Best time to buy depicted with clock, second hand sweep and sticky notes

Extreme bargain hunters have something in common: timing. They’ve got it down to a science and I’m talking about specific days and even the exact time of day to get great bargains.

These shoppers wait patiently and then swoop down to pick up bargains unknown to the novice shopper. Thankfully, they’re willing to share their secrets.

Best time to buy depicted with clock, second hand sweep and sticky notes

HOTEL

The best time to snag a great deal on a room is at 4 p.m., local time on Sunday, says CBS Travel Editor, Peter Greenberg. This is when you will have the best shot at speaking with an employee whose job depends on keeping rooms filled, who can also negotiate room rates. But this can be tricky, so here are the steps to follow:

Do not call the hotel’s 800 number. That will connect you to a big clearinghouse that books rooms for hundreds of locations. The people who answer those phones do not have the power to give you a better deal, according to Greenberg. Instead, call the specific hotel’s local direct line.

Next, do not ask for the reservations department, which will only get you routed back through to the 800 number clearinghouse you are trying to avoid. Instead, ask to speak manager on duty, who at this time of day on the weekend will probably be a lower level employee whose job it is to keep rooms filled—a person who has the authority to negotiate rates and book rooms. This is better for you than calling during the week when you will be connected to a “revenue manager” who is more interested in keeping the rates high.

Be very courteous. Say that you are shopping for a great room rate during a specific week, followed by, “What can you do for me?” See yourself as a valuable commodity at this moment because you will take an unsold room out of inventory, which represents job security for the person you’re speaking with.

AIR TRAVEL

The magical hour to shop for cheap airfare is 3 p.m. Eastern on a Tuesday. Historically, says Rick Seaney, CEO, and co-founder of FareCompare.com and owner of the world’s largest database 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. It takes a few hours to get through the system, says Seaney, making 3 p.m. the time when the most cheap seats flood the system.

The cheapest days to fly are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday says, Seaney. It’s all about supply and demand and since historically these are the days that fewer business people fly, more seats are available. And the cheapest time to fly is the first flight of the day, flights that originate around noon and those at dinner time. Why? Most people don’t want to have to get up that early to get to the airport, nor do they prefer to fly at meal time.

ELECTRONICS

The best time to find a bargain on a flat-panel television, Blu-ray player, MP3 player or other electronics is starting in April, through summer. Here’s why, says Brent Butterworth, of Sound and Vision magazine. Retailers flood the Consumer Electronics Show in January to get a glimpse of new products and place their orders, which they’ll receive in August.

Come April, they start the mad dash to clear their warehouses and shelves of the previous year’s electronics to gear up for the next selling season which includes Christmas.

Butterworth says that as long as you don’t insist on acquiring next year’s model, April is a great month to bag great bargains on electronics. You might be able to grab electronics for as much as 20 to 30 percent off.

DINNER OUT

Tuesday is historically the least crowded day for restaurants, Mark Di Vincenzo, investigative reporter and author of Buy Ketchup in May and Fly at Noon: A guide to the Best Time to Buy This, Do That and Go There, so you can expect the best deals in lots of chain restaurants including the popular “Kids Eat Free” and “Twofer Tuesday” specials.

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 fresh.

GROCERIES

The best time to grab big bargains on groceries varies by store because each store has its own schedule and “bargain personality.” But once you learn your particular store’s schedule you can count on it being consistent. Ask the produce and meat managers when they do markdowns, so you can time your shopping and really save.

Stephanie Nelson, author of The Coupon Mom’s Guide to Cutting Your Grocery Bills in Half, says, “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 that is perfectly good. The meat is marked down later in the day (4 p.m.), so I might time my shopping differently when I’m looking for meat bargains.”

Meat, Poultry. The first day of the store sales week (typically Wednesday for most of the major chains) is a good time to get bargains on meat and chicken because the previous week’s half-priced chicken may not have sold out, so the butcher will mark prices down even further to make room for the current week’s featured half-price item. Nelson tells us that recently she filled her freezer with whole chickens at 75% off the regular price using this strategy.

Baking Staples. The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are the best time to buy baking staples. Many supermarkets, in anticipation of so many customers doing a lot of holiday baking, make flour, sugar, baking chips, condensed and evaporated milks and so on, their loss leaders–items priced below the store’s cost to lure customers into the store in hopes they will load up their carts with lots of full-priced items, too. If you can, load up with the baking staples you’ll need for the coming months, or until they go on sale again. Bargains of 50 percent off regular full price on baking supplies are not unusual during the holiday window.

CLOTHING

Paying full price for clothes is a good way to go broke in a hurry. But if you know what date to shop, you can get trendy clothes for up to 60 percent off, says shopping expert Jae Ireland, of eHow.com. There are two ways to time your clothes shopping to get the best bargains: In season and out of season.

In 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, Ireland says to 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. “Remember,” says Jae, “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.

Shop Target. 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:

 Mon: Electronics, Kid’s Clothing, Cards, Gift Wrap
Tue:  Domestics, Women’s Clothing, Pets and Market (food items)
Wed: Men’s Clothing, Toys, Lawn & Garden, Health and Beauty items
Thur: Housewares, Lingerie, Shoes, Music, Movies, Books, and Luggage
Fri: Auto, Cosmetics, Hardware, and Jewelry
By closely following the markdown schedule, and hitting the stores early in the morning it is possible to get what you want before anyone else knows about it. Linsey often hits the food aisles on Tuesday morning and comes home with armloads of canned goods, boxed dinner kits, and gourmet juices for pennies.

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 percent off the day after holiday for three days
  • 75 percent off the fourth day after holiday for three days
  • 90 percent off the seventh day after holiday for 1-2 days.

Sneakers. 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.

Winter Coats. 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.

Thrift Stores. 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.

AUTOMOBILES

Phillip Reed of Edmunds.com, advises that the last Tuesday or Wednesday of the month is the best day to buy a car if you’re prepared to drive a hard bargain. This is when dealerships are getting anxious about meeting their quotas.

If you arrive in the early afternoon, you will get more attention from the sales staff because during this slow time of the week there will be fewer shoppers. That also increases the likelihood that dealers will be ready to drop the prices even farther to make a deal with you. Di Vincenzo says the best time of the year to buy a new car is the fall—September through December. “Expect to save 10 to 20 percent on the previous year’s model.” If you can wait until December, you’ll get an even better deal.

APPLIANCES

Refrigerators. 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.

Air Conditioners. 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.

TICKETS

The best time to snap up tickets for the theater, comedy, sports, music and performing arts is a few hours before the show starts. That’s when the venue is most desperate to fill its seats and may offer deep discounts. You can show up at the box office to seek a bargain, or a better way to get tickets for half-price is to join Goldstar.com (membership is free). They work with more than 4,000 venues and producers across the country, offering the world’s largest selection of half-price tickets.

Rather than trying to sell out the show one ticket at a time, these 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!

JEWELRY

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.

WEDDINGS

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.

HOUSE

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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