Before you make any large or expensive purchases — such as home appliances, cars or cutting-edge electronics — you need to do some research to know exactly what you want and exactly how much it costs.

While consumer stores allow you to see what's out there and the Internet can help you quickly compare prices and read reviews, there is another step you can take.

Each year, each major industry has at least one giant trade show somewhere in the United States. These trade shows feature the latest in products that will appear on consumer shelves six months to a year later.

Some shows are restricted to members of their particular trade, but many are open to the public. Their fees are generally posted on their Web sites and can range into the hundreds of dollars. Most trade shows also offer special sessions on issues such as marketing, federal regulation or trade business.

Increasingly, shows have created an "exhibits only" option, which costs anywhere from $10 to $100. Even better, if you shop at a retailer related to the trade, you can often receive discount coupons or free vouchers for admission to the show.

One of the largest trade shows is the Consumer Electronics show (search) held every year in Las Vegas, usually in January. There you'll find virtually every new electronic gadget from mp3 players to home-theatre sound systems, as well as less sexy items such as built-in vacuum cleaners or smoke alarms.

If you do want to go to this show, however, make your reservations early because well over 100,000 attendees are expected. Visit www.cesweb.org to learn more.