When to Buy: A Seasonal Sales Guide

Between sales on holidays like President’s Day, Labor Day, Memorial Day and Black Friday, it may feel like shopping boils down to “if there’s a three-day weekend, something is on sale.” However, holidays aren’t the only reason stores put items on sale; and if you know their inventory cycle, it’s possible to plan for what you want to buy before stores start advertising lower prices.

Also good to know: Some discounts pop up several times throughout the year, so you may have more than one opportunity to buy what you want at a lower price.

Who’s looking for bargains?

Having the ability to pay full-price is one thing, but buying patterns show that people don’t always do it: A fall 2018 survey by the trade group the National Retail Federation found that 60 percent of consumers buy more items on sale now than they did in 2013.

This same survey also showed that 85 percent of the 3,000+ people they asked said they’ve refused to purchase an item they really wanted because it wasn’t on sale.

Are sales always for off-season items?

While it’s possible to find uncomfortable tradeoffs – like cheap airfares to parts of Florida during its most humid months – it’s also possible to find a deal without having to suffer to save. Some discounts may be on items and services you’ll want to use immediately (Think: winter coats in winter, gym memberships in January) and others may be for items that could be useful in a few months down the line, when the peak season rolls around.

When to buy what – a ballpark estimate

The one common thread we were able to find was that something is always on sale. The starting dates vary, depending on what sources you look at, so it could be worth checking prices before and after these “typical” sale seasons are expected to start.

How we organized our list

Related items don’t always go on sale at the same time, but it could be helpful to see when category sales may or may not overlap, so we grouped information by season or theme. For example, you’ll see that running sneakers seem to go on sale right before fitness equipment does, take a break, and then resurface before fitness apparel discounts kick in.

Appliances

In general, you’ll likely find major appliances, like washers and dryers, on sale whenever there is a holiday weekend. You’re also likely to find them on sale in August, September, October, November, and January.

What may not be in the mix: Refrigerators. At least one site says their sweet spot is in May and another says it’s in November.

What’s going on: Stores are making way for newer, shinier versions. If you’re wondering about how long you’ve got with your current appliances, the lifespan seems to be about 13 years for refrigerators, about 10 for dryers, between 7-12 years for dishwashers and about 9 years for microwaves.

Electronics

If you’re OK with being a half-step or so behind the latest model, you can find some electronics for less at these times:

  • TVs: January
  • Cameras: February/Spring, November
  • Computers: June, July, August

What’s going on: Retailers are balancing a few trends here: making space for new models by selling the old ones (cameras), revving up a slow period (TVs) and taking advantage of shopping surges - including back-to-school and holiday sales.

Summer stuff

Summer’s tricky; warm temperatures can run through September, so while stores may be saying summer’s over, you may get to use discounted warm-weather items before cooler weather sets in.

  • Air conditioners: October through February
  • Grills: July, September
  • Outdoor furniture: August, September, October
  • Summer clothing: Start looking in July and August
  • Sunglasses: August, September
  • Swimsuits: August

What’s going on: Seasonal shifts; stores need room for the season that’s just started or about to begin.

Home stuff

Every season has a home maintenance need, but the items that make home comfortable and protected go on sale throughout the year.

  • Mattresses: February, May, September
  • Sheets: January
  • Snow blowers: February
  • Cookware: April
  • Windows: April
  • Lawn mowers: April, May, September
  • Tools: June
  • Home improvement items (think roofs, decks): May

What’s going on: These sales are about a mix of needs, such as wanting to sell items for a season that’s just about over (snow blowers in February) and to make the most of an occasion, (like buying requested cookware for a wedding or a student who just graduated from college).

Travel stuff

“Shoulder season,” which is travel speak for good times to travel cheaply, generally depends on your destination, but some discounts appear to have a timetable.

  • Cruises: January, February, October
  • Cameras February/Spring, November
  • Luggage: March, August

What’s going on: Retailers generally discount luggage in March to make way for newer models. As for August, at least one source says it’s because people are done traveling.

Fitness stuff

Money-saving incentives are one way retailers address getting-fit resolutions.

  • Gym memberships:January (Resolutions!)
  • Fitness equipment: January
  • Fitness apparel: May

What’s going on: January discounts on gym memberships and equipment are all about resolution season. In the case of memberships, gyms benefit when you pay, even if you don’t go throughout the year.

Outdoors stuff

Buying sports equipment on sale can require thinking about what you’ll need next year.

  • Golf equipment: March, fall and winter
  • Ski gear: March, early fall
  • Camping equipment: August, October
  • Bicycles: September, October

What’s going on: Some of these sales are just part of the retail shuffle. For example, ski season is just about over in March, so stores want to sell their inventory. The same goes for camping equipment.

Jewelry and Wedding Dresses

Romance may not have a price, but its celebrations sometimes do.

  • Wedding dresses: November
  • Jewelry: March, July

What’s going on: Engagement season peaks from November through Valentine’s Day, just as new dresses are coming in. As for jewelry, stores are in a bit of a dry spell: Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day have passed.

Clothing by season or type

  • Winter clothing: December, January
  • Winter coats: January, February
  • Evening wear, men’s suits: January
  • Fall clothes: November, December
  • Sneakers: April, November
  • Spring clothes: April, May, August
  • Swimsuits: August
  • Summer clothes: July, August
  • Sunglasses: August, September
  • Jeans: October

What’s going on: Stores are clearing out inventory right at the end of the season.

Cars

Keeping cars in good shape starts with having the right equipment.

  • Motor oil: October, November
  • Cars: October, November, December

What’s going on: Cars have seasons, too. Road trips and changing weather, along with new models and trends, are behind some auto-related sales.

If Long-Weekend and Holiday Shopping is your thing

Holidays definitely overlap with the discount patterns we’ve outlined, but if you’ve ever shopped, then you know that there are different types of discounts; such as clearance items, which are usually deeply discounted. And then there are prices that are lower than what’s printed on the ticket – which is where holiday sales comfortably fit.

This mini list captures some of the better-known shopping holidays:

February

President’s Day—third Monday of February

May

Memorial Day—last Monday of May

July

“Christmas in July” (Different from Amazon’s ‘Prime Day’)

September

Labor Day—first Monday in September

October

Columbus Day—second Monday in October

November

Pre-Black Friday, as in before Thanksgiving, which is the fourth Thursday of the month

Black Friday – Fourth Friday in November

Cyber Monday (but can last as long as a week) – Monday after Thanksgiving

December

Green Monday—second Monday of December

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for individualized professional advice. Articles on this site were commissioned and approved by Marcus by Goldman Sachs®, but may not reflect the institutional opinions of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., Goldman Sachs Bank USA or any of their affiliates, subsidiaries or divisions.