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Spending Smart: A Season to Save

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By Gregory Karp

(MCT)—“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 also 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 gas 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,” says 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 says. “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 is 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 says. “Come December, you’ll see deals on the brand names, the Samsungs, Panasonics and Sonys,” he says. “Then prices creep up a little bit after the holidays.” Buying in November or December might save you 10 percent, which doesn’t sound like much, but it’s $100 on a $1,000 3-D TV. It’s also a good time to buy Blu-ray players and Blu-ray movies, Ramirez said.

—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 says. 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 says. “It’s a good opportunity for stocking up,” he said. May is also a good time to buy condiments, such as ketchup, mustard and relish, as supermarkets lure you into stores with great prices on those items and visions of warm-weather picnics and barbecues, says Di Vincenzo, whose new book is a follow-up to his first, “Buy Ketchup in May and Fly at Noon.”

—Perfume. January and March are the best times to buy, after Christmas and after Valentine’s Day. Savvy gift-givers will buy perfume in January for Valentine’s Day and in March for Mother’s Day, Di Vincenzo says. Jewelry pricing also follows that pattern to a degree, he says.

—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 says. 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, says Di Vincenzo. He doesn’t have logical explanations for those; just that’s what patterns show in price data collected by ShopItToMe.com, which tracks online sales from more than 100 retailers.

—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 says. It won’t be the latest, but frequently updated products might not change much. For example, the newest iPad introduced in March had a better screen, but the iPad 2 is still a very capable device, he says. And its price starts at $100 less than the newest version.

—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 actually low at the right time, when consumers need them to be. Another is buying sparkling wine in December. Why? When there’s fierce competition for a seasonal item, such as school supplies or sparkling wine, it can be cheaper in-season because retailers want to lure you in hoping you’ll buy other, higher-profit items too.

—Laptops. Because laptop computers are a school item for many college students — and even some high-schoolers — 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 says. And Intel recently released a new processor, so your computing power won’t be obsolete for a while. “Whatever you buy now is going to be solid for a good time to come,” he says. Prices might spike a bit when Windows 8 is released in October, he said. If you buy a discounted computer now, you’ll be able to upgrade the laptop to Windows 8 for $14.99. See WindowsUpgradeOffer.com.

—Smartphones. Smartphones, the wireless phones that double as handheld computers, are largely split into Apple iPhones and those running on the Android operating system, made by such manufacturers as Samsung, HTC and Motorola. “The thing about Android is there is a new phone pretty much every week,” Ramirez says. That’s good for consumers because new models quickly eclipse old ones, whose prices then drop. Amazon.com’s wireless store often has among the best deals, he says. “When it comes to smartphones, it pays not to buy them directly from the carrier.” Activating the phone is easy, he says. Discounts on iPhones are rare, so the best timing strategy is to wait for a new one to come out and buy the previous model. If you desire the latest and greatest, waiting several weeks until refurbished models are available from Apple is a good strategy.

—Holiday gifts online. Most people know Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the best days for holiday shopping over the Internet. But right behind them are the weekends just before and just after Halloween, when you can score discounts of 20 to 30 percent, Di Vincenzo says. “Those sales tend to go away and you don’t see them again until days before Christmas,” Di Vincenzo says, excepting Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

—Phone and cable service. Savvy consumers know they can often get a better deal from their phone or cable TV company if they simply ask for one. However, the tipping point for negotiating a better deal seems to be when you’ve had service for at least one year, Di Vincenzo says. “After you’ve been a customer for a year, the company rewards that kind of commitment,” he said. “You’re not going to get it unless you ask.”

—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 says. So, during a time of rising prices, fueling in the morning is better before prices change. 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 gkarp@tribune.com.

Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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