By KIMBERLY PALMER of NerdWallet
When Brandy Baxter needed to replace her home’s entire heating and air conditioning system several years ago, she asked contractors if they offered deals at certain times of the year. She learned that if she waited until February, the slow season for such work, she could get a lower price. Baxter, a financial coach based in Dallas, says she saved around $6,000 as a result.
When it comes to saving money on big purchases, sometimes timing really is everything. Taking advantage of certain holiday weekends and seasonal discounts can lead to significant savings, which is especially helpful with inflation continuing to push prices higher. Consumers can also consider their own cash flow fluctuations and shop for big-ticket items when they can better afford them.
“There are two overarching principles: Purchase items in the offseason and purchase items during holiday weekends,” says Kimberlee Stokes of Orlando, Florida, the founder of ThePeacefulMom.com, a website aimed at moms who want to save money and get organized. “It does require some planning.”
Here’s how to time your shopping to get the most out of your budget.
SHOP THE BIGGEST SALES WEEKENDS
Traditionally, three weekends of the year — Memorial Day, July Fourth and Labor Day weekends — are the best for deals on appliances, furniture and mattresses, says Trae Bodge, smart-shopping expert at TrueTrae.com , which offers savings tips. For electronics, Black Friday in November is the ideal time to buy, followed closely by Amazon’s Prime Day sale, which is typically in July and this year runs July 12-13.
Bodge adds that some specific items have unique sales periods. Televisions typically see their lowest prices in late January and early February — right before the Super Bowl.
If you miss a specific sale, Stokes says not to worry. The key is to plan ahead and track prices so you can make purchases during price dips, such as seasonal lulls. Buy winter sports gear in summer, or outdoor furniture in fall, for example.
“If you can have some self-control and wait, you will get better deals,” she says.
It’s also worth looking out for markdowns associated with inventory buildups, as supply chain issues continue to cause hiccups. When chains like Target and Walmart have excess stock, they tend to offer big sales, sometimes at unexpected times.
USE TOOLS TO TRACK PRICES AND APPLY COUPONS
You don’t need to track prices manually — apps and browser extensions can take care of that work. The Honey browser extension pulls in coupons from across the web; CouponCabin alerts you to cash back and coupon opportunities; and Rakuten activates coupons and cash back from online stores at checkout. Amazon Assistant lets you know if Amazon offers a lower price when you’re shopping elsewhere.
“If you don’t have at least one extension installed on your computer, you’re leaving money on the table,” Bodge says. By tracking prices before sales weekends, you can make an informed decision about how good a deal is, she adds.
Baxter recommends saving items you’re tracking on a wish list, a service offered by many online retailers as an alternative to placing items in your cart.
“If I need retail therapy, I put it on the list, and then I can see when the price goes up or down,” Baxter says. “You can satisfy that desire for consumerism without separating yourself from your cash.” Sometimes, the retailer will alert you when the price of an item on your wish list drops.
CHECK FOR SALES TAX HOLIDAYS
Many states offer sales tax-free holidays, which can be an ideal time to buy expensive items that aren’t otherwise on sale, Baxter suggests. Her state of Texas offers a sales tax holiday in early August, which coincides with back-to-school shopping, making it easier to pick up school supplies and other eligible items at a discount.
CONSIDER YOUR OWN CASH FLOW
There are times of the year when you may experience increased cash flow from sources such as a tax refund, annual bonus or birthday and graduation gifts. If that’s the case, those can be ideal times to make large purchases without taking on debt, says Kevin Mahoney, the Washington, D.C.-based founder of Illumint, a financial planning firm for millennials.
Conversely, certain months tend to see more expenses for items like annual insurance payments, summer camp fees or holiday gifts. Avoiding other significant purchases during those times can help your budget absorb the many demands on it, Mahoney advises.
“It’s important to be aware of the times when costs come up and perhaps hold off on purchases until after those points have passed and you see how your budget has weathered those time periods,” he says.
WHENEVER POSSIBLE, TAKE YOUR TIME
While sometimes you have no choice — for instance, buying a water heater replacement because yours broke — in many cases you can plan your purchases in advance. This lets you take advantage of sales periods, as well as gives you more time to research exactly what you want.
“Waiting to buy can give you more clarity,” Mahoney says — another reason to add items to a wish list before adding them to your cart.