Savvy consumers time their purchases to reap benefits of discounts
By Gregory Karp
Published: Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, 8:57 p.m.
“To every thing there is a season,” says a passage in the Bible and, much later, lyrics to the hit song, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” made famous by the 1960s folk-rock band The Byrds.
It's what smart spenders say.
Amazing seasonal discounts are available if only you correctly time your purchases. For example, many careful shoppers know that many types of clothing are discounted near the end of the season.
But consumers might not know there are predictably ideal times to buy televisions, gym memberships and perfume. And probably very few know that May is the month to stock up on ketchup and deodorant. Meanwhile, some people think they know why buying gasoline in the morning is a good idea, but they're probably wrong.
Fundamental to the concept of seasonal buying is that prices change — sometimes dramatically and sometimes frequently, especially online. That's why timing your purchases works, racking up huge savings if you repeatedly buy on price dips throughout the year.
“The whole thing about buying things at the right times is about saving money, and people want to do that, no matter what the economy is like,” said Mark Di Vincenzo, author of the new book “Buy Shoes on Wednesday and Tweet at 4:00.” “The smart shoppers are the folks who are looking and planning ahead.”
Often seasonality is a supply-and-demand thing; prices decrease when supply is high and demand is low. That's why you can get better deals on gas grills in September and hot tubs in January. While some items are best purchased during particular calendar seasons, other deals, notably on electronics, are seasonal in a different way — dependent on the timing of new product launches.
Other patterns are just quirky and defy rational explanation, Di Vincenzo said. “When it comes to timing purchases, a lot of it is common sense. But some of it really does fly in the face of logic.”
Here is a sampling of common consumer purchases and the best times to purchase them:
• Televisions. Contrary to popular belief, the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl are not the best time to buy a new high-definition TV, although that's when you're likely to see the most advertisements for them. In fact, November and December are clearly the best times, said Louis Ramirez, senior features writer at DealNews.com. “Those are the two months you must buy a TV,” he said. In November, you'll see generally good deals leading up to and including Black Friday. It's an especially good time to find deals on lesser-known brand names, such as Best Buy's house brand Insignia, he said. “Come December, you'll see deals on the brand names, the Samsungs, Panasonics and Sonys,” he said. “Then prices creep up a little bit after the holidays.”
• Gym memberships. Summer is often the best time to negotiate a better deal at a fitness center. “Most of the folks who made New Year's resolutions to work out have abandoned that by the spring, and other people would rather exercise outdoors when the weather is nice,” Di Vincenzo said. That dampens demand for memberships, giving you some bargaining power, he said. Look for waived sign-up fees and a free month or two.
• Deodorant. May or June are the best times to buy deodorant. Not only do prices fall, but the most lucrative coupons are available then, making deodorant very cheap and sometimes free. The reason seems to be linked to anticipation of hot weather, Di Vincenzo said. “It's a good opportunity for stocking up,” he said.
• Clothing. Besides buying off-season clothing, January can be a generally good month to search for excess holiday inventory that's heavily discounted, Di Vincenzo said. Another favorable time for spring and summer clothes is in May, leading up to Memorial Day sales. And Wednesdays are the best times to buy shoes and children's clothing online, while Sundays are best for buying swimsuits online, said Di Vincenzo. He doesn't have logical explanations for those.
• Tablet computers. You probably don't want to buy a tablet computer just before a newer one — say, a Kindle Fire or iPad — is released. Watch news headlines for the timing. Announcements on hot tech gadgets are usually poorly kept secrets. “Wait for the announcement, then you'll see deals on the previous generation,” Ramirez said. It won't be the latest, but frequently updated products might not change much.
• Office supplies. Anything that could be construed as a back-to-school item might be discounted heavily in August and into early September. It's a great time to stock up on home-office supplies, such as pencils, pens and printer paper, even if you don't have a student going off to school. Back-to-school is one season when prices are low at the right time, when consumers need them to be.
• Laptops. Because laptop computers are a school item for many students, good deals abound as the kids gear up to head back to school. “You can find huge discounts on laptops in August, and if you're lucky even bigger discounts in September as retailers try to clear what they didn't sell in August,” Ramirez said. And Intel recently released a new processor, so your computing power won't be obsolete for a while.
• Gasoline. A common myth is that fueling up in the morning is best because gasoline is denser in the cool morning temperatures and you get more for your money. Any savings will be negligible, according to Consumer Reports. But timing your fuel-ups can matter for a different reason. Gas station operators typically work day shifts and check out competing prices in the morning. They generally don't get around to changing their own prices until between 10 a.m. and noon, Di Vincenzo said. Afternoon fuel-ups are better during times of declining prices.
Gregory Karp, the author of “Living Rich by Spending Smart,” writes for the Chicago Tribune. Readers may send him email at email@example.com.
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