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Preet Banerjee

How off-season shoppers can save big Add to ...

I make no apologies for liking chocolate of all kinds, from single-estate artisanal truffles to candy bars. So, for me, Christmas is on Nov. 1, when all the unsold Halloween goodies go on sale for 75 per cent off. For my girlfriend, it's Boxing Day, because the price of Christmas cards are similarly slashed. In fact, there are many things we buy that have a seasonal sweet spot in terms of savings.

Often, it comes down to supply and demand. The supply as well as the demand for candy is high leading up to Oct. 31, but subsequently drops off. A fire-sale ensues as retailers don’t want to take up valuable space with hard-to-sell leftovers. The reduced profit, or in some cases a loss, might be more than made up for by quickly moving the next season or event’s goods when their demand, and fatter margins, are surging.

The advantage of seasonal demand in a country like Canada can be exacerbated by the more distinctive seasons we experience. That means demand for many things comes in short, strong bursts. You can save big by buying off-cycle: sweaters in spring, air conditioning units in winter, patio furniture in fall, etc.

Online communities and auctions have varying demand at different times of the year, too. Even if you are buying used items, it’s worth keeping this in mind. If you are a buyer, buy off-cycle. If you are a seller, sell on-cycle instead.

In other cases, seasonal deals lie with helping retailers clear space for next year’s new models. Traditionally, right before the Super Bowl is when you can find great deals on big screen TVs. All of last year’s stock that didn’t sell before or after Christmas might be up for a Hail Mary type sale to make way for, I don’t know … the 4D super ultra HD TVs for 2012.

When an auto manufacturer announces that a revamped model of your favourite car is coming to showrooms, you can expect two things. Every earlier model of that same car on the used market is less attractive, which can lower the going rates, and you might be able to find some really slick deals on last year’s model that’s probably still on the salesroom floor. The deals may not manifest in a price drop, but through other things like reduced financing costs, bigger rebates, or package upgrades.

A lot of buyers are less likely to buy the first year of a new model with the belief that a few bugs will crop up that need to be ironed out. By that logic, the final year of the previous model should be as good as it gets quality-wise.

With all retail savings advice, it’s important to remember that saving 80 per cent on something you weren’t otherwise going to buy is no savings at all. But if you happen to be in the market for a particular item, think about when most people buy them. If it’s seasonal, think about waiting six months. If it’s event-driven, think about waiting until the day after the event.

For many people, emotion trumps logic. And that’s a big factor in retailer’s pricing strategies. You can use it to your advantage, or get taken advantage of.

Shopping calendar

Best time to buy travel? Farecompare says Wednesday is the cheapest day of the week. It might also be the best day of the week to ask for an upgrade.

Best time to buy cut flowers? Right after Valentine’s Day. Instead of paying through the nose before Feb. 14, consider getting flowers at random times throughout the year.

Best time for winter clothes and sporting goods? March. These items take up lots of room in stores, but also your closets and basements. The inconvenience pays off in the form of money in your pocket.

Bad time for deals in general? Tax refund time, when people are more prone to spend their refunds.

Preet Banerjee, BSc, FMA, DMS, FCSI is a W Network Money Expert, and blogs at wheredoesallmymoneygo.com . You can also follow him on twitter at @PreetBanerjee

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