Before you plunk down hundreds — or even thousands of dollars — on that must-have item this season, heed the advice of retail experts who say some products are better bought at other times during the year, or not at all.
Though the average American is expected to spend $805.65 on holiday shopping this year, many will shell out much more than that, according to the National Retail Federation. That's the highest in the report's 14-year history.
What's more, almost half of this shopping will be done online.
Planning to splurge on a loved one? Experts say before you hit the "buy" button, it's a good idea to consider doing so at other times of the year, when certain items typically go on sale, or renting products that may not get used as often as you might like.
— By Lucy Maher, special to CNBC.com
Published 13 Nov. 2015
Who doesn't like the thought of a football fan ripping open reams of wrapping paper to reveal the latest big-screen TV? Or a budding photographer discovering a new digital camera under the tree? The problem is, "new models in these categories are usually announced at CES [an electronics convention held every January], at which point the older models are discontinued," said Kristin Cook, managing editor of Ben's Bargains.
"This opens up the potential for better prices than Black Friday, in early February through mid-March, usually 30 to 50 percent off clearance models," Cook said.
Alternatively, if you are just looking for a basic model, prices are good on Black Friday, noted Brent Shelton, a shopping expert at Fat Wallet.
This is one category where it pays to buy in the weeks before Christmas. That's because "these products are often announced throughout the year in preparation of the holiday shopping period," Cook said. "There's really no better time to buy a previous-generation iPad than Black Friday with all the sales and gift card bonuses."
"We've seen the best discounts on new tablets and laptops all through November as well, opposed to any other time of the year. We also expect deals to be even more aggressive this holiday season, because back-to-school deals on new laptops and tablets were relatively weak this year," Cook added.
One thing worth noting: Before you charge this type of purchase, think about the extras your recipient may need. These include a data plan, software and a protective case, which can run you hundreds of dollars above the sticker price.
Ads for diamonds flood the airways starting around Thanksgiving, but you're better off waiting to buy those solitaires until next year and hiding them from your recipient. That's because "jewelry prices definitely fall dramatically after Valentine's Day," said Cook.
"Jewelry stores will push out deals on Black Friday, but prices are elevated since jewelry is a popular holiday gift. We recommend waiting until March to purchase jewelry. You can also find great prices in July and August due to the slowdown in traffic at jewelry stores," she said.
Other good times to make a purchase? Anytime that's not a "gift-giving month," said Mark Di Vincenzo, author of "Buy Ketchup in May and Fly at Noon." "February, May, June and October through December are the gift-giving months because of Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, graduations and Christmas. During the gift-giving months, retailers will often raise prices and then discount those items. But 'real sales' tend to occur in January and during the other non-gift-giving months."
If your recipient is an active enthusiast who will be hitting the slopes regularly, buying a set of skis, a snowboard or even high-tech clothing and gear makes sense. "However, if you're a casual fan," said Regina Conway, consumer expert with Slickdeals, "renting can help you figure out which type of equipment works best for you, and can be a good way to test out whether you plan to stick with it."
If your recipient is a newbie, but committed to continuing the sport, hold off on buying until the sales kick into action in January. "The savings is about 10 to 20 percent around that time," said Conway, and will lessen the blow of having to upgrade this gear as skill levels improve.
A soft leather carry-on is perhaps the ultimate splurge, but with new flight guidelines rolling out, they may become unusable. "While it seems that for the time being, your traditional carry-on sizes will remain in effect in the U.S., several international airlines are planning to adopt new guidelines," Conway said. "Whether or not these guidelines do ultimately go into effect, avoid buying new luggage during the holiday season."
March is the best time to buy luggage, she advised, when retailers mark down items because sales slow down after the busy holiday travel season, and won't yet pick up for summer travel.
Plenty of adult kids see this as a no-brainer for aging parents. But at upward of $800, depending on the make and model, it would be better to wait. "If you live in a climate where the big snowfall doesn't hit until after the holidays, prices do start to come down in January," Shelton said.
"Of course, they really come down end of season," Shelton added, "so if rental is a budget saver, then wait for clearance and you'll have the machine of a lifetime for 2016 and beyond."
Whether you're looking for a starter 10-speed or a professional road bike, most sets of two wheels will run anywhere from a couple hundred dollars into the thousands throughout the year, including the holiday season.
An exception? "High-end bicycles are better to buy in the offseason," said Cook. "Look for markdowns of 30 to 50 percent in late January, early February on the previous year's models to clear inventory space for new models being released in the spring."