Shoppers who don't realize what's in store for them in 2013 are understandably in a post-holiday funk right now. The tantalizing, tempting sales start in late November just in time for Thanksgiving. Then come the bargains on Thanksgiving Day itself, Black Friday, and several weeks of ads promising great deals on everything you could possibly want to buy, eventually washed down by post-Christmas sales. Then the opportune shopping season is over—no more big markdowns, no more incredible savings—at least until the same time next year.
Yet that isn't really the case. It's well-established that throughout the year, there are ideal times to buy particular items. With the Super Bowl around the corner, you'll soon see a slew of ads swearing that prices on big-screen TVs have never been better, which may be the case, at least until the next Black Friday rolls around. But it's far from only televisions you can save on in 2013, and arguably the deals throughout the year are much more important than the deals to be had in December. As Sheri Bridges, faculty director of the Center for Retail Innovation at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., observes, "The holidays are about wants. The rest of the year is about needs."
Here's what you need to know about what to buy each month:
January. In addition to TVs, this month is also known for "white sales," mainly on bed linens and towels. This concept is credited to John Wanamaker, a Philadelphia merchant who opened his store in 1877 and in January 1878, held America's first white sale, which references white sheets (although it refers to much more), an idea he apparently borrowed from a Parisian department store. It's an American tradition to this day.
January and February are also the best months to book a cruise, says Geraldine Ree, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Expedia CruiseShipCenters. She says travelers start thinking about vacation plans after the holidays, and "to take advantage of this demand, cruise lines work with travel agency partners to put out their best booking incentives of the year during this time."
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You can often save 20 percent, but the big value is in bonus offers: "You'll find free stateroom category upgrades, savings on airfare, prepaid gratuities, and onboard cash credits of up to $400 from some lines. Reduced deposits are also common, so you'll be able to secure your booking with just half of what would normally be required."
Another reason cruise discounts are offered during these months is that the industry likes to plan ahead and book as many cabins as it can for the entire year. In turn, "You may find cheaper, last-minute pricing at the end of the year when cruise lines are trying to hit their annual targets, but stateroom selection is likely to be sparse," Ree says, "and you'll end up paying more than you save on the cruise fare for an expensive last-minute flight to get there."
February. Late January and February are the best times to take care of your carpet cleaning, says Bill Zinke, vice president of marketing for Chem-Dry, a franchised carpet and upholstery cleaning service headquartered in Nashville. He says this is the slowest period of the year for the industry, enabling consumers to find discounts of up to 20 percent.
Thanks to Presidents' Day sales, February is also a good time to buy a mattress. Gerry Borreggine, president and CEO of Therapedic International, a mattress manufacturer based in Princeton, N.J., says many industry insiders insist that mattresses start going on sale over Presidents' Day weekend because George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were lousy sleepers. "The truth is that we don't really know how they slept, and [we] never will," says Borreggine, who thinks the sales probably began because of the three-day weekend, which is why mattress sales also pop up on Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends.
Discounts over Presidents' Day weekend are frequently 10 to 25 percent, partly because retailers are trying to unload older models to make room for new ones.