Over the years, I have learned an important lesson about getting the best deals on just about everything. Extreme bargain hunters have something in common: timing. They’ve got it down to a science, knowing specific days— even the time of day—when a bargain is at its best.
I’ve had the privilege of interviewing some of the top experts in their fields (love my job), and oh, what I learned. Want to save like an expert? Learn these deal-hunting secrets.
Best time to book a room? 4 p.m. local time on a Sunday, says CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg. Calling then can save you significantly, but the process can be tricky. Forget everything you think you know and follow these steps:
1. Call the hotel’s local direct line, not the 800 number
The 800 number will connect you to a clearinghouse that books rooms for hundreds of locations. “The people who answer those phones don’t have the power to give you a better deal,” says Greenberg. Look up the local phone number for the exact hotel location.
2. Don’t ask to speak with Reservations
That will only get you routed back through to the 800-number clearinghouse. Instead, ask to speak to the manager on duty at the specific location. He has the authority to negotiate rates.
3. Be courteous
Tell the manager that you’re shopping for a great room rate during a specific week, followed by, “What can you do for me?” If you feel hesitant, think of yourself as a valuable commodity. After all, you want to take an unsold room out of inventory.
4. Say thank you and bask in your good fortune
There’s nothing more confusing and frustrating than buying plane tickets. One day you check ticket prices and think, Maybe I can get them cheaper if I wait. A few days later you check again—and the same seats have jumped $100 each. Arrgh! So how do you know when to buy?
The perfect time to shop for cheap airfare is 3 p.m. Eastern time on a Tuesday, says Rick Seaney, CEO and co-founder of FareCompare.com and owner of one of the world’s largest databases of current and historical airfares. “Monday night is when the major airlines announce sales. This triggers other airlines to try to match those sales on Tuesday,” he says. All this takes a few hours to get through the system, which is why 3 p.m. is when the cheapest seats are available.
When are the cheapest days and times to fly? Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday generally tend to be less expensive, since fewer businesspeople fly on these days and more seats are available. The cheapest time to fly: the first flight of the day (most people don’t want to get up early), followed by flights at noon and those at dinnertime.
Most markets don’t view Sunday or even Monday as the start of the week. For them, Wednesday is the first day of the sales week, so that’s the day they’ll discount the previous week’s goods (particularly meat and poultry, where you can save as much as 75 percent), says Stephanie Nelson, author of The Coupon Mom’s Guide to Cutting Your Grocery Bills in Half.
However, not all stores follow this rule, so to find out your store’s “bargain personality,” ask the produce and meat managers exactly when they do their markdowns. Then time your shopping and really save.
“My store marks down produce every day at 7 a.m., so if I shop before 9 a.m. I can be sure to get good produce at half price,” Nelson says. “The meat is marked down later in the day, around 4 p.m., so I might time my shopping differently when I’m looking for meat bargains.”
If you’re looking for a good deal on an HD TV, Blu-ray player, MP3 player or other electronics and you don’t mind last year’s model, shop between April and the end of the summer and save 20 to 30 percent or more, says Brent Butterworth, a contributing editor at Sound & Vision magazine.
Retailers flood the International Consumer Electronics Show in January to get a glimpse of new products and place their orders, which they’ll start to receive in April. So, they start the mad dash to clear their warehouses and shelves to make room for the newest models.
You’ll save a bundle if you go on a Tuesday, says Mark Di Vincenzo, author of A Guide to the Best Time to Buy This, Do That and Go There. That’s the day restaurants are least crowded and large chains offer the best deals (“kids eat free” and “Twofer Tuesday”) to lure customers.
Here’s another reason to hold off until Tuesday, advises Di Vincenzo: Most restaurants don’t receive deliveries on Saturdays and Sundays. Food deliveries start early in the week, which means food served on Tuesday is fresher.
Paying full price for clothes is a good way to go broke in a hurry. But knowing when to shop can save you up to 60 percent off current fashions, says Michelle McKinney Hammond, author of Divanomics: How to Still Be Fabulous When You’re Broke.
There are two ways to time your clothes shopping to get the best bargains: In season and out of season.
If you have your eye on specific items and can’t wait for them to go out of season at stores like Old Navy, Banana Republic and Kohl’s, wait for 6 weeks from the time those items were first introduced in the store. Once you’ve waited it out, hit the store on a Thursday night, which is typically the first day of a sale in most major clothing stores. Don’t wait until the weekend because the choices may be picked through, reducing your chances of getting the right size and style.
Out of season
If you can hold out until things go out of season, you’ll score even bigger bargains. Stores usually stock clothes according to the fashion seasons, which are always a month or two ahead of actual seasons. That means a spring line lasts from January through March, summer clothes are introduced in April. Buy your spring clothes in April instead of January to take advantage of stores trying to push out all their old merchandise.
Bargain hunters, like Wise-bread.com’s Linsey Knerl have figured out the system Target uses for marking down its merchandise weekly. In addition to the odd lot of items haphazardly marked for sale, this is the schedule that most Target stores follow:
- Monday: Electronics, Kid’s Clothing, Cards, Gift Wrap
- Tuesday: Domestics, Women’s Clothing, Pets and Market (food items)
- Wednesday: Men’s Clothing, Toys, Lawn & Garden, Health and Beauty items
- Thursday: Housewares, Lingerie, Shoes, Music, Movies, Books, and Luggage
- Friday: Auto, Cosmetics, Hardware, and Jewelry
Kim Danger of MommySavers.com, reports that Target’s unsold clearance merchandise is often marked down every two weeks. If you are watching an item and see that it has been marked down 30 or 50 percent, come back in another two weeks to see if it has been marked down further. “Some of my best deals have come from Target,” says Danger. “Baby clothes to give as gifts for less than $3, a queen-size comforter for $15, and Christmas wrap for 90 percent off!”
Target participates in a generous markdown after major holidays, as well. Clothing is at a fabulous price during their after-holiday clearance. Target’s holiday markdown schedule is usually as follows (with the exception of Christmas, which can vary):
- 50% off the day after holiday for three days
- 75% off the fourth day after holiday for three days
- 90% off the seventh day after holiday for 1-2 days.
Mark Di Vincenzo reveals this fun secret: April is the time to get a great buy on sneakers. Athletic shoe companies sponsor charity walks and races in April when nonserious runners hit the pavement to support these causes. And wouldn’t you know it? Great sales tend to accompany these spring races. This is the month to pick up a great pair of sneakers at a bargain-basement price.
January and February are the two best months to slip into a great bargain on a winter coat, reports Di Vincenzo. The longer you wait, the lower the prices. Retailers are looking toward spring clothing arrivals and need the space taken up by all the beautiful, albeit bulky, winter wear. Start planning now to pick up a fabulous bargain after the first of the year. Your patience will be well rewarded.
Shopping at resale stores is becoming so popular, it’s gained a slang term, thrifting. In fact, the National Retail Federation now recognizes resale shops as a bonafide category in its industry statistics and surveys. Successful thrifting, we’re learning, is all in the timing. Di Vincenzo says the best time to hit the thrift store is right after the dry cleaners and clothing stores make their donations.
Get chummy with the workers at your neighborhood thrift store, suggests Di Vincenzo. Ask them when they typically receive these donations, some of which will be brand new if coming from clothing retailers, or will carry the telltale dry cleaning tags if freshly cleaned. That is the day to shop.
As for the best time of year for thrifting, Di Vincenzo points to spring, when homeowners start cleaning out their attics and having garage sales. Items that don’t sell readily often end up in thrift stores. And when the shop gets crowded with merchandise, store managers mark down merchandise, especially winter items.
If you want a real deal, head to the dealership on the last Tuesday or Wednesday of the month, recommends Phillip Reed, senior consumer advice editor of Edmunds.com. This is when dealerships are getting anxious about meeting their monthly quotas.
If you arrive in the early afternoon, business is slower, so you’ll get more attention from the sales staff. That also increases the likelihood that dealers will be ready to drop prices even further.
If you don’t need a new car right away, the best time of year to buy one is the fall—September through December. Expect to save 10 to 20 percent on the previous year’s model. And if you can wait until December, you’ll get an even better deal at year’s end.
Major appliances, like cars, are redesigned every year. But unlike cars, new models are debuted in the summer. That makes May and June the best time to get a nice big discount on a new refrigerator, provided you can live with last year’s model.
Ranges and stoves
Zero in on two times to bag a great new stove: Holiday weekends, especially the Fourth of July and Labor Day, and during the months of September and October, right before the new models arrive. Ditto for dishwashers.
When it’s cool outside, most people aren’t thinking about air conditioners and that lowers the demand, increasing supplies. Stores that stock air conditioners year round (some only stock air conditioners from April through September), are anxious to move merchandise out of their stores, so expect to find the best prices during the months of December, January, and February.
Is it possible to go to the theater or a sporting event without dropping serious cash? You bet. If you show up at the box office a few hours before starting time, you may be able to get a deep discount, since the venue is eager to fill seats—but that’s not always the case, and you have to be willing to miss the event if you can’t get tickets.
A better option is to try StubHub.com, where you can buy tickets, often at a discounted price, from ticket holders who cannot use them. Or join GoldStar.com (membership is free), which works with more than 3,200 venues and producers across the country and discounts up to 50 percent.
Rather than trying to sell out the show one ticket at a time, theaters and stadiums hire Goldstar to do that for them. As a member, once half-price tickets are available for events in your area, you’ll get an email with all the details. Get ready to move quickly as the cheap tickets go fast!
Yes, stores discount bikes after the holiday shopping season in January to make room for new products that arrive in February and March. But at this time of year, here’s a better idea: Head to your local police department.
There are many police and fire departments that hold auctions during the spring to sell bicycles that were stolen, recovered and never claimed, or confiscated. Call ahead to find out the schedule in your area, then show up early. The best items go quickly. You can expect to pay as low as 10 to 25 percent of retail value.
Much like clothing, a lot of sporting goods (skiing, baseball) are least expensive at the end of the new stuff, spring is great for finding bargains on secondhand gear, since people clean out their homes around now. Garage and tag sales are a boon for barely used or outgrown tennis rackets, boogie boards, skates, T-ball stands, and other equipment.
Looking to bag a bargain on used sports gear? Check out PlayItAgainSports.com. At this resale store you can both buy and sell your gently used sports equipment.
This may surprise you: Though new toys often arrive in September, the best time to buy is not during the months leading up to the new releases, but rather during October and November. Retailers like to wait a few weeks after the big new shipments arrive and then lower prices in an attempt to top their competitors. At the same time, they’re gearing up for the holidays, hoping to jump-start the big shopping season.
There are two months in the year that are well known for producing bargains on new furniture: January and July. Why? Retailers are trying to make room for all the new shipments that arrive in February and August. There’s nothing wrong with the prior season’s items. In fact, the only difference in the new shipments could be as minor as a new selection of upholstery or a change of color.
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Linens and Bedding
They used to be called “January White Sales,” a retailing tactic devised back in 1878 by John Wanamaker, an early pioneer of the department store concept. Wanamaker picked specific months for different sales to keep turnover high and prices low. The tradition is still followed by many major retailers (and for some of them, the name still survives), so if you need sheets and towels, shop in January.
Hold on to your jewelry needs until right before a major holiday, like Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day and Christmas. I can’t guarantee major discounts on expensive high-end diamonds and gold, but holiday sales offer the best possibility for discounts.
If you can’t wrangle a great discount, ask for a free upgrade to a larger stone or another benefit during the sale campaign when salespeople compete heavily to meet their quotes and to qualify for bonuses.
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If getting great deals are high on your list, forget about setting the date in June. That’s peak season in the wedding business. Instead, schedule your nuptials during the winter months of January and February when the demand, and therefore the prices, are much lower. If you will be married in a church, consider scheduling it right before Easter or Christmas. Most churches are decorated beautifully for these celebrations, and that could save you a lot of money on flowers.
The best day to buy a house, according to residential real estate expert Elizabeth Weintraub, shockingly, is Christmas Day. Sellers are in good moods, concerned they won’t sell before year’s end and more inclined to be generous in response to your low-ball offer.
The biggest challenge is finding an agent willing to write up and present your offer on Christmas!
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Best Time to Return Stuff
Anything you can do to make returning merchandise easier will ensure a friendlier experience and the maximum amount of dough back in your pocket. Here’s the magic hour: 10 a.m. on any day other than December 26. This is when sales personnel will be at their posts, rested and ready to help you. It also happens that the more experienced employees typically work the day shift.
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Updated and republished 12-13-19