Basic economics tells us that the best time to buy something is when supply is high and demand is low. Consumers have no control over supply, but they can take advantage of seasonal shifts in demand. These shifts are driven by weather changes, holidays, state of the economy, world events and time of year.
If you live in an area with four distinct seasons, you already know that timing your purchases can save you money. You can usually get a much better deal on an air conditioner in the dead of winter than you can on a sizzling hot day in July. (For more on seasonal shopping, read A Map To The Year's Best Shopping Deals.)
TUTORIAL: Budgeting Basics
Here are some fall ideas to consider that may help you fit within your budget.
With summer over, many people in the cooler climates are covering their patio furniture or putting it away for the winter. It's a good time to start shopping around if you need replacements or new items such as tables, chairs, grills and other outdoor entertainment products.
Also on clearance may be gardening tools, hoses and lawnmowers. If you have children, now's the time to shop for swing sets, water slides and outdoor toys. That swimming pool you've dreamed about may also be on sale. Pool contractors may be willing to negotiate a better price now than they would in the spring.
It's also possible to save on items that you might need in the winter before demand picks up, such as snow blowers, shovels and generators.
Most travel destinations have a high and low season based on time of year. Take advantage of the lower rates on travel to places like the Caribbean and other warm weather locations that get pricier during the winter months. It's also a good time to visit the mountains before the ski season drives up prices.
Many cruise lines are offering great deals on all-inclusive packages. Increased capacity and lower demand due to the weak economy have contributed to sizable discounting by most lines. It also tends to be a slower time for the airlines following the summer vacation period and before the holiday travel picks up. The cruise companies and airlines both offer automated price alerts that will keep you posted on the best deals available.
Now that school is back in session, retailers are trying to sell their unsold inventories of school-related items. It's a great time to stock up on backpacks, notebooks, paper, pens and pencils. Look for discounts on computers as the demand usually drops off before picking up again for the holidays. Many retailers also discount school clothing, uniforms and footwear after school starts.
If the children are involved in sports, you can save by buying equipment during the off-season. Summer sports such as waterskiing, surfing and baseball are good candidates. In addition, you can get ahead of the winter sports by buying now rather than waiting. The demand for skiing, snowboarding, basketball and hockey equipment will increase soon and it will be harder to find sales. (For other back to school deals, read Best Back-To-School Deals.)
Now's the time to shop for summer clothes. While some selections may not be available, bargains are available on the remaining summer inventory. This is also the time of year when many retailers hold white sales for household linens and bedding, including towels, sheets and pillows.
The Bottom Line
Use the internet to comparison-shop before venturing to retail stores or buying online. There are many popular sites to choose from, such as those compiled by eBizMBA: BizRate, NexTag, shopLocal, slickdeals, woot, coupons, pronto, shopzilla, ShopAtHome, smarter, PriceGrabber, fatwallet, DealTime, Become and DealNews.
It's never too early to shop for the holidays. Other than late December and early January, this is one of the best times of the year to buy home electronics. The advantage is that you can do it without the crowds and without the pressure to buy the first or second thing you see. You'll always get a better deal when there's no pressure or stress influencing your ability to bargain effectively.
Regardless of what you're shopping for, don't be afraid to negotiate. The best approach is to assume that everything's on sale, all the time. This is especially true for more expensive items such as high-end electronics, home furnishings, automobiles and vacation packages. If you're paying sticker price for any of these items, you're likely paying too much. (To help you saving during your shopping adventure, check out 5 Money-Saving Shopping Tips.)