The Best and Worst Things to Buy in August

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PCs and travel are hot, big-screen TVs and Apple aren't so much, in DealNews' August buying guide.

This post comes from Lindsay Sakraida at partner site DealNews.

August is an excellent month for many reasons. It’s veering toward the end of the summer season, which means clearance sales galore; it features a holiday weekend that will usher in big department store sales; and the kids will start heading back to school soon, so we adults can get back to our normal, screech-free schedules.

To celebrate, we’re taking at a look at what’s good and bad to buy for the next 31 days. (It’s mostly good!) We waded through our archives of sales, coupons and daily deals, and also looked to current product trends, to find out.

First, Money Talks News savings expert Stacy Johnson reviews the highlights in this video. Watch it, then read on for more details on the best and worst things to buy in August.

Back-to-school shopping heats up

According to our deals from the past few years, August is the best summer month to get discounts on school items. While a number of back-to-school sales that began in July will continue into August, expect more stores to cut prices even further. For example, student-friendly apparel retailers like American Eagle Outfitters and Levi’s slashed an extra 40 to 50 percent off sale items last year, and we anticipate seeing similar trends in 2014.

Also keep an eye out for cheap dorm furniture from retailers like Walmart, which offered futons for as little as $89 last year, as well as computer desks for $29, and special sales on backpacks and computer cases for as little as $10.

Hit up a tax-free holiday for school supplies

Speaking of back-to-school shopping, if you’re lucky enough to live in one of the states that offer a sales tax holiday in August, then now might be an ideal time to make certain purchases. The event is largely tied to back-to-school season, so it’s an ideal time to buy supplies and clothing and avoid sales tax.

However, keep in mind that savings on smaller-ticket items will be relatively slight, compared with what you might score by waiting until the end of the month when clearance sales make for the steepest discounts.

On the other hand, an item like a new laptop can yield significant savings when you’re not paying state sales tax, especially if you don’t want to cut the purchase down to the wire. Note that most states offer tax holidays Aug. 1-3. Check out our tax-free weekend guide to find out if your state is participating.

Skip the Apple devices

If Apple sticks to its usual schedule, September and early October could see new models of the iPhone, iPad and iPad mini. If you’re an au courant tech collector, you’ll prefer to have the latest versions; if you’re dedicated to the deal, you’ll find much better discounts once the current devices are bumped to previous-generation status.

Resellers like Best Buy, MacMall and Amazon will start slashing prices on their inventory come the announcements, so it’s better to wait it out.

Summer apparel on clearance

As we near the end of the summer season, even retailers who don’t cater to back-to-school crowds will begin to get even more aggressive with their clothing discounts as they try to make room for autumn apparel. In fact, in the final days of July, we saw numerous Editors’ Choice deals trickle in that offered enormous stacking coupons, and we expect to see much of the same in August. Look for base sales that take 40 to 70 percent off.

Now is the time to buy patio furniture

Typically we see a much higher number of patio furniture sales in late August and September. However, this year has been a bit of an anomaly, with stores offering above-average sales already. In fact, in our July Fourth guide, we noted that discounts have been much steeper compared with the same time last year.

This means it might not be worth waiting until September, because prices are already stellar and inventory may clear much quicker. Look to stores like Home Depot, Sears, Walmart and Target for discounts of up to 75 percent.

Book a hotel in Myrtle Beach, Las Vegas, New York or Miami

Typically a hotel travel sale will feature amazing starting prices, and those lowest prices apply only to specific nights. And as we’ve price-checked sale after sale, we’ve noticed that this month there are several locations that regularly discount their rates Aug. 24. In general, a stay on this date is between 20 and 40 percent cheaper than most dates between now and the end of September.

Cities that adhere to this trend include Myrtle Beach, S.C., Las Vegas, New York and Miami.

But wait to book in Boston, Chicago or San Francisco

Just as the above locations saw consistent discounts Aug. 24, these cities have been churning out above-average price cuts for Nov. 23. This isn’t too surprising because it’s the Sunday before Thanksgiving, but if you need a relaxing night before subjecting yourself to excess family time, or you have nontraditional plans that week, consider booking a trip to Boston, Chicago or San Francisco around that date.

Don’t splurge on a waterproof case

Summer is still in full swing, and you might be itching to get a fancy waterproof pouch or case to keep your cellphone or other electronics dry while at the beach or on a boat. But we tested these pricey items out and compared them with the results of a simple, cheap Ziploc bag. As it turns out, you can get the same performance from the freebie in your kitchen, so it may be best to avoid this purchase — especially if you’ll use it only a handful of times anyway.

Grill deals are red-hot in August

Grill masters, rejoice! August and early September is when we typically see some of the best deals of the year for grills and accessories. Look to stores like Sears, Lowe’s, Target and Walmart for discounts that knock up to 50 percent off. Also keep an eye out for coupons that slash an extra 10 to 15 percent off, as department stores are prone to releasing these codes around Labor Day weekend.

Labor Day sales will spill into August

Typically, department stores break out holiday weekend promotions for Labor Day, but because it’s on Sept. 1, those offers will start kicking off in late August. If last year’s Memorial Day sales are any indication, shoppers can look for mattress and home goods sales that take up to 50 percent off, as well as the aforementioned grill and patio deals, starting around Aug. 28.

42-inch LCD TVs become the star of the summer

The dog days of summer are brutal on TV deals. While you may find the occasional Editors’ Choice deal from time to time (especially if you follow our weekly TV roundups), November through January is traditionally the best time of the year to buy a new set, so you might want to hold off for the time being.

But if you don’t require a TV with Wi-Fi or 3-D capabilities, you could still walk away with a respectable deal this month because deals on 42-inch LCDs are on the rise. Last month, brand-name 42-inch LCD HDTVs hit their lowest price of the year, coming in at an impressive $299, which is roughly $40 under 2014’s average for this size category.

Meanwhile, off-brand models of the same size, such as those from Insignia, Sceptre and Sanyo, hit $250, which is the best price we’ve seen all year for this category.

Unfortunately, if you had your hopes set on a big-screen TV, you’re better off waiting. Deals on 60-inch sets are hovering above $1,000, whereas 55-inch sets have averaged $653 in the past three months. Last holiday season, these sets hit price lows of $679 and $500, respectively, so we recommend waiting a few months to save a substantial chunk of change on your big-screen purchase.

Students, however, might be able to snag a good deal this month. For 32-inch 1080p TVs, which are perfectly sized for a dorm room, prices dropped to $170 in July. That’s the best rate we’ve seen for this TV category all year. Prices will drop further in November, but if you need a new dorm room TV for your first semester, look for deals in the $170 to $180 range.

With back-to-school sales in full session, laptop deals hit new lows

Excluding Black Friday, back-to-school season is the best time of the year to purchase a laptop, and that makes August a busy month for laptop deals. In fact, based on last year’s data, August sees 62 percent more Editors’ Choice laptop deals than July and September combined. That means unless you can’t wait until November, August is the month to buy a new laptop.

In terms of pricing, we have good news to report because mainstream laptops — 15-inch systems housing Intel’s current processor — are at rock-bottom prices. For two consecutive months we’ve seen these laptops plummet to $380.

That will buy you a notebook with a 15- to 16-inch screen, at least 4GB of RAM, at least a 500GB hard drive, and Intel’s Haswell Core i5 processor, which is the company’s mainstream chip capable of handling everything from HD movie streaming to casual gaming.

Should you require a little more power, 15-inch laptops with Intel’s Haswell Core i7 processor also hit rock bottom with deals in July hitting $500, the lowest price of the year.

For Mac fans, Apple will continue to offer its back-to-school sale throughout the month of August. However, we recommend avoiding Cupertino’s sale, because we’ve seen better back-to-school sales from Apple-authorized resellers such as Best Buy, which in late July beat Apple’s back-to-school price by $200.

More on DealNews:

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