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The Best Times to Buy Just About Anything

Need another way to stretch your budget? Plan your purchases ahead of time so you can buy during the most cost-effective times of the year. Do you have plans for both big and small purchases this year? NEA Member Benefits talked to shopping experts, and here’s what they recommend for timing those purchases.

Do your homework

Compare prices online so you’ll “know the relative value of an item before you shop,” says Kathy Borrus, author of The Fearless Shopper: How to Get the Best Deals on the Planet.

Once you know what an item is really worth, find out when the price of the product you’re planning to buy is the cheapest. “Deep discounts for some things still go by the calendar,” says Mandy Walker, senior project editor for Consumer Reports. Note, however, that when you shop month-long or longer sales, the selection of models and colors is better the earlier in the month you go, says Walker, and prices are low or “bare bones” lowest nearer the end of the month.

Use a shopping calendar

One example of a shopping calendar is published by Consumer Reports. According to their research, here are some examples of items to buy during a specific month:

  • January: bedding and linens, winter clothing
  • March: winter sports equipment
  • April: spring clothing
  • May: athletic shoes and apparel, camping and outdoor gear, cordless phones, mattresses
  • June: summer sports gear, pots, pans and dishes
  • August: air conditioners, backpacks, dehumidifiers
  • September: shrubs, trees and perennials
  • October: winter coats
  • November: baby products
  • December: large and small home appliances

However, many products are “best buys” in more than one month:

  • TVs: January, March, November, December
  • Treadmills and elliptical trainers: January, February
  • Humidifiers: February, March
  • Laptop computers: April
  • Desktop computers: April, June, October
  • Digital cameras: March, April, September, October
  • Camcorders: June, July
  • Toys: January, November, December
  • Small consumer electronics (such as MP3 players, DVD and Blu-ray players): March, May, June, September, December
  • GPS navigators: November, December
  • Snow blowers: August, September
  • Humidifiers: February, March
  • Lawn mowers: April, May, September, October
  • Carpeting: May, June
  • Indoor furniture: February, June, July
  • Outdoor furniture: June, July
  • Gas grills: September, October
  • Swimwear: June, July
  • Bikes: September, October, November

Take advantage of tax holidays

Save even more by planning purchases to take advantage of state tax holidays—times when state sales taxes on certain items are dropped.

Many participating states’ tax holidays are timed for back-to-school savings on items such as clothing, computers, school supplies and books, but the list of eligible items varies, as do the terms, dates and days for each.

If you live in or near a participating state, your tax break could save four to seven percent, depending on the state’s regular (non-holiday) sales tax rate, says Carol Kokinis-Graves, JD, state sales and use tax analyst for Wolters Kluwer, CCH.

“Generally speaking, there are no residency requirements, so nonresidents can take advantage of neighboring state tax holidays,” Kokinis-Graves adds. For example, a teacher in Arizona or Colorado who occasionally visits New Mexico could plan to buy eligible products during New Mexico’s state sales tax holiday, if the cost (to get there) doesn’t outweigh the benefit (tax savings).

Tip: Be aware that other taxes could be in effect during a state tax holiday, Kokinis-Graves cautions. “Local jurisdictions often have the authority to impose their own sales and use taxes, and those localities may not join the state in providing a tax holiday,” she says, “so local taxes could still apply.”

Negotiate a better deal

Don’t be afraid to ask for a better price, says Borrus. If you ask merchants in a friendly manner, “Is this the best you can do?” or make an offer that’s lower than their lower price, “you might get a better deal.” Negotiation works best in small stores where the owner may be eager to reduce inventory but it’s worth trying at department stores too. “The worst they can say is no.”

When you’re shopping for books or goods for your school, “never pay full price without asking first if you can’t get a discount,” says Lyn Dunsavage Young, national media coordinator and schools specialist for Future Horizons, an Arlington, Texas-based publisher of books, DVDs and CDs on autism and related disorders.

Tip: Before you buy, check the publisher or distributor’s online prices. Often they’re lower than the catalog or store price, she adds.

Ask for volume discounts

When you’re ordering for your school, “you should be able to get at least a 20 percent discount” on the retail price of books and goods you purchase from the publisher or its distributors “because of the volume in which most schools order,” says Dunsavage Young.

Before you agree on a price, be sure to check the publisher’s or distributor’s online prices, she adds. Often they’re lower than the same company’s catalog rates or store prices.

Tip:  If you’re considering using a particular book for a class next semester, call and ask if you can have a free sample. “Most publishers and distributors will give you a book” knowing they’ll increase their sales of that book when your department or bookstore reviews it, likes it and then orders it.

Tap year-end opportunities

The two best times to shop for your school are at the end of the school’s fiscal year, usually June or July, and at Christmas, says Dunsavage Young.

Most publishers and distributors are willing to make fiscal year-end deals, knowing your funds are limited and must be spent before the end of the school year. “Tell them how much you have and what you want, and they’ll most likely work with you, within your budget, to get the volumes you need,” she advises.

Tip: At Christmas, book companies and distributors are trying to get rid of taxable inventory in their warehouses and “they’ll ho-ho-ho all the way to the bank if you buy as much inventory as possible at this time of the year.” You’ll save on prices, they’ll save on taxes. “Call and negotiate,” Dunsavage Young suggests. “You’ll be amazed what can be accomplished in the spirit of Christmas.”

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