The best time to buy

Planning ahead for this year's budget? When to hunt for the deals on the items you want.

There are some purchases we can’t predict — but when we can plan ahead, we can stretch our shopping dollars by taking advantage of cyclical and off-season deals. We scoured the internet to see what experts say about the best times to buy. Here are some of the highlights:

Winter

- Love LED and solar lights, but not the price? Plan ahead for next year and buy your Christmas decorations at an attractive discount just before the big event and right after.

- Didn’t get your fill of holiday treats? Watch for holiday foods like cookies and frozen appetizers to go on sale after the holidays. A word of warning: stock up on chocolate now, or wait until after Valentine’s Day (when this popular treat goes up in price).

- The busy holiday shopping season is over, so it’s time to clear out all the things that didn’t sell. Many popular gift items go on sale in the New Year including cookware, linens, movies, music and toys. If you’re looking for electronic devices like digital cameras or music players, start hunting in February. If you missed the Christmas sales on computers, hold on for March.

- Winter is far from over, but it’s a good time for deals on winter clothes and gear. Winter clothing sales start in January (if not sooner), and the prices of coats and sports gear will dip even further as the winter months wear on.

- Perhaps retailers are catering to New Year’s resolutions, but fitness equipment and gym memberships also tend to go on sale in January and February.

- Then there’s the biggest purchase of all: homes and condos. With all the snow and slush, winter isn’t a popular time to buy a home so there’s less demand in the market. Items to make your home more comfortable (like a humidifier) or more attractive (like indoor furniture, carpeting and flooring) will go on sale this season.

Spring

- According to experts, sales on small consumer electronics and computers generally continue well into the spring. It may be a good time to pick up the latest camera ahead of your summer vacation.

- It’s also the start of wedding and graduation season, so watch for items like cookware and linens that would help set up a new home. (Or to add to your own stash.)

- If you’re hosting a party or major event, May is a good time to stock up on party supplies.

- Need tools? You don’t have to be a dad to take advantage of Father’s Day sales.

- Still sticking to your fitness routine? Shop around for athletic apparel and gear, particularly swimwear and summer sports gear. (Once the summer months hit, these items will be in high demand.)

- Deals aren’t just for new items either. Experts note that April is the best month to buy a used car. Not only are people trading in their older cars, but dealers also stock up on used vehicles too. In other words, there may be more variety and more room to bargain than other times of the year.

- Travellers take note: it’s shoulder season. The weather is getting better and the days are longer, but the hot temperatures and summer crowds haven’t arrived yet. Whether you’re taking a road trip or a major vacation, now is a good time to get some deals.

Summer

- Don’t shop too early for outdoor furniture! Price drops won’t appear until summer is already underway. However, if you’re shopping for indoor furniture, check out the sales in June and July.

- In most areas of Canada, this time of year is undoubtedly the best for fresh produce. Time to stock up your freezer and make your preserves and jams.

- Need an upgrade? Computers and accessories start to go on sale ahead of the busy back-to-school season.

- In August, many summer items like air conditioners, camping equipment, dehumidifiers, patio furniture, lawn mowers and barbeques start to go on sale — and there might still be time to use them this year.

- Don’t put away the garden tools just yet. Late summer and early fall are the cheapest times to pick up plants, shrubs, bulbs and other gardening supplies.

Fall

- Prices on summer items continue to drop as the season becomes an ever-distant memory and retailers want to get rid of seasonal merchandise. (After all, they don’t want to be stuck with the items for another year.) The longer you wait, the better the deal — but the more limited the selection.

- The fall harvest offers some tasty and inexpensive fare, especially if you’re a wine enthusiast. Many wineries launch their new vintages during the fall harvest season, and it’s also a good time to take in a wine festival.

- If you still haven’t bought this year’s tech gadgets, now is your chance. New products are on the way for Christmas, so look for deals on current models.

- Same goes for cars: new vehicles are showing up on the lots, so it’s time to start hunting for deals on the current model year. If you’re not fussy about colours or options, wait until later in the season (and until the end of the month) to negotiate the best deals. (That’s when salespeople are most eager to meet quotas.)

- While wedding season is long gone, Christmas/New Year’s engagements haven’t happened yet so there’s a bit of a drop in demand for wedding dresses in the late winter months. Watch for year-end sales and discounts too.

- Hobby enthusiasts should keep their eyes open starting in late November and early December for Christmas craft materials and tools. Retailers know that serious crafters have already made their holiday decorations and gifts by now, and many stores have year-end inventory coming up.

- For travellers to some parts of the world, it’s shoulder season again — if you don’t mind the weather or the shortening hours of daylight.

What about all those Christmas sales? This year, retailers surprised us with early Boxing Day-type sales to get people out shopping. No one is sure what will happen with the economy next year, but the holiday season might just be a good time to hunt for big tickets item like TVs, computers or other electronics. (Another bonus: you have all year to save up.)

Year-round rules of thumb

Not all sales revolve around the months and seasons. Here are some general trends to keep in mind:

- Buy off-season for seasonal items like snow blowers, patio furniture, clothes and holiday decorations.

- Avoid peak season summer months and holidays for travel. If you don’t want to risk off-season weather and closures, try the shoulder season (the transition months between peak and off-season) instead.

- Buy fresh food when it’s in season, and watch for sales on produce and non-perishable goods around major holidays and celebrations.

- We all know that clothes go on sale as the season draws to a close, but many staple items like jeans, sweaters and career separates can be layered and adapted for multi-season use.

- Watch for pre-inventory or year-end sales at your favourite stores — but beware their fiscal year-end doesn’t always match the calendar. (Sign up for their newsletters to keep up with the promotions or ask the staff.)

- According to experts, holiday long weekends are a prime time for sales, especially on big-ticket items like appliances.

- For electronics and cars, buy the current model just before (or during) a new model launch. Keep an eye on the latest news and trends from manufacturers for a heads-up.

- Wait it out. You’ll pay more for the latest tech toy and the latest fashions if you have to have them right away. Prices on new technology tend to fall within six to twelve months, and retailers tend to drop prices on new clothes after one or two months.

- Don’t hesitate to haggle! If you’re buying clearance or off-season, it doesn’t hurt to ask “is that the best price?”

Overall, the best money-saving tip to keep in mind is not to buy an item just because it’s a good deal. If you really want to save money, do some planning and research first — and avoid impulse buys!

Sources: About.com, Consumer Reports, Forbes.com, Kiplinger.com, SmartMoney.com

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Ivan Bajic



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