While you've probably been worrying about the weather for Memorial Day weekend, we've been worrying about your wallet. Here's a quick guide to five common money mistakes to avoid this weekend:
1. Giving in to high gas prices. Gas prices have spiked in recent weeks, particularly in California and across the Midwest. In Minnesota, the regular price of gas per gallon rose 44 cents during the week of May 13 to May 20.
The spike isn't specifically linked to demand, as news reports have been blaming refinery shutdowns – both scheduled and unscheduled – for the price increases. But as refineries come back into the fold, prices should begin to lower.
The lesson? Pay attention to the news. If you've been hearing about refinery issues in your area, hold off on filling up the tank until your road trip begins, as prices may lower as we head into the weekend.
2. Buying seasonal items. You've heard Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, right? Unfortunately, retailers have heard that, too. BBQ grills and patio furniture prices are substantially higher now than they'll be toward the end of summer. Outdoor gear suffer from the same trend, with steeper discounts on items like tents in the next several months. With high consumer demand for these items, merchants have priced their wares accordingly.
However, if you consider a beach body a seasonal item, one category offers great deals. As fitness enthusiasts flock outside to run in the warm weather, gyms are offering more affordable prices. Consequently, now is a good time to sign up, especially if you want a year-round pass. Search online for discount codes and promotions to make your time spent on the machines a little cheaper.
3. Missing out on big sales. Apparel sales look to be especially strong this Memorial Day, and most major retailers will be marking down items in large volume. Look to retailers such as Macy's, Wal-mart, Justice, Cabela's, Old Navy, Nautica, Perry Ellis and Amazon for some of the best steals over the weekend. Particularly tempting will be Macy's Sunday and Monday specials – featuring dresses from $16 and men's shirts for $20.
Home goods will also be slashed in price, so if you did some spring cleaning and are looking to upgrade some of your housewares, now is the time to cash in. You can find discounts of up to half off at stores such as Pottery Barn, West Elm, Sears and Kmart.
4. Getting upsold at the car dealership. For many consumers, Memorial Day weekend means shopping for big-ticket items. If you're looking for a new car, Memorial Day sales can offer great value. A recent NerdWallet study found that while sales of 2013 model pickup trucks are increasing, the rise in demand hasn't tempered the savings. Dealerships are continuing to lower sticker prices significantly, and consumers can expect to find great truck deals for around 20 percent off the manufacturer's suggested retail price this weekend.
The key to Memorial Day weekend car or truck buying is to not whittle away your potential savings by falling to car-dealership sales tricks. Do your research to determine what you want in your new or pre-owned vehicle, so you don't waffle when a salesperson talks about the latest and greatest add-ons. Also get a financing offer from a third party, so you have an alternative to the dealer's offer.
5. Over-commercializing the holiday. The best way to save on Memorial Day weekend is to celebrate the holiday the right way – by remembering Memorial Day is about honoring America's fallen. At the end of the day, it's about the soldiers – not the sales – so make sure to thank a veteran, and keep the ones who didn't come back in your thoughts and prayers. If you're hitting the mall this weekend, consider using some of the cash you've saved to sponsor a care package for a service member stationed overseas.
Matthew Ong is a retail analyst at NerdWallet, a consumer finance website that builds tools and writes content to help consumers take charge of their financial well-being. NerdWallet's products range from a checking accounts finder to a discount tool for finding coupons online.