LIKE MILLIONS of Americans, I work in retail and have for the past eight years.

While I'm grateful to have it, my side gig as a cashier can be filled with full-time annoyances when the holiday shopping season sets in. Here are 12 guidelines on how to be a conscious, gainful consumer and not the subject of a salesperson's exasperated looks.

12. FIGURE SALES PRICES OUT ON YOUR OWN. When stores are crowded and staff limited, don't harass a worker who's already overwhelmed to figure out the price of discounted items. Use the calculator on your cell phone to determine the cost or phone a mathematically adept friend.

If all else fails, attempting to figure it out on your own can be a good money-saving effort. After wrestling with 15 percent off of $28 inside my head for a few minutes, I usually come to the conclusion I really don't need the shirt that bad anyway.

11. KNOW YOUR LIMIT. Take all the time you need to shop, but decide what you're buying before you get to the register. It's a simple concept, yet many times my "Hi, how are you today?" is met with "Don't let me go above $40."

Also, forgetting to grab one item and running to get it is forgivable; treating the checkout counter like a deliberation dock to decide what you really need and can afford is not. Step aside before you begin to check out to go over your purchases and call up that same mathematically inclined friend if need be.

10. DON'T COMPLAIN ABOUT THE CHANGE. By the look on some people's faces after I've given them $1 bills, you'd think I had spit in the palm of their hand. When it's busy and people are paying with big money, 5s and 10s run out quickly. Deal with it - it's still currency! I'm building up the courage to hand the next complainer a roll of quarters instead of the cash.

9. PAY IN EXACT CHANGE IF THE SITUATION WARRANTS - AND YOU HAVE IT. Everyone is quick to say "I have the change!" but far fewer actually deliver. Unless you owe 4 cents, don't hold up a line digging through your purse for loose pennies. Or, worse, don't search your pockets for that crumpled dollar bill to give with your $20 so you can get a 10 back. You're not going to be happy when my register opens.

8. CHECK FOR PAYMENT. While on the subject of money, make sure you have it on you! It never ceases to amaze me how many people go shopping, rack up a huge bill, then realize their payment of choice is still at home. Also, if you're under the age of 80 and insist on paying with a check, please have it partially filled out and have ID in hand when you get to the register.

7. THE STORE ISN'T YOUR PERSONAL TRASH CAN. I don't know why, but the sight of a checkout counter prompts some customers to empty their pockets of old receipts, used tissues and other unidentifiable, even grosser materials. Worse, they often leave their money in the mix for cashiers to sift through. Until stores accept strange hairs, empty soda bottles and pocket fuzzies as payment, keep it off the counter.


Present coupons up front, ask about a questionable item before it's rung up and hold on to receipts with your merchandise.

One time, a woman I swear I'd never seen before entered the food store where I work and plucked me like a criminal out of a police lineup as the cashier who'd sold her the gallon of milk that she a.) didn't have a receipt for and b.) didn't even have anymore - but wanted to "return."

The holiday shopping season is hectic enough - don't unfairly argue about coupons, make someone track down a manager for a void, or be the crazy person trying to send back phantom milk.

5. ARE YOU HAUGHTY. . . OR NICE? Whoever coined the phrase "the customer is always right" should be put down.

Too many consumers act like VIPs, and worker cheeriness can only last (or look legitimate) for so long before the countless long, busy shifts take their toll. Remember "please" and "thank you" go further than unpleasant demands. The response to the rude customer who suddenly needs an extra gift bag or box? "Sorry, it's not store policy."

4. EXPLAIN, DON'T EXCLAIM. Seasonal employees or slow machines can result in long lines and frustration. If someone is doing his or her best to help remedy a situation, show a little patience and ask for more assistance if it's needed. Demeaning someone who's already forced to wear a Santa hat is bad for everyone.

3. POSTPONE NOW? DON'T POUT LATER. For three years, I worked in a uniform store where some parents would try to purchase embroidered sweaters, plaid jumpers and specialty-size clothing the day before school started.

I still remember the shocked-stupid expressions when they found out the items would have to be ordered because tens of thousands of students had bought the same things earlier. No one in retail is making enough money to put up with a customer's bad attitude due to poor planning. If you wait until the last minute, be prepared to be let down. And trust that if the company says something will be in stock and it's not, the lowly salesperson had nothing to do with it.

2. PRACTICE GOOD PAYMENT. If you need to put a hand down your shirt, dig through a boot or look anywhere else on your body for funds (there's a story where I work that we refer to as "crotch money"), you need to invest in a wallet. It's not just incredibly crass, it's unsanitary. And no credit cards or writing instruments in your mouth, either.

1. NO, NO, NO "MERRY CHRISTMAS"? Lastly, don't try to correct a salesperson who wishes you a Merry Christmas - it's not necessary to debate religion, or nonbelief, on your way out the door. I'm paler than white in the wintertime, but if someone wished me a "Happy Kwanzaa," I'd graciously accept. The bottom line: Someone is wishing you well! Even if it doesn't apply, thank the person for the sentiment.

Kathleen Garvin works as an editorial assistant in King of Prussia and a part-time cashier. She made this list - and checked it twice.