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Three simple ways to save a lot of money

We’ve gotten non-stop news about the economy since 2007, when President George W. Bush told us we were in the midst of what economists would later call the most severe recession since the Great Depression. 

These days, the economy, while often described as sluggish, is finally improving.

But no matter how good or bad the economy is, one thing never changes: consumers want to save money. If only they knew how easy it can be to do just that.

Basically, it’s a three-step process: 

Step 1: Ask a question. 

Step 2: Remember the answer. 

Step 3: Act on the information.

I’ve done about these three steps thousands of times while researching books on how timing plays a role in our lives. My latest book – "Buy Shoes On Wednesday And Tweet At 4:00" (HarperCollins, 2012) was released this month and it includes the best times to buy and do things and go places.

But you don’t have to buy my books to get this information. Want to know the best time to buy bread? Ask someone who works in a bakery. Want to know the best time to buy a car? Ask a car salesman. (Well, ask one who’s not trying to actually sell you a car.) The manager of an apartment building will tell you the best month to sign a lease. You get the picture: Information that can save you a lot of money is there for the asking. But you’ve got to ask for it.

No matter how good or bad the economy is, one thing never changes: consumers want to save money. If only they knew how easy it can be to do so. Basically, it’s a three-step process. Step 1: Ask a question. Step 2: Remember the answer. Step 3: Act on the information.

What follows is an excerpt from my latest book, the result of hundreds of interviews with people in the position to tell you the best time to buy and do all sorts of things and go many different places:  

Which is the best month to buy a high-definition TV? December is a great month to buy a lot of things, TVs included. But during years when TVs don’t sell well in December, look for post-holiday sales, which can stretch into the first week of January. Sales leading up to the Super Bowl in early February are very rarely super, despite common assumptions. Think about it: why would retailers offer great deals when the demand is high? Do you see great prices on jewelry right before Valentine’s Day? Any “Super Bowl TV Sales” you see in late January and early February typically come after retailers jack up the regular prices. Sales for older model HDTVs can be very good in March and April. Electronics, including TVs, often go on sale then, when Japanese manufacturers release new models and retailers cut prices on older models to make room for new ones.

Which is the best month of the year to buy a cell phone? June or December. June because of high school graduations and December because of Christmas and Hanukah. Stores often offer the best deals of the year during these two months as they engage in a fierce competition for sales. June wasn’t always a big month for cell phone sales, but parents whose children work summer jobs or are leaving home for college in August want to be able to reach them, so they buy then. And cell phones have become common holiday gifts.

When is the best time of the year to buy a gym membership and start using it? Summer. Most of the folks who made New Year’s resolutions to work out abandoned them by the spring, and lots of people would rather exercise outdoors while the weather is nice. So not only is there less competition for weights and exercise equipment in gyms in the summer, but this is the time of year when gyms will waive sing-up fees and give away a free month to entice new members.

When is the best time of the month to check for new coupons? The first of the month. The most serious coupon clippers know the first of the month is when many of the most serious coupon sites – coupons.com, redplum.com, thriftytiff.com and others – offer a new round of coupons. Very often there is a limited number of coupons offered, so if you wait too long, you may miss out on them.   

When is the best time of day to buy prepared foods at a grocery store? About an hour before your grocery store closes. Many stores mark down prepared foods, such as rotisserie chicken and sushi, about an hour before closing if the food can’t be sold the next day. Expect discounts of 50 percent. The same goes for bread and baked goods made in the store’s bakery department.     

Which is the best month of the year to buy diamonds if you want the best price? Summer. Sales are slow then, and jewelers want to move product, so you’ll see good sales. But be cautious: Very often the diamonds for sale in those summer months are not a high quality. New shipments tend to arrive in the fall in time for holiday shopping.

Which is the best month of the year to buy a gift card? January. Many of the people who don’t want the gift cards they received for Christmas will sell them on websites such as eBay, giftcards.com and giftcardgranny.com, which sells them at 15-percent to 25-percent discounts. The best deals are in January, when most unwanted gift cards are for sale.

Which is the best month to buy Broadway tickets? Broadway's slow months: January, February, September and October. This also has a lot to do with these four months being a relatively slow time for tourism in New York City. Less demand for tickets doesn’t necessarily mean cheaper tickets, but it means they’re easier to get. However, you can save money as much as 50 percent if you search for promotional codes on the websites for Playbill, TheaterMania and BroadwayBox, to name three. Ticketmaster and Telecharge accept these codes, but you’ll have to pay their high fees. Avoid them by buying at the theater box offices, many of which will let you use coupon codes.

Which is the best month to buy carpeting and flooring? December or January. The busy time in this business is typically the fall for two reasons: Many people buy houses during the summer and spend money on them in the fall to get them looking the way they want. Others want to get their houses looking great in time for holiday get-togethers, so they’re also spending in the fall. Business slows down dramatically by the middle of December and into January, when carpet stores typically offer their best deals of the year. If you have any money left over from the holiday shopping season, buy then.

Mark Di Vincenzo worked as an award-winning journalist for nearly 24 years, making a name for himself as a reporter who exposed abuse, and as a writer who made the complicated seem simple. He left daily journalism in the summer of 2007 to start Business Writers Group, a company that writes for corporate clients. In 2009, HarperCollins published his first book, "Buy Ketchup in May and Fly At Noon: A Guide to the Best Time to Buy This, Do That and Go There," a New York Times bestseller. His latest book is "Buy Shoes on Wednesday and Tweet at 4:00" (HarperCollins 2012). For more visit his website: MarkDiVencenzo.com.