The Best and Worst Things to Buy in August

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Sure, back-to-school specials are everywhere this month. But that's not the only deal out there as summer winds down. Here's a list.

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While efficient bargain shopping is often dictated by the economic tide, many merchants faithfully follow certain annual sale trends. Better understanding of these trends means a steady stream of savings for consumers.

August is the best summer month to get discounts on back-to-school items. Numerous deals we saw in July will continue in August, with most offering even deeper discounts. For example, college-friendly apparel retailers like Aeropostale and Abercrombie & Fitch offered their best sale of the year (up until that point) last August, and we expect to see similar trends this month.

Also keep an eye out for dorm furniture from retailers like Walmart – which offered futons for as low as $89 last year, as well as computer desks for $34 – and special sales on backpacks and computer cases for under $10. As for back-to-school laptops, consider taking advantage of special promotions that bundle your purchase with gift cards, gaming consoles, and printers.

Carnival Cruises come in at fantastic prices

Savvy shoppers looking to book a vacation would do well to consider a cruise, specifically from Carnival Cruises. We’ve consistently seen  some of the lowest prices possible on tropical routes to locations like the Caribbean. In fact, 41 percent of cruise deals this year have been from Carnival. If you’re browsing for a cruise, start with the provider that caters to travelers looking for a party-like atmosphere.

Summer apparel on clearance

As we near the end of the summer season, retailers 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 deals that offered enormous stacking coupons that took an extra 30 to 50 percent off already-discounted sale items. We expect to see much of the same in August. Last year, Eddie BauerConverseFrench ConnectionDickiesPatagoniaNauticaKenneth Cole, and Old Navy offered among the best sales of the month.

Last chance for swimwear

Although you can lump this into the general summer apparel category, it’s important to note that after August, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any swimwear deals. For the past two years, the number of swim sales have significantly decreased come September, suggesting that most stores do a good job of clearing their inventory in August. Look for sales that take up to 70 percent off or more from retailers like Victoria’s SecretLands’ End, and Kohl’s.

Wait until September or October for patio sets

We mentioned last month that although you’ll see many sales for summer patio furniture, a savvy shopper would benefit by waiting until September or October. Several patio sets and gardening items from Sears, Amazon, and other merchants hit their lowest prices in October, as they were available for significantly less than we had seen them over the summer.

Hold off on the Kindle Fire

There are rumors that Amazon will be releasing the Kindle Fire 2 in the coming weeks. So it’s not a smart time to buy the current Fire tablet. As we postulated earlier this month, Amazon will likely debut the updated Fire for $199, to remain competitive with the new Google Nexus 7, but keep the original around at a lower price. We predict it will drop to at least $169, if not lower.

Wait for discounts on older iPhones

Speaking of rumored tech releases, here’s another: Supposedly, Apple is releasing the iPhone 5 in late September or early October. Even those who don’t mind an older model should hold tight. After the last update to the iPhone 4S, Apple kept its 3GS and 4 around at reduced prices. This time around, the now-free 3GS will probably be discontinued, but it’s very likely that the 4 and 4S will stick around and see newly-reduced starting prices.

iPhone dock accessories: good and bad deals

If you are in fact considering buying the iPhone 5, you’ll want to hold off on buying any new dock accessories as well. Although in the past these have generally been universal use across iPhone models, the newest Apple smartphone is rumored to have a smaller, 19-pin dock connector. Although Apple will likely sell an adapter, you can bet it won’t be cheap. Plus, there’s a possibility that other brands will be forced to buy a chip from Apple in order to make their own accessories and adapters compatible, so who knows if stores like Meritline will have the typical uber-cheap alternatives.

If you have no interest in upgrading to the iPhone 5, and you’re content with your older model (or if you plan to buy one of them at the aforementioned lower prices), then the coming months will actually be a great time to take advantage of retailers who are trying to clear out their stock of soon-to-be-outdated accessories.

Grill deals are red hot in August

If you’ve waited patiently to buy a grill this year, you may be rewarded with a much larger pool of deals to choose from. The number of grill deals we saw last year in August was 30 percent higher than that of July, suggesting that retailers begin taking more widespread cuts this month. Look to vendors like hhgreggAce HardwareHome DepotLowe’s, Sears, and Walmart for sales and discounts.

46-inch HDTVs at all-time lows

The final weeks of summer generally don’t see many notable HDTV sales. However, if you’re shopping for a new HDTV this month, there are two categories you can’t afford to miss. First, name-brand 46-inch 1080p LCD HDTVs are at an all-time low. In July we saw a 46-inch Samsung hit $449. That’s a $51 drop from June’s best deal for a TV this size and the least-expensive 46-inch name-brand TV we’ve ever seen. Shoppers should look for deals at or below $449.

Likewise, 55-inch 3D HDTVs also experienced a price dip in July, dropping to $999 (a price we hadn’t seen since Black Friday 2011). As a result we recommend TV shoppers look at 55-inch 3D LCD HDTVs at or below $999.

Check out back-to-school laptop bundles

Even if you’re not going to college, your chances of scoring a laptop bundle this month are pretty high. While some deals may require a valid .edu email, others (such as deals from newegg, OfficeMax, and the Sony Store) do not require any credentials. Keep your eye on laptop and console bundles as well as laptop and printer bundles. These deals will stretch your dollar further and get you two products for the price of one. If you prefer an individual laptop, Ivy Bridge-based systems hit a new low in July ($548), so we recommend looking at 14-inch to 16-inch Ivy Bridge systems from Lenovo, Dell, and HP in that price range.

As far as standalone notebooks go, Sandy Bridge-based desktop-replacement deals have been stagnant for the last two months (with prices at $800), so we wouldn’t be surprised if these systems took a slight dip in August in preparation for back-to-school sales.

And lastly, Apple’s MacBook Air (Sandy Bridge model) has seen some aggressive discounts this summer. If you don’t mind having last year’s model, look for prices on the 11-inch MacBook Air 2011 model starting at $740. If you’ve had your eyes on the new Retina MacBook Pro, deals on that machine have hit as low as $1,999, though they typically sell out fast, so jump on the first Retina deal you see.

Stacy Johnson

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