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All Contents © 2020The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Andrea Browne Taylor, Online Editor
Stacy Rapacon, Online Editor
| November 21, 2019
It's all too easy to get caught up in the holiday shopping frenzy. Stores are blaring your favorite holiday tunes. Santa is camped out near the food court with a long line of kids waiting to take a photo. And retailers are trying their hardest to get you to spend by offering exclusive deals.
In fact, 165.3 million consumers are expected to shop in-store and online over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend alone, according to the National Retail Federation’s Annual November Holiday Consumer Survey. The big draw? Deals too good to pass up on dozens of hot-ticket items, from TVs and smart home devices to digital cameras and kitchen appliances. However, die-hard bargain hunters know that if you plan ahead you can find even better deals on many of those same products at other times of the year.
Enlisting the help of several shopping experts, we identified 18 product categories that holiday shoppers should steer clear of, because they'll either be available for much less after the holidays or there’s a strong chance the product might go unused. Take a look at the list of some of the worst things to buy during the holidays.
A bit of bling might rank high on many people’s holiday wish lists, but if you can put your plans to buy diamonds and other fine jewelry on ice, you’re likely to find a better bargain later in the winter.
"Sales for quality jewelry peak in late January, after the holidays and a week or two ahead of Valentine's Day," says Brent Shelton, a smart shopping expert with Bospar. "Jewelers and department stores have their biggest and best sales during this time."
You may be tempted to stock up on extra blankets and other bedding during Black Friday sales to get cozy for the holidays. But you can snuggle up to more savings if you hold off until after the turn of the year.
NerdWallet.com's consumer savings expert Courtney Jespersen says that many retailers including Macy’s, Kohl’s, Overstock and Pottery Barn tend to fold their best deals on sheets, towels, comforter sets and other linens into their "white sales" in January. Last year, she reports seeing savings of 50% or more on bedding during those sales, making them well worth the wait.
Perhaps this holiday season is a good time to teach the little ones in your life about patience. If they can wait until after the holidays to unwrap the most in-demand toys of the year, such as 2019's Hatchimals WOW!, Kindi Kids Dolls, NERF Fortnite Dart Blaster and Nintendo Switch Lite, you can save yourself a bundle of cash and the effort of tracking them down.
"Many [hot toys] are sold out at authorized retailers [leading up to the holidays], so if you buy now you're likely to be going through a third party and paying well above the list price," says Rebecca Lehmann, senior manager at deals site BradsDeals.com. "Inventory will be replenished once the holidays wind down, and we might even see discounts at that point. You may not even have to wait long."
Between Thanksgiving feasts and Christmas cookies, we all know there’s more than one fat man packing extra holiday weight in his sleigh. And the time to start thinking about dropping some pounds is likely not until after the New Year.
"Very late December and early January is a better time [to purchase fitness equipment], with millions of people making New Year’s resolutions to finally get healthy and drop a few pounds," says Eric Jones, advisor and former co-owner of deals site BestBlackFriday.com. "Stores know this, and they adjust prices accordingly every single year."
Electronics go for incredible deals on Black Friday, Cyber Monday and throughout the holiday season. But if you're in the market for a top-of-the-line computer, you're better off waiting a few months.
"Although there will be select sales [during the holidays] that can help you save some money, the best times to buy newer and more powerful laptops are in late spring and mid-summer during back-to-school sales," deal expert Shelton says, "especially for MacBooks and the more expensive two-in-one hybrid laptops."
You’re sure to find discounts on coats, sweaters and other cold-weather clothing at many retailers during the weeks leading up to Christmas. But as the winter wears on, the discounts are bound to head deeper.
"We never recommend purchasing clothing in the early parts of a season," says Jones of BestBlackFriday.com. "Wait until the end of January and early February for clearance deals on winter apparel."
Let your Christmas spirit spill over into the days after the holiday. That's when prices on ornaments, lights, garlands, artificial trees and other seasonal items will drop like a lump of coal.
"Post-Christmas clearance discounts will be steep," says Jespersen of NerdWallet. "Shoppers can stock up on wreaths, ornaments and wrapping paper at a major discount, then save them for next year."
You probably don't expect Santa to shove a mattress down your chimney. But if you were thinking about giving your holiday guests something more comfortable than a futon to sleep on, you might want to reconsider buying a mattress during November or December.
"Mattress deals are not awful during Black Friday — some are quite good — but the deals are better during other months of the year," says Jones of BestBlackFriday.com. "We recommend Memorial Day weekend, with Labor Day being a close second."
Big retailers that sell lots electronics during the holidays, especially Best Buy and Walmart, have the clout to get manufacturers to make exclusive products for them with fewer features and/or older technologies that can be sold at seemingly rock-bottom prices. It's a practice that Slaybaugh, formerly of DealNews, says is becoming more common. The thing is, it's difficult to judge whether the prices on these stripped-down Black Friday models are truly rock bottom since the products are new to the market and unique, making it all but impossible to do meaningful price-comparisons at other retailers.
"Such items were never sold before, so how can they be discounted?" says Slaybaugh. "We're not saying it's impossible to find a good deal; just be sure to check out the specs and know what you're getting before making your purchase."
You know all those commercials that show people surprising loved ones with a brand new car for the holidays? Turns out, not the best idea. Even if you could find a bow that big, you’re better off waiting until New Year’s Eve to buy a car to tie it on.
"Waiting until this day and a little haggling can yield an awesome deal on a new car that you may otherwise not have been able to afford," says Jones of BestBlackFriday.com. "Dealerships not only have monthly sales goals to meet, but they have quarterly and yearly ones as well."
With many retailers struggling and more stores closing every day, you may see a lot of final sale and clearance items during holiday sales, says Slaybaugh.
And while such rock-bottom prices may be tempting, remember that you’re stuck with what you buy, a particularly unappealing predicament if you’re shopping for gifts for other people. "Your gift may not fit, or the recipient may simply not like your choice," says Slaybaugh. "So giving them the option of making an exchange is always a good idea."
Just because something is on sale doesn't mean it's the best product to buy or the best time of year to buy it. That's the case with many Christmas sales on large appliances such as washer/dryer combos, refrigerators and dishwashers, says Brittney Mayer, a credit analyst for CardRates.com. This time of year, the biggest discounts on appliances are usually on off-brands (up to 40% off) rather than name brands, she says. While some off-brands can be hidden gems, when spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on major appliances, there's peace of mind that comes with buying from a trusted brand that's known for quality versus one you've never heard of.
If there's a specific name-brand appliance that you were hoping to find a good deal on but didn't, and you can't hold off on the purchase, go ahead and pay the higher price to ensure you're getting exactly what you want. It's your time and money, after all. However, if you can wait a couple of months, appliances from major brands — including Samsung, Whirlpool and Kenmore — will be marked down by up to 50% during Presidents' Day sales in February, Mayer says.
If you're using a credit card to do your holiday shopping, think twice before getting pressured into buying an add-on warranty, CardRates.com's Mayer advises.
In addition to racking up rewards points and earning cash back on your purchases, most credit cards come with free extended warranty coverage that adds an extra year to an eligible product's manufacturer's warranty of three years or less, she says. Mastercard and Visa have such policies, while American Express offers its cardholders an additional two years of extended warranty coverage.
Be sure to read the fine print before your next purchase, because there may be some exclusions. Mastercard's extended warranty doesn't cover floor models sold without the original manufacturer's warranty (these types of items are usually sold at a significant discount due to wear-and-tear). Visa's policy doesn't cover computer software. American Express's policy doesn't cover items purchased using an installment billing plan, such as a smartphone.
If you’re stumped on what to gift dear ol’ Dad this holiday season, a new tool set might seem failproof. But if you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck, you won’t find the best bargains on tools during the Black Friday shopping weekend.
In fact, home improvement retailers such as Home Depot and Lowe’s slash prices on tool gift sets, individual power tools, tool storage units and related accessories closer to Father’s Day in early June, says Sara Skirboll, shopping and trends expert for Retail Me Not. Buying a tool set during the winter months versus at the start of summer is the difference between getting 35% off the retail price now instead of 50% off later.
Don’t let the thrill of a Black Friday deal tempt you into purchasing something you don’t really need right now -- especially when you can get it cheaper later. Keep this in mind if you’re considering buying outdoor camping or hiking gear during the upcoming holiday shopping weekend. Typically, you won’t find huge savings on items such as tents, sleeping bags and backpacks in November or December, says Casey Runyan, managing editor for BradsDeals.com. “New product lines tend to launch in late winter and early spring. Consumers can expect the best sale prices to come in March as retailers will be making room for new inventory,” she adds.
The same goes for outdoor winter sports equipment (think: ice skates, snowboards and skis). November, December and January are peak season for these types of activities, so shoppers won’t start to see significant deals until February or March, when sporting goods retailers begin to transition into the spring sports season, Retail Me Not’s Skirboll notes.
The thought of being stuck in a crowded mall with thousands of other holiday shoppers is enough to make some short-tempered consumers stay home. Hitting the gift card aisle at their local drugstore is the extent of their holiday shopping. If this sounds like you, listen up. You’ll want to steer clear of store-specific gift cards, advises NerdWallet.com’s personal finance expert Kimberly Palmer. Unless you know the recipient really well, you risk buying them a gift card to a store they don’t shop at. In addition, gift cards can be easy to lose track of, especially if it’s one the recipient doesn’t plan to redeem immediately. As a result, it goes unused and your money is wasted, Palmer suggests.
If you insist on giving gift cards, stick to cash versions that come with an American Express, Mastercard or Visa logo on them. Your loved one can use it however they like -- to buy a coveted item at their favorite retailer, to catch a movie or to treat themselves to a spa day after the holiday madness has died down. Simply put: You can be assured that your friend or family member gets a gift they actually want and will use.
Tickets to a Broadway musical are sure to please the theater geek on your holiday gift-giving list, but you may want to reconsider purchasing them right now. That’s because you can score 2-for-1 deals on select shows during NYC Broadway Week (which runs from January 21 through February 9) with ticket sales starting on January 8.
If you travel often to the Big Apple to catch a show, then you know this is a steal because a single ticket can cost a few hundred bucks. For example, last spring the average cost for a single ticket to see “Hamilton” -- one of the most popular Broadway shows -- totaled $286 (times two and that’s $572 for tickets alone), according to The Washington Post.
Keep in mind this deal isn’t for procrastinators. Ticket quantities are limited, so you’ll want to book early before your desired show sells out. To see the full list of shows and to buy tickets, be sure to bookmark nycgo.com/broadway-week, so you don’t miss out.
If you’re expecting to snag deep discounts on an iPhone, smart watch or a set of AirPods during the holiday shopping frenzy, think again. You won’t find prices being slashed on the Apple’s e-commerce site or at its bricks-and-mortar locations on Black Friday or Cyber Monday.
What you will find are Black Friday bundle deals from authorized resellers such as Target. For example, the big-box retailer’s 2019 Black Friday doorbuster deals include a free $200 store gift card with the purchase of an iPhone 11 and qualified activation. It’s worth noting that some retailers will even mark down prices on previous generation Apple product models. Walmart’s doorbuster deals include an Apple Watch Series 3 for $129 (marked down from $199). Apple’s current smart watch is Series 5.
For those who don’t want to pay full price for the current models and can wait it out, TheKrazyCouponLady.com offers a smart buying strategy: Wait until Apple announces its new iPhone and other product releases, which it typically does annually in September. It’s then that you’ll start to see prices drop by as much as $150 on current models. By doing this, you get a discount without having to settle for an iPhone or smart watch that’s two or three generations behind and isn’t equipped with the latest technology.