September 17 2009|03.16 PM UTC

Samantha Eckles

The Best Times to Make 14 Major Purchases

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When it comes to major purchases – like cars, computers, airline tickets – simply buying them “whenever” rarely get you the best deal. The top bargain hunters strategically delay these purchases until off season sales or manufacturer discounts kick in. Applied consistently across all of one’s major spending, this technique delivers savings that many shoppers are completely oblivious to. Furthermore, knowing with certainty when these items can be bought for less takes the annoying guesswork out of endlessly hunting for sales. Here are 14 examples of big purchases and their ideal buying times to get you started saving cash.

Gas

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It may seem like a routine purchase, but when you remember that the average driver buys 12,000 miles worth per year, gas expenditures become a serious concern. What many still do not know, however, is that gas is typically cheapest at certain times during the week. That’s why CNN says it pays to time your weekly fillup as follows:

“Wednesday morning is the best time to buy gasoline according to GasPriceWatch.com. That’s because prices usually move up for the weekend, after which they settle, hitting the low point by Wednesday. And it makes sense to buy your gas in the morning when it’s the coolest time of day. This is when gasoline is most dense. Gas pumps charge by the volume of gasoline, not the density, so in colder temperatures you’ll get more for your dollar.

The number of people who actually do this is still quite small (despite all the gas savings-related stories published in recent years) which translates to big savings for you! Obviously, the more gas you buy, the bigger your potential to save.

Airline Tickets

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There is actually considerable debate about when the best time to buy airline tickets is. An MSN article on the subject, for instance, flatly states “there really is no best time of the year to buy plane tickets.” Rather, they merely advise snapping up a good deal on holiday travel whenever you find one. For non-holiday travel, however, there is more certainty regarding discount periods.

“For non-holiday domestic travel, Bainton recommends that travelers never buy tickets more than 90 days away from their departure date. “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,” Bainton says.

It should also be noted that airlines update their fares at three daily intervals – 10AM, 12:30PM and 8PM on weekdays, as well as 5PM on Saturdays and Sundays. MSN recommends keeping your eyes peeled on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday for the best rates.

New Appliances

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Deciding which new stove or refrigerator to buy is stressful enough without also having to obsessively stalk newspaper fliers for sales every day. Luckily, About.com’s Frugal Living webpage unambiguously states that the best time to buy is “September and October, when stores are under pressure to clear space for the new arrivals.” Simply buying last year’s model (which is usually inappreciably different from this year’s) can save hundreds of dollars, and knowing why these items are on sale gives you negotiating leverage with salespeople. Do not be afraid be direct in negotiations and shop around for the best deal. Demonstrating that you are a sophisticated and knowledgeable consumer is sometimes all it takes to win a salesperson’s cooperation in your quest to save.

Air Conditoners

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Unlike previous items, getting a great deal on an air conditioner requires no esoteric knowledge of fuel delivery schedules or new product launches. All it takes is common sense! As TheGiftTherapist.com explains:

“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.”

Again, remember that the obviousness of this advice does not prevent human nature and laziness from taking its course. Most people will still wait until the first sweltering day of June or July to grab an AC from Wal-Mart no matter how often the better buying time is repeated. But the select few who actually time their purchases can and do save money.

New Cars

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Many seem to believe that saving money on a new car requires some kind of clairvoyant talent or voodoo sorcery that magically results in a lower price. Lacking such gifts, the very thought of searching for deals on such an enormous purchase becomes too daunting to even bother with. Fortunately, Consumer Reports shows us that some basic knowledge about how dealerships operate is all you really need. First, you should know that car salespeople are expected to meet certain quotas for sales per month. Therefore, stopping by at the beginning of the month is unlikely to turn up many deals from salespeople who can look confidently at all the time they have left. Waiting until month’s end, however, will likely put you face to face with a someone hungry to make a sale – and shave a few bucks off the price.

Still better (if you can afford to wait) is to put off buying until the end of the year. This is when manufacturers are super-eager to unload last year’s models, and your awareness of this gives you leverage in negotiating. Be aware though, that the models remaining at year’s end may not have all the options that you want.

Computers

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New computer systems, like major appliances, adhere to a seasonal pricing schedule that can be anticipated by bargain hunters. According to MSN, the low-priced sweet spot of the calendar as regards new computers is July and August, when manufacturers are running back to school sales and the end of Japan’s fiscal year coincides with pushing new product to store shelves. MSN also points out “chip manufacturers turn out upgrades quickly, about every three months, with major computer manufacturers following suit.” In light of this, willingness to buy an older system (as in 3-6 months older) can deliver serious savings on your next laptop or desktop computer. Keep your eyes out for winter sales as well, typically preceding the holiday months.

Cell Phones

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Unlike several of the items previously discussed, the best deals on cell phones are not time-sensitive. New phones are released with little regard for any structured, industry-adhered-to schedule. Rather, the consensus appears to be that the best time to buy is when you are signing up for new service. A recent example is Apple’s iPhone 3GS, which sells for hundreds less with a new AT&T phone/data plan than if you just buy the phone by itself. If the new phone you want is being offered at a high new service discount, run the numbers – determine if the cost of leaving your current contract is less than the savings of the new one. If it is, then all else equal, you should sign the new contract and get the discount.

Cookware

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While not always thought of as a major purchase, a high-quality cookware set can easily run into the high hundreds or even thousands of dollars. And most people don’t want to stock their kitchen with just any old set they happened to find sitting on a store shelf. Sure enough, there is an optimal time of year to save on the exact set of pots and pans that you want. According to FreeShipping.org’s Best Time to Buy Guide, April, May and December are the months to watch:

“Since cookware is a popular gift item for newlyweds and graduating college students, stores often run specials on cookware in early summer. Because cookware is such a practical gift stores offer specials on these items again during the Christmas holiday season.”

Combine this knowledge with shopping at discounters like Wal-Mart or Target for maximum savings on your next big cookware set.

Furniture

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The best times to save on furniture vary somewhat by the type of furniture in question. FurnitureBrains.com breaks down the categories with helpful explanations, telling us that dining room sets are “highly promoted in late October and early November” so as to offer holiday discounts and sales. Recliners and chairs, on the other hand, “see significant activity in May and June” in anticipation of Mothers Day and Fathers Day. Office furniture can be had for less “around tax time and back to school”, while mattresses and box springs “become highly promoted from late May to the early fall.” Keep these trends in mind when it comes time for your next big furniture purchase.

Houses

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Experts are somewhat divided on the best time to buy a house, mostly because of how “best” is defined. If you are concerned primarily about selection and having the most houses to visit and choose from, spring appears to be best because more houses are listed for sale. The downside to buying in spring is that others are aware of this and visiting the same houses you are. If you are concerned primarily about price, however, fall seems the best time to look because most people don’t want to coordinate a huge move during the cold winter and holiday months ahead. Competition is less intense, though your selection, again, may be smaller.

Clothing

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Often overlooked as a major purchase is clothing. While a stray shirt or pair of pants here and there does not constitute serious spending, we are talking here about larger shopping trips, such as a major overhaul of one’s wardrobe. Days like these can easily mean several hundreds or thousands of dollars changing hands as you exit the store with bag upon bag of new clothes. That said, there are still ways to save. Smartmoney.com, for example, recommends buying on “Thursday evenings, six to eight weeks after an item arrives in stores.” With this in mind, it is highly advised to “batch” your clothes shopping into one large trip when all or most of the items you want have been sitting on the shelves for this long. Track sales fliers so you can get an idea of when various items arrive, and mark on your calendar when you plan to stop in and get them at reduced prices.

Champagne

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For certain segments of society (such as business owners), champagne is a major expense, particularly during the holiday season. What makes this particular item noteworthy, however, is that the advice for buying it at a discount runs contrary to many of the other items discussed. As SmartMoney explains:

“Most people assume that because everyone wants a good bottle of Champagne for New Year’s Eve that prices go up during the holidays, says Sharon Castillo, director of the Office of Champagne, USA, which represents the trade association of growers in the Champagne region. But due to fierce competition among the Champagne houses, prices are actually lower during the holidays than they are at any other time of year.”

If you anticipate needing champagne several times in the next year, be it for birthdays or graduations or celebrations of any kind, buying during the apparently “peak” holiday months is your best bet to save big.

Health Insurance

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Interestingly, it seems that even health insurance can be had for less at certain times of the year. Kiplinger Magazine discussed this in its article on saving money, explaining that “fall marks open-enrollment season for employer health-insurance plans. Policy rates don’t drop at this time of year, but now’s when you should review the changes to your plan’s costs and coverage options.” If you have been awaiting an opportunity to lock in health insurance at a lower rate, or simply get the best deal possible, fall appears to be the best time of all to start asking questions at your job’s HR department and get it done.

Gym Memberships

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If there’s one thing summer always brings, it’s a renewed (albeit usually short-lived) enthusiasm for fitness and beauty. Beaches open, swimsuits come out, and suddenly everyone wants to look their best under sunny skies. Ever-adaptable capitalism recognizes this as a seasonal trend and cleverly times its gym membership discounts to coincide with summer. Discounts can typically be found from the beginning of summer through the beginning of fall, when demand for membership increases even more. Just be sure you are serious about going for the long-term, and consider whether you’ll still truly be interested when the easy motivation of summer subsides, before signing any contracts with the gym. Gym contracts are notoriously hard to wriggle out of later.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Craig September 17, 2009 at 10:14 pm

I had no idea that gas sales were not corrected by volume in the states so you don’t get screwed by temperature difference. In Canada gas is correct to 10 degrees Centigrade so you always get the same amount of gas for the same price no matter what the outside temperature. This really surprises me.

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Joe Johnston September 17, 2009 at 11:42 pm

Your gas segment is wrong. The gas tanks are so far below ground that the temperature of the gas never changes. Not even going from the pump into the car’s gas tank. Numerous studies have proven this.

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Stephen September 18, 2009 at 3:12 am

You know, I always questioned the Airline one, but I never knew they updated 3 times a day. Nice article over all, very handy!

Thanks :)

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Brian Ginn September 18, 2009 at 4:15 am

What time zone are the update times for airfairs?

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Andy September 18, 2009 at 5:22 am

Great article, thank you. I’ve always tried to track best times to buy for products and this is a great summary source. If I can add a category one since it became so clear to me in the past year. Sports equipment. Winter sports: April for huge discounts on current year but out of season models. Also early September time-frame especially labor day, when all new year models are incoming.

For bikes, late August seems to be a very good time to buy. I my case, 8/26, a Wednesday if that’s worth anything. I was able to take advantage of a 12-hour sale and an out-going model.

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swordfish1174 September 18, 2009 at 6:40 am

I agree with the purchase of most, but it seems to me that most people spend to much when they can conserve. I find especially about the gas, that is crazy most people if they car pooled would have the money left over for most of the other expenses above. And as far as the health insurance I believe more people should have better breaks more often through out the year instead of certain times. Obama had a plan in place in order to help with general health care that really needs to be focused on and instituted in today’s society.

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Howard September 18, 2009 at 8:19 am

I think the truth of the House one is not that people do not want to make the move in the winter months, which is not true in some of the moderate climates, though the time to buy is still as good, but rather that school has started and the desire to move to a new school is not there.

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BillShrink September 18, 2009 at 10:46 am

Hey Joe, thanks for pointing it out. We were referencing a section from a CNN article but I’ll strike out that bit since Consumer Reports has mentioned that any differences in temperature savings are negligible at best. Interestingly, the article that mentioned buying gas in the morning as a myth was also from CNN.

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vrains September 18, 2009 at 1:15 pm

fuel purchase in morning is correct, not sure why it was crossed out. i repair/salvage/replace those old pumps so i know how they work.

you pay for fuel pump as well as air suction and since cold air takes up less space, your proportion of air to liquid ration leans on the side of liquid so you end up paying less for air, meaning you get more gas for your money, which should result in an overall decreased total cost. the write obviously wrote it better than i did, but it is indeed correct.

cold air mixed with mid week price lowes – wednesday morning seems right for fuel purchase.

amazing that they adjust for this in canada.

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WhereCanIgetThatBed September 18, 2009 at 8:29 pm

Great article. I love that bed pictured, any one know where I can get it? Some things you (I) just gotta have – I know, defeats the purpose of the article but hey – keeps the world go ’round.

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Destiny September 19, 2009 at 7:28 am

This was so helpful! As a college student I am about to make several of these purchases in the next coming months- the car advice really helped alot so did the gas!

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Bob September 20, 2009 at 6:33 am

Great article. Anyone know where the bed pictured is available?

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Bob September 22, 2009 at 10:18 am

Re: best timing for computer purchases… Go to http://www.delloutlet.com and pick up a “refurbished” PC, printer, monitor, etc. for 60% or less of the “new” price. Same three year warranty is available. Most are mis-shipments that returned and cannot be sold as new, but they are perfectly good!

Also, DELL works on a fiscal quarter that is one month later than the calendar quarter. Their fiscal year-end is January 31 – so the best price cutting occurs in January, April, July and October. See HP and other mfrs for similar deals, but watch the warranties!

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joanne September 22, 2009 at 11:14 am

For the guy on obama care…Do you not understand that the health care still costs money that someone must pay for ? Government run programs are very innefficient and cost way more than the original amounts that are published for them. In addition when people must pay for something with their own money and work they are way less likely to waste ,as proven by health care savings accounts. So the way for the country to save money on healthcare is private pay with only catastrophic insurance and paying for all everyday expenses yourself sort of like auto insurance. Your idea on driving less and conserving more is excellent and something we should all be doing. Just remember our country needs to save money not spend as our national debt will soon have catastrophic results.

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Mrs. White October 1, 2009 at 5:40 am

This is a valuable article. I am planning to buy a new stove soon, so it’s good to see this is the right time.

As for clothing, I’ve found the best time to buy is in February. Good quality clothing at drastically reduced prices can be found easily at this time of year.

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Bill October 1, 2009 at 6:48 am

Not only should you buy last year’s car at the end of the model year, look for cars that have been driven by auto executives and then dumped on dealers at year end. Dealers hate these cars, which have anywhere from one to ten thousand miles on them, and will sell them at or below cost to get them off the lot. Because they’ve never been registered you still get new car incentives, financing and warranty.

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SomeGuy December 4, 2009 at 6:49 am

I can say that the best time to buy furniture where you have four seasons is always from december – march. Retailers are hungry for sales, and will often offer up to 50% off. I know I used to sell furniture for 5 years.

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Sheryll Swiat February 24, 2011 at 11:06 pm

I like your page theme One of the best I’ve seen.

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