Best and Worst Things to Buy in May

This post comes from Lindsay Sakraida at partner site Dealnews.

The Marketplace Fairness Act — which requires online retailers to collect state sales tax regardless of an operation’s location — may finally come to pass this month, and consumers who have enjoyed scoring tax-free items via online shopping may be disappointed by the development.

But the way we see it, the new law just means shoppers will have to be all the more savvy with their purchases. To help out, we’ve mined the Dealnews archives of products, sales, coupons and daily deals to point out what items are great buys (and conversely, what items you should probably avoid) throughout the month of May.

Memorial Day sales and coupons: some of the year’s best

Oftentimes, stores want you to believe that every holiday weekend will feature some of the deepest discounts of the season, but that isn’t always the case. However, as an almost midyear event, we’ve consistently found that Memorial Day promotions tend to boast some of the best sales since January.

Keep an eye out in particular for a plethora of stacking coupons that will make already-discounted goods even cheaper. Often these sales are the largest in recent months. (For example, last year Calvin Klein took an extra 85 percent off sale items.) Look to your favorite apparel, home goods and department stores for special holiday promotions.

Spring clothing deals heat up

Late April was an excellent time to start shopping for spring clothing deals, but the discounts really heat up in May. That’s because current-season apparel has now been on the shelves for about two months, and in order to make way for summer styles, retailers will begin offering discounts that could take 50 percent to 75 percent off. If you want a particularly large discount, try holding out until Memorial Day weekend for those aforementioned stacking coupons.

Don’t make any gaming console purchases

It’s a terrible time to buy a gaming console of any sort. Both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 are about to be updated, and even if you don’t want the latest model, the current systems are bound to get cheaper this summer once the next-gen consoles are announced.

We wouldn’t even recommend getting the super-cheap, Android-based OUYA because there are rumors that Microsoft is going to knock the price of the current Xbox down to $99, and the Xbox is a far more capable system. Gamers should undoubtedly sit tight until the gaming world settles after the Electronic Entertainment Expo in June before making any major purchases.

Skip video game purchases too

Even if you’re going to stick with your current tried-and-true Xbox or PlayStation, you’d do well to hold off on buying games until the next-gen versions are announced. Since it’s rumored that current games will be unusable on the newer consoles, there’s a far greater chance that we’ll see widespread video game sales for current titles.

Moreover, consider the number of games that will start flooding the secondhand markets once people decide to trade up. You’ll be more likely to find deals on used, but popular and relatively new titles.

It’s not all about coming in first

The recently announced HTC First is a peculiar product in the current lineup of trendy Android smartphones. It seems as if its entire reason for being is to let people know that it’s the first phone to have Facebook Home on it — that is, it was the first for a very short period of time. The Facebook Home skin is now available for a variety of Android handsets, some of which are far more capable than the First.

And, in spite of its low starting price of $99.99, if all you really want is a Facebook messenger Chat Head floating around your screen, there’s little reason to select the meh-rated First over a now comparably priced Samsung Galaxy S III, for example.

Save up to $1,000 by switching to an iPhone 5 with T-Mobile

It’s not all bad news for phones this month, as T-Mobile recently transitioned to its “contract-free” system, although it may have to be careful about calling it contract-free in the future. Regardless, there’s no doubt that the Uncarrier now offers a more cost-effective service among the big four wireless providers — if you’re willing to pay for a device in full (either up front or with an installment plan). In fact, if you switch to the iPhone 5 via T-Mobile, you could save at least $360 over a two-year span compared with AT&T — and potentially as much as $1,000.

Learn to haggle for gym memberships

It’s not so much that May is the magic month to get a deal on a gym membership, but the warmer weather makes the spring and summer season in general an ideal time to strike a bargain. When the weather becomes conducive to running and exercising outside, consumers have more ammunition to haggle a price for a gym membership.

It’s fairly simple to extract a discount on a registration fee (which varies but could cost about $50), but if you get your game face on, you could potentially get a deal on the first few months of enrollment as well.

Opt for less traditional Mother’s Day gifts and save more

Last month, we suggested that shoppers buy their Mother’s Day gifts early to get the best deals possible. But, if you still haven’t bought Mom that perfect present, consider avoiding the traditional: For the past two years, we’ve seen a lot of jewelry styles actually increase in price at the beginning of the month. Buying such accouterments now means you may not be getting the best possible value.

Instead, consider gifting her something that’s seeing great deals, like spring clothing or one of the Editors’ Choice cruise deals we found recently.

3-D TVs take another nosedive as Ultra HD arrives with a bang

Last month, Ultra HDTVs (which pack a vertical resolution of 2160 pixels) debuted at prices far lower than anyone expected. Sony made a splash with the announcement of its $4,999 55-inch model, but barely known Chinese manufacturer Seiki made waves with its 50-inch 4K TV for $1,500. That low price fell even further just days after its announcement to an unprecedented price of $1,200. And while that’s roughly $800 more than a traditional 50-inch 1080p LCD, it’s 47 percent cheaper than the first 3-D HDTV we posted back in 2010, which was the last major TV technology to debut.

But if you’re not ready to jump into 4K technology, there’s still good news to be had as prices for 55-inch 3-D HDTVs also fell in April, hitting an all-time low of $649 for an off-brand Coby HDTV. For name-brand 55-inch 3-D TVs, look for deals in the $750 to $799 range. Although higher in price, that’s still rock bottom for this category.

And finally, for the first time this year, brand-name 60-inch 1080p LCD HDTVs are cheaper than their off-brand counterparts. Traditionally, buying off-brand TVs meant a savings between $100 and $200 compared with a name-brand set. But we’ve been seeing a role reversal, and in April brand-name models were actually $50 cheaper. This month we expect to see more of the same as these TVs remain at or below $700.

PC and laptop shipments plummet to all-time lows

March’s record-setting $299 Ivy Bridge laptop deal didn’t repeat in April, but potential buyers should remain vigilant for similar discounts in May, as last quarter was the worst ever for PC shipments, says IDC. Global computer shipments dropped 14 percent from the previous year, which was much worse than its predicted 7.7 percent decline.

What does that mean for consumers? Well, it means the laptop discounts will continue through May, especially on Windows 8-equipped devices. For 15-inch Core i5 systems with Ivy Bridge CPUs, look for deals under $399, whereas 15-inch Core i3 machines with Ivy Bridge are averaging roughly $330.

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