smart spending

The best time to buy anything

If you're waiting until your refrigerator gasps out its last breath of cold air to shop for a new one, you could be missing out on a chance for big savings. Timing your purchases to coincide with manufacturer discounts, clearance sales and off-season discounts will take the stress out of finding a good price on almost anything.

We spoke with a few experts to get the inside scoop on the best times of the year to shop.

Air conditioners

Best time: Winter

Common sense prevails in the air-conditioning market, according to Diane Ritchey, editor of Home Appliance magazine. "Think about when they're most in use -- May through September. People feel the heat and they start to buy. The stock gets depleted, the demand is higher and so is the price. When cool weather comes around, most people just aren't into air-conditioner purchasing, so the demand drops, as does the price," she says.

Airline tickets

Best time: It depends

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 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.

Big appliances

Best time: September and October

Just like the fall clothing influx, new models of major appliance models such as ranges and washing machines hit showroom floors in September and October, says Home Appliance's Ritchey. At about the same time, last year's models go on sale to make room.

"Critical timing and seeing the patterns of the retail world can make a huge difference in appliance shopping," says Ritchey.

Bicycles and outdoor gear

Best time: January

"If you want the newest stuff, the time to look is in February and March when the season's models come out. The stores start replacing fall and winter stuff with spring and summer models, and that's true for most all outdoor gear from shoes to bikes, hiking gear, everything," says Dennis Lewon, senior editor for Outside magazine.  

Some companies will send out special holiday items that will land in the discount section after the season. "In general most of the new products come to stores in February," says Lewon. "January is good for looking for the old models in the classic post-holiday shopping period."

Boats

Best time: January to March

According to Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the winter boat show season is the time to get a good price on a new boat. "The primary winter boat show season is January, February and March. Going to a boat show is the easiest way to see the latest model of boats for many manufacturers, and compare features," he says. "Also, dealers typically offer their best pricing during boat shows."

Cars

Best time: September

New model years begin appearing at dealerships in the fall, making September an ideal time to snatch up the previous year's model at a discount. By the end of the year inventory dwindles, so acting earlier assures a determined buyer of the best selection. Another tip for buying a new car: "Monitor the number of days that a truck or car sits on a lot. Anytime a car or truck isn't selling well you can get a good deal," says Phillip Reed consumer advice editor for Edmunds.com and co-author of "Strategies for Smart Car Buyers." Shop on a weekday to get the undivided attention of the sales staff, and go at the end of the month when they're trying to make quotas. Be sure to go early in the morning or early in the afternoon and show up well-rested and with a full belly. "You don't want to be hungry or tired," says Reed. He also recommends using the Internet department to broker the deal, you'll save money and skip the high-pressure negotiations in the finance and insurance office. "Often the person who delivers the car to you isn't even a salesman but a porter. You just sign the papers and it's done," says Reed.

Cell phones

Best time: Any time

A new cell phone comes out approximately every five minutes. Obviously, that's hyperbole, but John Morris, editor of home and entertainment coverage for CNET.com, says the team reviewing cell phones can barely keep up with the steady stream of new models being offered. "The market for cell phones doesn't follow any seasonal trend or technological advances. Also, their release schedule is dictated by carriers as well as manufacturer, which makes it a little more complicated," he says.

Computers

Best time: July and August

If you're shopping for a low price on a computer, buying slightly older technology can save you some money. Following the release schedule of chip makers AMD and Intel will offer some clues as to when computer manufacturers will offer updates and redesigns, says CNET's Morris.

Chip manufacturers turn out upgrades quickly, about every three months, with major computer manufacturers following suit. Otherwise, a good rule of thumb to follow is to buy in the middle of the summer to take advantage of the back-to-school sales or the winter holiday markdowns.

Cookware

Best time: April to May; October to November

"There are two big seasons for cookware and cookware promotions," says Hugh Rushing, executive vice president of the Cookware Manufacturers Association. "One is in the spring, in April and May, coinciding with the graduation and wedding season. The other is in October and November with promotions in regard to the holidays."

Furniture

Best time: January and July

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."  

Gas grills

Best time: Winter

Ritchey says when it comes to gas barbecue grills, timing for the best deal is the same as shopping for air-conditioners. "Most people buy in May, June and July for backyard barbecues. But wait until winter comes to buy, when demand is low."

Jewelry

Best time: Avoid the holidays, Valentine's Day and Mother's Day

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.

Linens and bedding

Best time: January

The white sale was a marketing strategy originally devised by John Wanamaker in 1878 and it was so successful that retailers still follow his lead today. "January is kind of an industry standard," says Deb Dyer, marketing director for Cuddledown. "That is the time of the year when you are going to see a lot of white sales by everyone -- retailers, catalogers, everything. Linens do come out seasonally, so you'll see new colors in stores for spring and summer and then fall and winter." Just as with clothing, bargains can be found on the previous season's styles.

Mattresses

Best time: Always

Is it always a good time to buy a mattress? It is if you ask Nancy Shark, executive director of the Better Sleep Council, a consumer education project supported by the mattress industry. "There really isn't one best time to buy a mattress. Retailers always have sales and are always doing their own thing," she says. "The emphasis should be on looking for the best level of comfort and support within your budget. A mattress is a really personal choice based entirely on individual preference. In terms of shopping, look for store services, delivery, and removal of old bedding, and be sure to test out the mattress before buying."

Real estate

Best time: Spring

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, immediate past 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.

RVs

Best time: Fall and winter

The market for recreational vehicles works somewhat like that of autos. "The model years change over like cars, so there is some special availability of the previous years product during the fall," says Phil Ingrassia, vice president of communications for the Recreation Vehicle Dealers of America. Throughout the winter there may be some show specials that dealers offer or other incentives to entice people to buy.

Toys

Best time: October and November

Retailers open up the toy chest in October and November to kick-start their money-making season, says Reyne Rice, toy trend specialist of the Toy Industry Association. "This is the time of year for games and puzzles," she says. "Retailers will usually do a buy one, get one free promotion." If you're buying a gift for someone, the important thing to consider is whether it's appropriate for the recipient rather than its status as the hottest new item. "It's more important to buy something that they'll love," Rice says.

TVs/home theater

Best time: Winter holiday sales and January

For home theater items, in general, the holidays are a good time, says Morris. New TV models that were announced earlier in the year at the consumer electronics show in January arrive in stores in August and September. They drop in price a few months after their debut, as well as knocking down the price on the older models.

Vacuum cleaners

Best time: April and May

Most new vacuum models come out in June, says Ritchey. The prices on the older models start winding down as winter comes to an end, just in time for spring cleaning.

Wedding

Best time: Winter

Getting married during the off-season can net big savings. Demand for wedding services wanes during the very cold months -- or if you happen to be in a tropical climate, the very hot months -- and that can work to your advantage. Read 7 ways to save on an off season wedding for tips on a winter-wonderland wedding, or sweltering summer nuptials, as the case may be.

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