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Best time to shop -- summer bargains

Summer

Airline tickets
There really is no best time of the year to buy plane tickets. But, if you expect to travel around the holidays, always plan ahead, because deals are hard to find.

"If you can get a good deal for Thanksgiving and Christmas at any time -- buy it. That is their peak period and airlines have a limited inventory," says Neil Bainton, chief operating officer of Farecompare.com, a travel planning Web site that tracks airline ticket prices.

In general, for nonholiday domestic travel, Bainton recommends that travelers never buy tickets more than 90 days away from their departure dates. "You want to watch the 21-day mark because some carriers will file their lowest fares as a 21-day advance purchase. And then the next window is at 14 days, which you really don't want to go by unless you're feeling lucky," says Bainton. Getting a good ticket price depends on the competition in the markets you're flying to and from and the supply of seats versus the demand.

Fares can change at the drop of a hat; airlines file updates to their fares three times per day: 10 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. weekdays, with one filing on Saturday and Sunday. "Most of the lowest fares are filed Tuesdays, Wednesdays and sometimes Saturdays. It depends on the carrier and the market," says Bainton.

Computers
The back-to-school shopping season typically ushers in a few sales on computers. "Retailers generally give some discounts during that time, about $100 off, and then you do see some of the phaseouts on some of the older models," says David Carnoy, executive editor for CNET.com.

But the most money can be saved by simply waiting. Computer technology moves so fast that the cutting edge models today become somewhat middle-of-the-road after a year. "The problem with computers is that the longer you wait, the more you're going to get for your money," he says.

"You do want to be attuned to what actually is coming out and whether something is toward the end of its life cycle. Maybe you'll hear about a new process or a new chip that goes in the computer and they are very costly when they first come out, which will make some of the machines that were expensive come down in price."

Furniture
New furniture hits the showrooms after the holidays, in February, and again in August. Jackie Hirschhaut, vice president of public relations and marketing for American Home Furnishings Alliance, says there are two times of the year for guaranteed low prices. "After the holidays in January, stores have clearance sales to make room for new inventory coming in February," she says. "And in July, the same thing happens with fall inventory. For instance, it may be the same wooden frame for sofas with different upholstery in new colors for fall."

Jewelry
For jewelry, it's more a matter of when not to buy if you're focused on getting the best deal possible. "You're going to pay closer to full price around the holidays because most jewelers generate one-third of their annual revenues and almost 100 percent of their annual profits in those two months," says Ken Gassman, founder and president of the Jewelry Industry Research Institute. "You're going to get great value the other eight months of the year." In general, avoid the fourth quarter -- that's when most of jeweler's yearly profits are made.

Real estate
Buying and selling season starts in March and goes through the summer. Spring invigorates the real estate market. "In the spring market, homes look the best, grasses are green, flowers and trees are in bloom. There's a whole new energy out there after the beginning of the year," says Tom Stevens, former president of the National Association of Realtors. Because spring is historically the time of the year when inventories are highest, competition is at its peak, as well. A contrarian shopper may find negotiating more to their liking in the fall and winter.

Other bargains in summer
Dahlias, hot dogs and other grilling items plus condiments, larkspur, LCD TVs, ranunculus, roses and zinnias.

Also:   Month-by-month

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