The best time to buy almost everything

My mom has a sixth sense when it comes to bargain hunting. Where I'm thrilled to get 25 percent off and free shipping, she's finding deals of 70 percent off and getting inside scoop from the salespeople, who probably have her on speed dial should a ginormous everything-must-go-or-we-torch-it clearance sale come along.

Okay, so I'm exaggerating, but not by much. The point, however, is that the key to finding bargains is timing—off-season, end-of-season, new models bringing down prices on the old models. There's a pattern and a perfect time to buy just about anything.

When possible, plan your purchases by using the following list to score the best deals and to keep more of your money in your high interest savings account:

House and Home

  • Real estate—March through August are active months for buying and selling, so a buyer looking for a deal will have better luck negotiating on an offer in autumn and winter.
  • Flooring—Carpet and flooring goes on sale near the end of the year due to slow sales, though discounts are possible throughout the year from independent retailers.
  • Furniture—January and July, when stores need to make room for new inventory.
  • Gas grill—Like air conditioners, the best time to buy is during winter months, when demand for outdoor grills is low.
  • Cookware—April and May (think graduation and wedding prime time) and October and November (holidays approaching).
  • Linens—January “white sales” and the end of each season (i.e. as spring approaches, winter-colored linens will go on sale). It's common to see linens (in all colors, not just white!) on sale for up to 60 percent off retail.
  • Mattress—New mattresses arrive in stores in May, when you'll find a good deal on the previous year's models.
  • Vacuum cleaner—June, when new models hit the floors, and end of winter.
  • Hardware—Big sales occur around Father's Day and between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
  • Home appliances—New models arrive in September and October, when you'll find good deals on last year's models. Holiday weekends—Fourth of July, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Presidents Day—also are good bets for deals. If you're willing to buy an appliance with a ding or a scratch, you can save hundreds.
  • Air conditioner—Winter months, when demand is low.

Flora

  • Flowers—Tulips are less expensive in February, peonies in May. Flowers are at their best when in season.
  • Shrubs, trees, etc.—Autumn is a good time to buy bulbs (store them according to directions on the packaging) and trees and shrubs (nurseries are trying to clear out inventory).

Recreation

  • Outdoor (general)—Swings, beach and pool toys, swimming gear, and other outdoor items go on sale in August, when retailers are trying to make room for fall and winter items.
  • Outdoor gear (bicycles, for example)—February and March, when new models replace last year's models.
  • Boat—Boat shows, held from January through March, generally offer the best prices.
  • Gym membership—Membership sales soar in January as everyone resolves to lose weight, but lag in spring and summer. You'll find lower fees and waived enrollment fees to lure you to their treadmills.
  • Movie tickets—Matinees are an established way to spend less at the theater (as is smuggling in your own M&Ms, not that I'd condone such behavior or ever do so myself…). A.M. Cinema (AMC Theaters) sells discounted tickets before noon from Friday to Sunday and on holidays.
  • Broadway tickets—Find bargains hours before the show, or try the well-known TKTS booth in Times Square.

Electronics

  • Blu-ray player—Black Friday sales and after-Christmas sales offer some of the best deals.
  • TV—Sales can be found throughout the year. Times to note include Black Friday, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, right after New Year's Day, before the Super Bowl, and in May and June. New models hit stores in August and September, when you'll find sales on new models and discounts on the previous year models.
  • Cell phone—New customers get the best deals. For new phones, wait six months if you can. Search online for coupon codes, as well.
  • Digital camera—The Consumer Electronics Show and Photo Marketing Association convention mean new models will arrive in stores. Shop in January and February for deals on last year's models.
  • Computer—Back-to-school season yields a few sales, but the best deals can be found when a technology is outdated and retailers want to get rid of the older models. Look for a few extras (free shipping, bundled accessories, etc.) around the holidays.
Tip: In general, you'll find a good deal when an electronic item is outdated. Wait until after technology shows like MacWorld and the International Consumer Electronics Show to see if your iWhatever will be discounted to make way for the next big thing.

Auto

  • New car—New models roll into the lot in fall, so shop in September for last year's model. Shop on a weekday at the end of the month to get the undivided attention of a salesperson trying to make their monthly quota.
  • Used car—Dealers increase their inventory in April to start the spring selling season. You'll find a good selection and willing negotiators.
  • Recreational vehicle—Dealers sometimes offer specials in winter, but generally buying an RV works like buying a car (see new cars).
  • Gasoline—Fuel up on a weekday, early in the morning if gas prices are rising or in the evening if gas prices are going down (prices are usually changed between 10 a.m. and noon).
  • Oil change—Look for early bird specials in your area.
  • Tires and auto parts—During April (National Car Care Month) and October (Fall Car Care Month), you are likely to find buy-three-get-one-free deals on tires, free oil changes, and other checkups.
  • Car wash—Early birds (before 8 or 9 a.m.) can often find deals at full-service car washes.

Travel

  • Airline tickets—For domestic nonholiday travel, look for the lowest fares 21 days from your departure. Fares are updated at 10 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 8 p.m. on weekdays, and airlines file one update on Saturday and Sunday. Lowest fares are filed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and occasionally on Saturdays. Wednesday is generally the cheapest day to fly and Sunday the most expensive. (Exception: the Wednesday before Thanksgiving—the busiest travel day of the year.) For holiday travel, start looking in September to get a good price. Fares can change quickly, and much depends on the carrier and the market.
  • Travel (general)—The off-season or shoulder-season for your destination will offer the most savings on lodging, recreation, transportation, etc.

Food

  • Groceries (supermarket)—On Sunday evenings, you'll save money through store sales (typically run Wednesday through Thursday), and by shopping in the evening, you can save even more on items that must be sold by day's end. If you clip coupons from the Sunday newspaper, you'll enjoy additional savings.
  • Coupons—While coupons are available throughout the year, the most coupons appear in the Sunday paper during November and December. The best deals on turkeys can be found two weeks before Thanksgiving to Christmas. In spring, you'll find coupons on seasonal produce, ham, and frozen food (apparently March is National Frozen Food Month—who knew?). Summer coupons offer discounts on grilling items and ice cream. Autumn brings coupons on soup and other canned items.
  • Groceries (farmers market)—Vendors often lower prices near closing to avoid having to pack up perishables and take them back to the farm.
  • Champagne—With steep competition to be your New Year's Eve bubbly, Champagne houses drop prices during the holidays.

Clothing and Accessories

  • Clothing (general)—Got your heart set on something in particular? Shop on a Thursday evening six to eight weeks after the item arrived in the store. By Thursday, the weekend sales have started and the selection will still be good. Season-end clearance sales also offer up savings.
  • Baby clothes—Shop during your pregnancy for end-of-season clearance items. If it's springtime and you are due in winter, look for winter closeout sales now for infant clothing.
  • Jewelry—Avoid the holidays, when you are most likely to pay full price.

Weddings

  • Wedding (general)—The off-season can mean big discounts. If you live in a cooler climate, you'll find savings during the winter months. Hotter climates mean likely deals in summer months.
  • Wedding dresses—After Thanksgiving and before Christmas. Boutiques are stocked with gowns for Christmas engagements, but it's a slow sales period.

Other

  • Toys—October and November offer good bargains as retailers gear up for the holiday season.
  • Wrapping paper—January, of course!

I might not ever be as good as my mom at bargain hunting, but knowing when to shop might make me almost as good. If you're one to make resolutions every new year, resolve to save money and correcting your small errors by including a check on your free credit report to make a huge difference in your purchases in 2010 by timing your purchases.

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Mrs. Money
Mrs. Money
10 years ago

This is awesome! We bought a dishwasher on the Sunday after Black Friday and got a super deal on it! Now we’re considering buying some new furniture but wanted to wait until the best time. 🙂

2 Cents
2 Cents
10 years ago

Thanks for the detailed list! We just bought a new washer and dryer on January 2nd. It was a top-rated set, but the store had a number of them in stock and was selling them for less in order to make way for new inventory in the New Year.
It pays to shop at the right time!

Ben
Ben
10 years ago

General principles to be gleaned from this
1. Out after there is high demand, at the end of the season, accept in high loss leader industries like groceries
2. Buy during promotional periods like sales, pertinent holidays/observances (car care month, black friday) and using coupons

mario (arm-and-leg-safe shopper)
mario (arm-and-leg-safe shopper)
10 years ago

Got a great deal on a really nice jacket last Sunday (1/3). Been eyeing it at Old Navy since early Christmas ’09. It was $49.95. Got it for $14.99. My patience paid off.

Four Pillars
Four Pillars
10 years ago

Nice list.

One thing about getting things out of season is that your selection might be curtailed to the point where the savings are irrelevant.

If you are buying a house then late in the year is a slow time but there is often very little inventory. Buying sporting equipment out of season is the same thing – lots of stores just won’t carry them.

Chickybeth
Chickybeth
10 years ago

This is a great post because I am always seeing little hints about when to buy this or that, but can’t remember where to look when I need a bargain. I’m bookmarking this right now…..Thanks, April!

friend
friend
10 years ago

April, thank you for taking the time to do the research on this. It’s all the detail that makes it so useful! I will refer back to this many times, I’m sure.

Rebecca
Rebecca
10 years ago

Fantastic!! Thank you, April!!

Meg
Meg
10 years ago

Very cool list! Just to expand on when to have a wedding – I know a few couples who got married in spring/summer, but they had their weddings on a week night, or on a holiday that isn’t typically associated with weddings (eg, my parents attended a wedding on Holy Saturday one year – the bride and groom were not religious, fwiw). Vendors were giving these couples discounts left-and-right, and the couples had a great turnout, too, as many of their guests were local. As Saturday evening weddings are the “thing” to have around here, some couples have managed to… Read more »

Jill
Jill
10 years ago

We’ve had good luck buying new cars the week after Christmas through early January. The dealers want to max out their sales numbers for the years to look good for their auto companies, and no one wants to have a 2005 model still sitting on the lot when it’s 2006.

Katharine
Katharine
10 years ago
J.D.
J.D.
10 years ago

@Katharine (#10)
Ugh! No, it’s not a copy post. April gave this to me a couple of weeks ago, but I held onto it until today so that it could get some attention during the new year instead of dying during the holidays. One of the places I wanted it to get attention from was Lifehacker, but as you just pointed out, they just ran a post of their own like that. I’ve outsmarted myself! 🙂

Shara
Shara
10 years ago

When my sister worked at Macy’s she would get great deals on stuff headed for the bargain bin. Sometimes $0.99 on items that started out closer to $100 because it was the only one left and they just didn’t care anymore. One thing I didn’t see April cover is that you should STILL ask for a discount. And of course be nice to the sales people. Many will give you the inside scoop on what is about to come on sale or what their company policy is on this or that. I have also found some great deals on returned… Read more »

Miriam
Miriam
9 years ago
Reply to  Shara

I have never seen a .99 cent bin at Macy’s Does your sister have any details on how this works or where it can be located at the store. That would be FANTASTIC to find out.

Suzanne
Suzanne
10 years ago

Four Pillars is right about the selection. Clearly, when you buy off-season, you’re getting the “leftovers”. That will be a problem or not be a problem depending on your personal needs.

I bought my condo in December some years back and though I got a great deal, there were very few to choose from. I had to compromise on several key things, but in the end it’s been a huge bargain.

April
April
10 years ago

@Katherine–If that Lifehacker post had come out *before* I wrote my article, you can bet I would have included their suggestion for when to buy chocolate! 😀

Lynda
Lynda
10 years ago

A bit of advice on televisions; don’t buy the latest model TV as soon as it comes out unless you’ve checked audio visual forums. If there are problems, or glitches, or software or hardware faults, you can get that information from people who have bought the new model. You then buy the next manufacturing run with the problem rectified!

Lesley
Lesley
10 years ago

Related to Four Pillars comment, I have a hard time ever buying clothes on sale racks, because I wear the most common size. By the time it’s discounted, my size is usually gone. And what there is in my size is usually leftover for a reason… it’s hideous.

I’m sure it works for those who wear the less common sizes though!

Elizabeth Barthel
Elizabeth Barthel
9 years ago
Reply to  Lesley

Try clothes on when they first come out and sizes are available – then wait 4-6 wks for turnover. Make sure to get SKU number and check for item online-they usually have tevsize. I have done this for Macy’s,New York and Company, and Black white market. Have gotten most $88 tops for $20 or less and dresses that were $200 for $49.99 have fun shopping and combine coupon codes for even better savings

elisabeth
elisabeth
10 years ago

these lists may have less relevance in this economic climate, when sales seem to occur immediately and continuously!
and for things like wrapping paper, I often go to a dollar store…

Sara
Sara
10 years ago

I’m in the market for a TV, and it looks like there are some good deals right now, but some people seem to think that I should wait until after the Superbowl.

Joel
Joel
10 years ago

A really thorough, exhaustive list — thanks for the detail. We need new furniture and we were going to buy in February, but I think we’ll start looking sooner to get in on that January deal. But about buying electronics: Sometimes, it helps to slow down and really consider what you need from the device (GPS, cell phone, netbook, what have you). I remember spending ages investigating which DVD player to buy, and I realized it had gotten to the point of absurdity when I was spending hours mulling whether the units I was considering had the Faroudja chip. I… Read more »

Michael
Michael
10 years ago

For real estate and cars, in particular, don’t forget to check your member warehouse club benefits booklets for special discount programs. I’ve bought two homes using Costco’s affiliations with realtors and with Lending Tree, resulting in savings and rebates amounting to many thousands of dollars.

Jacque
Jacque
10 years ago

When my good friend Molly was engaged, she and her fiance bought Christmas ornaments in January before they got married in anticipation of their first Christmas together.

I thought it was a brilliant idea (my husband and I didn’t have a tree this year) and went to Target last week and got all of our tree docorations for $7.63 with tax for next year (when we will have a tree). We saved a total of 72%!

John
John
10 years ago

I don’t get this:

“Cell phones: For new phones, wait six months if you can.”

Six months from when? When you sign up? When your current contract is up? December?

Shara
Shara
10 years ago

Sara @ 18

I have always heard the best time is BEFORE the Superbowl when everyone is looking for a new TV before the game and places are fighting for their business. It’s like buying a turkey for Thanksgiving. The best deals are typically the week before, not the week after unless a specific store has way more inventory than they need.

John @ 22

I think she means six months past the initial release of the phone. Less than that and you are paying for it being ‘new’. More than that and you risk the technology going obsolete faster.

Katelyn
Katelyn
10 years ago

to John #22: I’d guess they mean 6 months from when the “new” model of phone came out. Many of them have lots of problems when they first come out and you can avoid that by waiting a few months. You also don’t have to pay the “brand new/latest thing” price.

Wes
Wes
10 years ago

@Sara #18: Shopping for a TV now is ideal, as long as you don’t think you need a 72″ 50,000:1 480Hz 1080p LED wireless do-everything model. CES is going on right now, so a bunch of the new models introduced there should be on sale by the Superbowl, which will give you great deals on normal-person TVs. If you’re not super picky, get a basic Vizio from Walmart, or a floor model/discount from one of the electronics box stores (and pleeeeease don’t buy any accessories from there! $50 for an HDMI cable? seriously?) Online is an option too, but watch… Read more »

Jay
Jay
10 years ago

For groceries this used to work. When I lived in Cleveland the new sales flier started on Sunday. (In Dallas this has somehow moved to Thursday) If the grocery store was open 24 hrs you could go between midnight Saturday and 6 AM Sunday and they would honor both sets of sales. One time I walked out of the grocery store and they paid me money, it was only like 67 cents but it felt great.

Afzal
Afzal
10 years ago

Good list with most of the stuff. Thanks!

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
10 years ago

First: —- The only way to take advantage of most of this is to buy a bunch of stuff you don’t need, and that’s not really saving you any money. Explanation: Take “hardware” as an example. When do you usually buy a new tool? You buy it when you’re trying to complete a project that requires it for the first time. Let’s assume a power drill for this example. Here’s your normal course of action. traditional course of action: 1) Start project that requires drill. 2) Realize you have no drill. 3) Go to hardware store and buy drill at… Read more »

Shevonne
Shevonne
10 years ago

Bookmarked it and sent it to all of my family. Thanks!

Shara
Shara
10 years ago

@ Tyler You have some good points, but regarding the hardware and homes I think there is a little more to it. My husband and I have done multiple home improvement projects. We are planned out a couple years on projects due to money and time. Part of the money equation is having the right tools for the job. I haven’t followed the tips in April’s post, but we monitor the prices and when expensive tools go on sale we snatch them up. We got some really good deals this past fall. Why? Because a lot of places are hurting… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
10 years ago

I initially started thinking like Tyler #28 with respect to the idea that this list could encourage people to buy things they don’t need and store them, but then I realized that many of the things listed are durables that have to be replaced from time to time, but not right away, unlike the drill example (like a mattress). Our housing market does have a sinusoidal curve for housing prices (just total price though… I think you’d ideally want cost per square foot or something adjusting for quality– students and professors are in different housing markets) and units sold, and… Read more »

Johanna S.
Johanna S.
10 years ago

There’s actually a book devoted to exactly this. It’s Buy Ketchup in May and Fly at Noon: A Guide to the Best Time to Buy This, Do That and Go There by Mark Di Vicenzo. He’s an investigative reporter and lists all his sources at the end, too. Most of this would seem like pretty common sense stuff, but as others have noted, unless you have money to spend on sales for things you might possibly need sometime in the future (that sweater looks great in March when it’s $7, but will it just get pushed to the back of… Read more »

Nancy L.
Nancy L.
10 years ago

One thing I’d point out is that retail calendars are now being compressed. Many clearance sales actually begin sooner than what people are used to. For example, in our area, we saw most Xmas items going on clearance BEFORE the actual holiday, rather than on the 26th as they historically would. Also, buying in the complete off season for gas grills is not nearly as good as shopping the late summer clearance sales. In our area, you might find 1-2 grills at best to choose from during the winter months, and they will not be discounted in the least. Likewise… Read more »

Four Pillars
Four Pillars
10 years ago

Tyler, you still have to use common sense in addition to any “timing rules” that may or may not exist. Drills are cheap – if that’s all you are buying then just go and buy one for $50 or $100 (or whatever). If you are planning a whole pile of DIY project on your house (like Shara) over the next few years then it might make sense to try to put some effort into saving money since you will probably be spending several thousand $ on tools. If you can save 10% on $5k then that is worth spending a… Read more »

Donna
Donna
10 years ago

April, a note on toys: I used to work in retail and the best prices are after Christmas when the toy section is reduced by several aisles to make way for summer stuff so the stores quickly clearance it. This is great way to get a gift for someone if you are not looking for a specific item or you have kids with birthdays right after the holidays.

Meg
Meg
10 years ago

I’m with #31. DH and I need a new grill. We didn’t buy one last summer, due to cash flow, but we will look now and see if we can scoop up a good deal. We’re not too picky on features – the grill doesn’t have to do a zillion different things – so we’re ok with getting a good, basic model at a reasonable price. So, Nicole and April are both right – lots of these things are not usually “have to replace right nownownow” for most people. Sure, you might need new luggage or a grill or mattress,… Read more »

Little House
Little House
10 years ago

I found out the hard way about purchasing items in their “off” months. We bought a charcoal grill during the summer for around $325. This holiday season, we saw it on sale for HALF OFF! We realized right then and there that seasonal items need to be purchased in their OFF season! I am such a “hands-on” learner.

Emmy
Emmy
10 years ago

Great post! I’ll add to the Broadway ticket tip that day-of sales are a good idea for any show in any major city. Especially for shows that have longer runs; I saw Spring Awakening several times in SF just by showing up at the box office a couple hours before the show, and it was never sold out. Rush tickets are usually $40 or under, and the seats are usually in the back/side of the orchestra or in the balcony. Plus you don’t have to deal with getting gouged on ticketmaster fees. Also there are show-specific deals geared toward young… Read more »

Tomas Stonkus
Tomas Stonkus
10 years ago

Awesome!

Love it:) I just bookmarked this page for future reference.

I am starting to become very fond of buying this during the off periods. I am sure I will utilize this list in the future once I get a job.

Thanks a bunch for sharing!

Best,
Tomas

chacha1
chacha1
10 years ago

“And if you’re buying a house you are probably in a situation where you HAVE to buy so your desperation counters the seller’s desperation.” @Shara, really?? I think anyone who thinks they “have” to buy a house, at any time of the year, needs to meet with a counselor first. There should never be any desperation on the buyer’s side, there is ALWAYS somewhere else to live. I am sure someone will have a bucketful of examples why they had to buy a house in a day, but desperation = bad decisions. As to shopping for homes during the winter… Read more »

Meg
Meg
10 years ago

#40:

I can see what you’re saying, and I don’t necessarily disagree, but this is why DH and I didn’t buy our house until the spring several years ago. When it’s springtime and warmer weather, you see your potential neighbors out and about, and you get an idea of what the neighborhood is like – does the neighborhood have a lot of kids? Do you see a lot of people working on their yards, chatting with each other, etc.? I saw exactly that during the open house for our now home, and that’s what attracted me to it.

RJ Weiss
RJ Weiss
10 years ago

Wow! Very extensive list. Will have to bookmark for future reference.

Just as an example of timing. I bought a grill in late September this year. Not only were we able to get a discount, but we negotiated the price down with the department manager. I’m finding that you can negotiate anywhere.

Shara
Shara
10 years ago

@ chacha1 I understand your point, and I agree that you need to examine your thinking whenever you get caught up in the emotion of spending money. But moving is a big deal, no matter your reasons. If I am relocating to a location I am familiar with and I have to start work the first day of the new year I am going to buy a house rather than move into a rental for four months (which landlords frown on) live out of boxes and then move on, or move in for 16-18 months and deal with re-packing and… Read more »

Jolene Clark
Jolene Clark
10 years ago

This comment is not necessarily relevant to this posting but more that it is my first time to this blog and have very much enjoyed it! I saw the reference on today’s Yahoo! article on lowering your cable bill. My husband and I are in the middle (well, more like 3/4 of the way) through eliminating $50,000 of debt we accumulated from when we first started dating over 8 years ago. We now, have only $14,000 left after being on a plan for 5 years. Sometimes we can’t believe it’s true but by sitting down and being serious about making… Read more »

Steven
Steven
10 years ago

Stocks

Best time to buy is when everyone else is selling.

David/Yourfinances101
David/Yourfinances101
10 years ago

What a great post–you can almost plan out your whole year of purchasing with this–thanks

Peter
Peter
10 years ago

Good overall list! Being an educated shopper (i.e. being in control of your strengths) is worthwhile, as long as you exercise constraint.

However, the best time to buy something is when you need it.

Buying even a few things that you don’t really need just because they’re on sale usually ends up being a waste of money and your time.

LiveCheap.com
LiveCheap.com
10 years ago

Kudos on this list. From having bought many of these things and following a similar logic, I’ve always been able to snag a great deal. But many of these are new for me. With regard to housing, the Thanksgiving to Superbowl rule works extremely well (and probably longer in northern areas of the country). We bought our house in December/January and it was easy beating up on the sellers at that time. About 6 months later two houses in our neighborhood sold at higher prices/ square foot in a declining market and they sold fast. The golden rule of buying… Read more »

John DeFlumeri Jr
John DeFlumeri Jr
10 years ago

That was the most compehensive, and the most up-to-date course on the timeliness of buying, that I have ever seen. You did a great job on it!

Thank You, John DeFlumeri Jr

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