(NerdWallet) – To get the most out of summer sales, shoppers have to think ahead — sometimes way ahead.
That’s because end-of-summer sales are the ideal time to stock up on hot weather items that you’ll use a year from now. “Flip-flops, bathing suits, beach towels, grills, Adirondack chairs — at the end of the season, that’s when you’ll get the best prices of the year,” says Leah Ingram, who writes about saving money on her Real Sophisticated Consumer blog at LeahIngram.com.
“These sales help stores make room for the next seasonal holiday, and most importantly, they help keep consumers engaged with the brand or retailer during off-peak times,” says Katie Hansen, a senior retail and e-commerce analyst at Mintel, a market intelligence agency.
Shoppers are especially hungry for sales because inflation has been straining Americans’ budgets. “Consumers are trying to make the most of their dollars right now,” Hansen adds.
A plan-ahead strategy can save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars a year. Knowing how to smartly shop late summer and fall sales can bring down the cost of items you’ll use right away, at holiday giving time and next year. Here’s how to get the most out of these sales:
Look for freebies with purchases
To keep shoppers engaged during the slower summer shopping season, retailers often offer additional promotions along with traditional discounts. Those can include “buy one, get one” deals, gift cards or a free gift with a purchase, or even discounts on yearlong memberships, Hansen says.
When comparing prices, consider the whole promotional package.
Don’t delay buying back-to-school supplies
As soon as you receive your supply list from schools, it’s time to go shopping, says Charles Field, CEO of TeacherLists, a national source of verified school supply lists for retailers and parents. “Most retailers roll out back-to-school pricing after July 4, and then it hits its peak through early August,” he says, even though some parents (and kids) might not be ready to think about binders and notebooks quite yet.
Even if you missed this year’s mid-July sales, August could give you another chance at worthy deals, especially if schools in your local district open later.
For some items, wait for October
Last year, major retailers like Amazon and Target held big sales events in October, which allowed shoppers to stock up on gifts months before the holidays arrived. “There’s no reason to think they won’t be doing that again in 2023, so have your ears perked up in October,” Ingram says. If you need big-ticket items such as electronics or appliances, that could be your best chance to buy at a discount.
Similarly, summer clothing goes on sale as fall hits and fall styles even later in the year, so waiting to purchase back-to-school apparel is a smart move, says Samantha Gordon, deals editor at Consumer Reports, a nonprofit consumer research and advocacy organization. “You don’t have to buy everything your kids are going to need right away,” she adds.
Keep watching prices even post-purchase
“One of my favorite tips is after you’ve made the purchase, keep your eye on the item, because you might be able to get a partial refund if it goes on sale next week,” Gordon says.
Retailer policies vary, so you’ll want to check on the details in advance, she adds. And if a retailer doesn’t offer price matching, you might be able to return the full-price item and purchase it again for the discounted price.
Using browser extensions like PayPal Honey, the Camelizer and Rakuten can help ensure you’re buying when prices drop as well as apply any available coupon codes or cash-back opportunities, Ingram says. “You can get cash back on things you need to buy anyway,” she adds.
Spread out holiday expenses
Buying holiday gifts during summer sales or October discounts might sound extreme, but it’s becoming more common for shoppers looking to spread out their expenses and nab the best deals.
“I started to elongate my holiday purchases, starting around Prime Day and other summer sales for my nieces and nephews,” says Christian Piller, co-founder and chief commercial officer of Pollen Returns, a service that handles retail returns. Being more flexible on timing also allows him to make purchases when the biggest sales hit, such as buying a new TV right before the Super Bowl.
Scoring the best deals often means waiting patiently for the moment the price drops, even if that moment comes months before you actually need the item.