Need another way to stretch your budget? Plan your purchases ahead of time so you can buy during the most cost-effective times of the year. Do you have plans for both big and small purchases this year? Here’s what shopping experts recommend for timing those purchases.
Do your homework
Compare prices online so you’ll “know the relative value of an item before you shop,” says Kathy Borrus, author of The Fearless Shopper: How to Get the Best Deals on the Planet.
Once you know what an item is really worth, find out when the price of the product you’re planning to buy is the cheapest. Natalie van der Meer, features editor at Consumer Reports, says "our market analysts track prices for all sorts of different products and use that data to pinpoint the months of the year when prices are truly at their lowest."
"Of course, there will always be exceptions and one-off sales," van der Meer notes, so she also suggests using online services and smartphone apps that can alert you to money-saving deals such as Google Shopping, NexTag, PriceGrabber, Pricewatch and Shopzilla.
Use a shopping calendar
One example of a shopping calendar is published by Consumer Reports. We combined their research with other lists from around the web—shopping calendars from Nerdwallet, Dealnews and the Krazy Coupon Lady, among others—to make a master list of items to consider buying during any given month. These are general time frames and sales are always changing, so make sure to check your favorite stores often to catch when they run their best sales, especially around major holidays!
- January: holiday decor and merchandise, bedding and linens, food processors, fitness equipment, treadmills, elliptical trainers, bathroom scales, home furniture (new inventory arrives in February), TVs and home theater gear (just before the Super Bowl)
- February: winter clothes, winter sports gear
- March: air purifiers, space heaters, tax software, luggage, road bikes and bike helmets, air conditioners
- April: windows, sunscreen, vacuums, outdoor grills
- May: spring clothing, swimwear, blenders and other small kitchen appliances, freezers, decking, office furniture, mattresses
- June: gym memberships, pressure washers, string trimmers, movie tickets, Blu-Ray players
- July: summer clothing, dehumidifiers, over-the-range microwave ovens, washing machines
- August: back-to-school supplies and electronics, swimsuits, camping gear, storage containers
- September: desktop and notebook computers, leaf blowers, mattresses, indoor furniture
- October: jeans, outdoor furniture, smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, interior paint
- November: home appliances, ladders, tools and toolboxes, smart home devices, cookware, Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals
- December: electronics, toys, golf clubs, holiday items (starting December 26)
However, many products are “best buys” in more than one month:
- TVs: January, February, November, December
- Fitness trackers: November, December
- Humidifiers: January, February
- Laptop and tablet computers: August, November
- Printers: August, November
- Digital cameras: March, December
- Smartphones: November, December
- Smartwatches: June, November, December
- Headphones: August, November, December
- Wireless speakers: November, December
- Snow blowers: February, October
- Lawn mowers and lawn tractors: April, September
- Cordless drills: June, November, December
- Interior paint: February, October
- Vacuum cleaners: March, April, November
- Freezers: May, July
- Ranges: September, November
- Dishwashers: July, September, November
- Clothes dryers: July, September
- Outdoor furniture: June, July
- Outdoor grills: April, May (prices are lowest in May), July
Take advantage of tax holidays
Save even more by planning purchases to take advantage of state tax holidays—times when state sales taxes on certain items are dropped.
Many participating states’ tax holidays are timed for back-to-school savings on items such as clothing, computers, school supplies and books, but the list of eligible items varies, as do the terms, dates and days for each.
If you live in or near a participating state, your tax break could save four to seven percent, depending on the state’s regular (non-holiday) sales tax rate, says Carol Kokinis-Graves, JD, state sales and use tax analyst for Wolters Kluwer, CCH.
“Generally speaking, there are no residency requirements, so nonresidents can take advantage of neighboring state tax holidays,” Kokinis-Graves adds. For example, a teacher in Arizona or Colorado who occasionally visits New Mexico could plan to buy eligible products during New Mexico’s state sales tax holiday, if the cost (to get there) doesn’t outweigh the benefit (tax savings).
Tip: Be aware that other taxes could be in effect during a state tax holiday, Kokinis-Graves cautions. “Local jurisdictions often have the authority to impose their own sales and use taxes, and those localities may not join the state in providing a tax holiday,” she says, “so local taxes could still apply.”
Negotiate a better deal
Don’t be afraid to ask for a better price, says Borrus. If you ask merchants in a friendly manner, “Is this the best you can do?” or make an offer that’s lower than their lower price, “you might get a better deal.” Negotiation works best in small stores where the owner may be eager to reduce inventory but it’s worth trying at department stores too. “The worst they can say is no.”
When you’re shopping for books or goods for your school, “never pay full price without asking first if you can’t get a discount,” says Lyn Dunsavage Young, national media coordinator and schools specialist for Future Horizons, an Arlington, Texas-based publisher of books, DVDs and CDs on autism and related disorders.
Tip: Before you buy, check the publisher or distributor’s online prices. Often they’re lower than the catalog or store price, she adds.
Ask for volume discounts
When you’re ordering for your school, “you should be able to get at least a 30-40% discount” on the retail price of books and goods you purchase from the publisher or its distributors "Often, the discount depends on how many books or goods you're ordering," says Dunsavage Young.
Before you agree on a price, be sure to check the publisher’s or distributor’s online prices, she adds. Often they’re lower than the same company’s catalog rates or store prices.
Tip: If you’re considering using a particular book for a class next semester, call and ask if you can have a free sample. “Most publishers and distributors will give you a book” knowing they’ll increase their sales of that book when your department or bookstore reviews it, likes it and then orders it. “Other publishers will provide the book and, even if you don't choose it for your course, they'll give you up to a 50% discount on it, so you'll be getting a great buy just for asking to review the book,” Dunsavage Young adds.
Tap year-end opportunities
The two best times to shop for your school are at the end of the school’s fiscal year, usually June or July, and at Christmas, says Dunsavage Young.
Most publishers and distributors are willing to make fiscal year-end deals, knowing your funds are limited and must be spent before the end of the school year. “Tell them how much you have and what you want, and they’ll most likely work with you, within your budget, to get the volumes you need,” she advises.
Tip: At Christmas, book companies and distributors are trying to get rid of taxable inventory in their warehouses and “they’ll ho-ho-ho all the way to the bank if you buy as much inventory as possible at this time of the year.” You’ll save on prices, they’ll save on taxes. “Call and negotiate,” Dunsavage Young suggests. “You’ll be amazed what can be accomplished in the spirit of Christmas.”
Updated for 2019