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Regardless of whether the economy is good or bad, December is the best month of the year to buy a lot of different things.
If you have money to spend, you should take advantage of the fact that retailers are eager – some would say desperate – to pad their bottom lines before the year ends.
As someone who has written two books about the best time to buy things, I get a lot of questions year-round from people who are trying to save money by timing their purchases.
Here are 10 things that cost a lot less to buy in December:
1. TVs. If you didn’t already buy one on Black Friday, don’t worry. Shoppers will see many TVs reduced by 20 percent or more in December. This happens for two reasons: 1) New TV models arrive in stores in August and September, and retailers often drop prices a few months later for those TVs and for older models; 2) Retailers depend on holiday sales to “make their year profitable.” What about the “Super Bowl sales?” There are sales then, but there are better ones in December and January. With a strong demand for TVs right before the Super Bowl, why would retailers offer good sales then?
2. Cell phones. They’ve become common holiday gifts, but the competition is fierce, so stores often offer good deals on them during the Christmas shopping season. This won’t hold true this year for the iPhone 5 or other phones in high demand.
3. Champagne. This one also flies in the face of logic. Demand for Champagne is sky high during the end-of-the-year holidays, so prices should be sky high, right? But they’re not. Stores typically put bubbly on sale as the holidays approach to try to get shoppers in the door in the hopes that they’ll buy other things they weren’t planning to buy – and at full price.
4. Cars. Right now all car dealers have one thing in common: They’re trying to get 2012 models off their lots. December offers the best prices of the year – at least 20 percent off the sticker price. The downside: The selection isn’t good for 2012 models now, and the car you want may not have all the bells and whistles you want. The deals aren’t as good for 2013 models, but the selection is excellent.
5. NFL tickets. By December, at least half of National Football League teams will have losing records and little or no shot of making the playoffs. As a result, fewer people want to see them play, and this waning demand increases your chances of scoring tickets – often at less than face value – from fans who want to dump theirs. For the best prices, wait until right after kickoff to buy your tickets, and buy from other fans or from scalpers. You won’t get a price break at your team’s ticket office.
6. Wedding dresses. Many bridal shops start receiving large shipments of dresses in November because so many couples get engaged on Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Newly engaged ladies typically start shopping for dresses in January and February. If you’re already engaged, shop in December, when stores are less crowded and when store managers, eager to pad their bottom lines, are open to negotiation.
7. Toys. Place an asterisk next to this one. Shoppers will find toy sales throughout December, but if you haven’t bought them yet, you missed the best sales, which occur in November, particularly early in the month. Why November? Retailers want to get shoppers in their stores on a regular basis in November to increase the likelihood that they’ll return in December to finish their holiday shopping. The most popular toys, which often are on sale in November, are rarely on sale in December.
Look for these three things right after Christmas.
8. Clothes. Dec. 26 is considered the best day of the year to buy clothing. Department stores tend to slash prices that day to clear merchandise, but the selection worsens every day after the 26th, so don’t wait too long.
9. Gift cards. More and more people are giving gift cards for Christmas. They’re easy to buy and inexpensive to ship, and they’re a little more personalized than cash. The problem is lots of people receive gift cards that they’ll never use, and the unwanted cards sit unused in drawers. But many other people waste no time trying to sell these cards, so check out websites such as giftcards.com and giftcardgranny.com, which sell them at 15-percent to 25-percent discounts. Some people don’t get around to selling their unwanted gift cards until a week or two after Christmas, making January another good month to find discounted gift cards.
10. Christmas stuff. Expect discounts of 50 percent or more on wrapping paper, Christmas cards and other Christmas items. Stores don't want to load this stuff on trucks and ship it back to a warehouse. A tip within a tip: Buy wrapping paper with solid colors -- green, red, gold and silver -- and use it to wrap birthday, wedding and anniversary gifts throughout the year.