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All Contents © 2020The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Stacy Rapacon, Online Editor
Andrea Browne Taylor, Online Editor
| December 5, 2018
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, nearly 165 million consumers shopped in-store and online over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in November, according to the National Retail Federation. The big draw? Prices were marked way down on many hot-ticket items including TVs and smart home devices, while discounts on a range of other gifts were nearly as enticing. 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 15 product categories that holiday shoppers should steer clear of, because they'll be available for much less right after the holidays or in the months ahead. 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 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 2018's Fingerlings Hugs plush toys, Boxy Girls dolls, Power Action Pikachu stuffed animal and Hatchibabies, 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, 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."
Typically, the holiday season is a popular time to set sail—and the high demand pushes cruise prices significantly higher during that period. "Cruise prices over Christmas can be double or even triple those in the first two weeks of December, which are some the lowest of the year," says Bob Levinstein, chief executive of travel-booking site CruiseCompete.com. "If you have the flexibility to travel when others can't, you can save a lot of money."
Note though that, following the devastation that struck the Caribbean with this year’s hurricanes, you actually can find good deals on cruises to the area, even where little to no damage was done. "This year, there is some good availability—and good rates—for those holiday cruises, as some folks have not booked or have cancelled thinking the Caribbean was not available," says Heidi Allison, a representative of CruiseCompete.com. "The Caribbean is open for business… [and] really needs our help, by sending tourists, to recover fully."
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, 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 is 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."
Technology advances quickly, making yesterday’s hot new thing obsolete by tomorrow. Such is the case with televisions, where the 1080p resolution that was once most coveted by TV buyers has been eclipsed by higher resolution 4K HD sets.
Most of the noteworthy deals on televisions this holiday shopping season will be for 4K HD models. However, some retailers will still have a few 1080p resolution models on sale at bargain-basement prices. For example, Walmart had a Black Friday sale promotion for a Hisense 40-inch 1080p TV for just $99. That may sound like a steal, but when it comes to the latest innovations in TVs you'll want to already be future-proofed for when 4K HD is the norm and all television programming uses that format instead of 1080p, suggests Stephen Slaybaugh, a former consumer analyst for DealNews.com. In other words, it's not just the price of the TV but the value, performance and longevity you'll get from it that count.
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 strategist for CardRates.com. Right now, for instance, the biggest discounts on appliances are 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 smart phone.