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Holiday season: 6 reasons "paperless" means "powerless"

Just for the holidays, ignore admonitions to be part of the "paperless society." During the holiday season, you need paper. And lots of it.

Whether it's coupons, gift receipts or a simple proof of purchase, keeping track of your paper can save you a bundle in both cash and trouble this holiday season. Need convincing? Here are six reasons you'll want to have - and sometimes hold - a fistful of paper, possibly long after the holidays are over.

Manufacturer warranties: Most manufacturers provide a guarantee that the products you buy won't dissolve within a year of purchase through normal wear-and-tear. That may not be a big deal when you're buying board games or clothing, but it's significant if you're buying big-ticket items such as television sets or smart phones. If you don't have the receipt that shows the date of purchase, exactly how are you going to prove that your iPhone or Kindle broke way too soon? And, yeah, it can be really convenient to make a paperless receipt by snapping a photo with your phone, unless it happens to be the phone that breaks.

After Christmas sales: Didn't get a gift receipt, but the cashmere sweater set you bought for Mom was a size too small? Bad news if they don't have exactly the same sweater (or if Mom was really lying when she said she liked it). The amount you paid is often irrelevant. Great retailers sometimes put a bar code on the back of the tag that tells the retailer your purchase price when the item is returned. But if that tag is lost - or you happened to shop in a less consumer-oriented corner of the retailing world - returning an item without a receipt usually gets a refund or store credit for just the after-Christmas sale price - and that could be significantly less than what you paid. If you're buying a gift, get a gift receipt in addition to the receipt you hold in your wallet. That way you have a back-up just in case one of the two receipts gets lost in the holiday shuffle.

Sale price adjustments/price matching: Let's say you go shopping at Nordstrom's on Dec. 15 and then, lo and behold, you see that the watch you bought your sweetheart was marked down on the 26th to a fraction of what you paid. Guess what? Nordstrom will give you the difference, if you've held onto that all-important receipt. That's part of their "pricing policy" that also says that if you find the same item for less at a similar retailer, they'll meet the competitor's pricing. Of course, they're not the only ones. Most major retailers, from Best Buy to Target will either price-match with competitors or refund a portion of your purchase price when you've recently bought an item that goes on sale.

Coupons: This holiday season, coupons are ubiquitous and varied. (See our related post: 10 best holiday coupon offers.) Before you crumple your grocery receipts and toss them in the trash, look carefully at what the checker just handed you. All too often, it includes a fistful of coupons for things that you regularly buy -- or, better yet, they sometimes simply offer cash credit for your next purchase. Holiday meals and gatherings can cost hundreds of dollars. These oft-forgotten register receipt-turned-coupon can help defray that expense for those who pay attention.

Your favorite retailers are also likely to have cut-rate offers for those willing to spend the time printing out a coupon or searching for a coupon code. To be sure, some of the best offers are for online shoppers, but there are plenty to print out and bring to the mall, from the likes of The Limited and Sports Authority, just to name a few. For who is offering what and for how long, check out coupon sites like Coupon Sherpa or Coupon Cabin.

Write-offs: You'd probably never do this, but what if you wanted to buy something for yourself while you were out sifting through those holiday bargains? If you've got a side business -- a web site, for instance -- that camera or computer that you've been wanting could be tax deductible. To be deductible, the purchase has to be related to your business, but, depending on the business, a wide range of products could comply. Keep the receipts and present them to your accountant. You might just save a few bucks on your tax bill next April.

The off-list blunder: You foolishly left home without your shopping list and saw the perfect thing for Great Aunt Suzie. But as you started wrapping all the gifts you've accumulated over the past year (you're that kind of plan-ahead shopper), you realize that you've got a pile of stuff for Suzie, who is apparently so easy to please that you see something that's perfect for her everytime you hit the mall. Sure, you can save one of those gifts for her birthday. The others need to go back. The one that's going to be easiest to return is the one for which you can find a receipt.

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