay down debt, you can exchange them for cards you really want," she said. "So really think of it as throwing away cash if you don't use them. "

But if it is a gift you were given, and you can't return the item, what can you do with it?

"You can always donate it to charity." Johnson said that is a great financial benefit because, "the charity benefits, you benefit because you feel good, and it's usually a tax write-off too."


altrendo images | Altrendo | Getty Images

Another option? "You can re-gift, if it is re-giftable,"said Johnson. And "sometimes you just get rid of it, or you use it, you put out that ugly snowman candle when your aunt is coming over just as a way of being graceful and gracious and honoring the spirit of the holiday."

When you do want to return a gift, your success could depend on that store's policy. Johnson suggested that some stores , like "REI and Nordstrom have generous return policies." She added that "you don't even need a receipt in most cases."

She says other stores operate on a case-by-case basis. "Macy's, Target, Home Depot usually require a receipt for a full refund. Others will offer store credit or partial refund, depending on the last sale price."

Johnson says "the general rule of thumb is to go the retailer's website, check their policy and proceed."

If you received a gift card from a retailer you don't want, Tisdale tells CNBC there are three options.

"First, is you can exchange it for cash. Second, you can exchange it for a card you really want, and you can donate it for charity. "

But Tisdale stressed that for all the available options, "be careful to make sure you are going to a reputable site. So check the Better Business Bureau, [or] do a Google search to find out."

On the Money airs on CNBC Saturday at 5:30 am ET, or check listings for air times in local markets.