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The best time to buy everything, maybe

To keep this short and accurate, the best time to buy everything is when nobody else wants it anymore.

You know you should shop for Christmas decorations and Halloween candy right after those holidays. But for everything else, it’s more complicated.

For instance, we’re always going to want TVs, mattresses, and furniture. Their best sales aren’t neatly pegged to a holiday, and many of us don’t pay enough attention to prices to recognize a good deal when we see it.

Here’s the good news: Most of the major “when to buy” lists strongly agree on those big-ticket items, if not much else. We looked at five of them to compile a master-meta-time-to-buy list. If you don’t care how we got there or what we learned, you can skip straight to the chart at the bottom.

How we made the list

The sources include…

But not all of those are created equal — you have to look at their sources.

Consumer Reports and DealNews both make their recommendations based on price-tracking data, which seems like the most objective and rigorous way to time buying decisions. And since their whole shtick is product reviews and prices, we consider them the best authorities. Plus, they’re the most recently published.

Oprah.com relies on expert opinions, and Business Insider uses a mix of sources —including some things from DealNews and some from a guy who wrote a book about when to buy things. We could do an Inception-esque dive into those sources, but that didn’t seem productive. So we consider these valuable sources, but maybe not the best.

Then there’s WiseBread. We don’t really know what they use to decide — they provide no methodology at all, and only describe the list as “when inventory is being cleared out for new models or other cyclic events.” But the site had a lot of overlap with Business Insider’s recommendations and included categories others didn’t, so we thought it had some value. They were a useful tie-breaker in some situations, but without knowing their sources or the age, we considered this the least reliable list.

Some categories seemed to have multiple good times to buy per year — one source would mention them in multiple months. We’ve highlighted the month where the greatest number of sources agreed, including those sources in parentheses. But we also tell you how many months out of the year that category was listed by all sources, to show you when there’s not a clear best time to buy.

There are a few categories that contain items mentioned elsewhere as their own category — for instance, there’s computers, but also desktops and laptops. There’s small electronics, but also MP3 players and GPS navigators. We left those intact but tried to figure the best month for the broader category with an awareness of the “subcategories,” and vice versa.

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The weird findings

The big conclusion from compiling the super-mega-meta-time-to-buy list is this…

Sometimes we don’t really know whether we can save any money by buying at a certain time, despite the best efforts of many people.

If you want the best deal, there’s no shortcut around researching prices for the specific item you want and patiently waiting for a price drop. Here’s what else we learned…

  • Everybody knows when to buy indoor furniture (January), mattresses (May), and TVs (November).
  • Most people also agree there’s a good time to buy wedding dresses, treadmills, outdoor/patio furniture, linens, cookware, and small kitchen appliances.
  • But there’s no consensus on when to buy air conditioners, grills, bikes, computers, digital cameras, and other small electronics. It’s probably just easier to learn when not to buy grills — the second quarter — since they’re recommended nine months out of the year. (TVs are also frequently recommended, but there was much clearer overlap.)
  • DealNews puts out a list of what to buy and not buy each month, which is more helpful than assuming prices permanently follow the same trends. In fact, DealNews often contradicted some other, older sources (e.g., saying not to buy TVs in June, or appliances in September or October).
  • DealNews is also more specific about the items (get this size TV now, wait on the bigger ones) and the time frame (buy this week, best deal we’ve seen since X, last chance to save before Y).

When to buy everything

When You Should Buy Stuff, According to the Internet
Category Best time Months mentioned
Air conditioners August (CR, DN) 6
Appliances December (CR) 2
Athletic clothes and shoes May (CR) 1
Baby products November (CR) 1
Backpacks August (CR) 1
Bikes January (BI, WB) 5
Boats December (BI) 4
Camcorders December (CR) 4
Camping gear October (BI, DN) 3
Carpeting January (BI, WB) 3
Cars October (DN, Oprah) 4
Car parts April (WB) 1
Chocolate March (BI, DN) 1
Christmas stuff January (DN) 1
Computers (laptops and desktops) April (CR, WB) 5
Cookware and dishware June (BI, CR, WB) 1
Cookware and kitchen appliances November (BI, DN, WB) 3
Cordless phones May (CR) 1
Cruises October (DN) 1
Dehumidifiers August (CR, WB) 1
Desktop computers September (DN) 4
Digital cameras October (CR, Oprah) 6
Gardening tools February (WB) 1
Golf clubs December (BI) 1
GPS November (CR) 2
Grills October (CR, WB) 9
Gym membership June (BI, WB) 3
Houses Q2 (WB) 4
Humidifiers February (CR) 2
Indoor furniture January (BI, DN, Oprah, WB) 4
Jewelry March (BI) 2
Laptops April (BI) 2
Lawn mowers October (CR, WB) 4
Linens January (BI, CR, WB) 3
Lingerie June (DN) 2
Luggage March (BI) 1
Mattresses May (BI, CR, DN, WB) 1
Motorcycles February (BI, WB) 3
MP3 players August (BI, WB) 2
Office furniture May (BI) 2
Outdoor furniture August (CR, DN, WB) 4
Paint January (BI) 1
Perfume March (BI) 1
Pools January (BI) 2
Prom dresses February (BI, WB) 2
Refrigerators May (BI, WB) 1
Roofing April (BI) 1
RVs November (WB) 1
School supplies August (BI, DN) 2
Sewing machines March (WB) 1
Small appliances January (WB) 1
Small electronics (MP3s, GPS, etc.) November (BI, Oprah) 7
Snowblowers September (BI, CR) 3
Spring clothing May (DN) 2
Stoves July (BI) 1
Summer clothing August (BI, DN) 2
Summer sports gear June (CR) 1
Sunglasses September (BI) 1
Swingsets August (BI, WB) 1
Swimwear August (DN) 3
Tax software February (DN) 2
Tools and hardware December (DN, WB) 3
Toys December (CR, DN) 3
Treadmills January (CR, WB, DN) 2
Trees and shrubs October (BI, WB) 2
TVs November (BI, CR, DN, WB) 8
Vacuum cleaners April (BI, WB) 3
Video games February (BI, WB) 3
Weddings January (WB) 2
Wedding dresses November (BI, DN, WB) 2
Winter clothes January (CR, DN) 3
Winter sports gear March (DN) 2
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