The Best and Worst Things to Buy in July

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Back-to-school deals are appearing for electronics, and the prices of summer gear like grills are starting their downhill march.

This post comes from Lindsay Sakraida at partner site DealNews.

We published thousands of deals last July, which we’ve analyzed to offer our readers a bit of advice while planning purchases this month. And it’s a particularly important month to do so, because a number of sales will appear to be better than they actually are.

In order to protect your wallet and spend your money wisely, be sure to read through our July buying guide below for everything you need to know to shop smart this month. But before you do, watch this video by Money Talks News money expert Stacy Johnson about the best and worst things to buy in July.

Shop Fourth of July sales for in-season items

The Fourth of July falls on a Friday, so look for sales to begin that week and extend through the weekend. It is an excellent time to score a discount on summer items while they’re still in season. Look for summer clothing sales that slash 50 to 60 percent off. We also expect to see patio sets at up to 50 percent off, while grill deals will increase in volume with discounts of $30 to $100. (However, keep in mind that both will continue to see steeper discounts as the summer progresses, especially grills.)

Also, contrary to what you might expect, video game deals are exceedingly great around July 4; last year, 43 percent of these promotions were marked as Editors’ Choice. For a full rundown of what to buy around Independence Day, check out our complete Fourth of July sales buying guide.

Plan a trip now for late August

According to several different reports, it appears that late August is the cheapest time to travel, both in terms of hotel pricing and airfare. According to Hopper, the top 10 most popular destinations in the country are cheapest to visit during the end of August, and data demonstrates that Disney World-accessible hotels are at their best during the second to last weekend.

Why? This time frame falls right before Labor Day, so it’s likely a less-traveled weekend. As a result, hotels and airlines push discounts to fill rooms and seats.

Speaking of cheap travel, you can maximize your savings this summer by opting for a city in which hotel pricing across the board has dropped year over year. For 2014, Philadelphia takes top honors, with prices at 10 percent less than 2013.

Can’t wait to buy an air conditioner? Opt for energy efficiency

Last year in July, we saw an uptick in air conditioner sales and discounts. And while in some cases these models will get cheaper in August and early September, you can still save 20 percent or more, or as much as $150 on a unit while you need it most.

And if you’re careful about how you run it, you can make up for any lost savings with a lower energy bill. (Some examples: Blocking out direct sunlight can keep the room 10 to 20 degrees cooler naturally, while a programmable temperature control saves a full $180 a year.)

Apple’s cheaper iMac is a terrible deal

Last month, Apple debuted a cheaper iMac in its line of desktops. But while a similar strategy with the MacBook Air saw the manufacturer dropping the price and simultaneously upgrading the specs, Apple instead is offering a cheaper price because it removed some premium features in the process, including 500GB of storage and a high-end graphics card — two specs that are actually worth more than that $200 discount.

If you want to pay less, we recommend instead buying an Apple-refurbished unit of the previous-generation iMac since it has a better configuration.

Wait for a discount on the Amazon Fire phone

Amazon is currently taking preorders for its hotly received Fire Phone, but consumers shouldn’t be in any rush to slap down $199 (with a two-year, AT&T-only contract) for it just yet. Our research shows that Android phones, even well-reviewed flagship models with a lot of brand recognition, see discounts of about 50 percent within the first two to three months after release. In fact, thanks to a cutthroat phone market, the Galaxy S5 is on track to hit $0 before Black Friday — a feat none of its predecessors were able to accomplish.

While there are reasons to suspect that the Fire Phone will be different, there’s a very good chance that Amazon will have to discount the phone accordingly in order to remain competitive in a crowded market. And since Amazon is due to make a slew of money from consumers long after their purchase of the phone, the retailer might not mind the revenue loss on the handset itself.

Summer is blah for TV deals, opt for off-brand sets to save

Summer months are generally a bad season for TV deals, but if you find yourself in dire need of a new set, there are a few categories you should look at. Off-brand 55-inch LCDs, for instance, have been holding steady at $500 since January. Look to Best Buy and Sears for deals on models from the likes of Westinghouse and RCA.

Sixty-inch LCDs, on the other hand, should be avoided at all costs. Earlier in the year, prices were aggressive, ranging from $699 to $747, but for the past two months the best deals for this size category have averaged $944, which is a high we haven’t seen since 2012. Plasma sets of the same size offer a better value, averaging $626 and occasionally dropping to an all-time low of $600. Look for deals from Sears, which has offered the best bargains to date.

Finally, you may see some 32-inch 1080p LCD TVs discounted as retailers begin their back-to-school sales. Currently at $189, these TVs are at their second-best rate of the year and just $9 over the best rate we’ve seen in 2014. Just keep in mind that if your college-bound student can wait until November, these sets may get even cheaper around Black Friday; last year, a freak sale marked one of these sets down to an astonishingly low price of $110.

Mainstream laptops hit new low, 1080p deals ramp up

July is expected to be a hot month for laptop deals, as back-to-school sales continue to roll out. (After all, back-to-school season is the second-best time of the year to buy a laptop.) Ultimately, you’ll get the biggest savings with touch-screen systems and mainstream 15-inch laptops (equipped with Intel’s Core i5 Haswell processor and at least 4GB of RAM).

The latter hit a new price low of $380 in June, about $70 below the average from the previous month. This sets a new benchmark for the category, and provides a preview of the type of deals we’ll see in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, 11-inch touch-screen systems hit an all-time price low of $199 in May, a price we might see again if retailers get aggressive. Should 11 inches prove too small for your needs, you can opt for a 15-inch touch-screen laptop with deal prices ranging from $300 to $330.

Finally, laptops with 4K displays are slowly hitting the market. For shoppers, this means you can expect to see numerous deals on laptops with a “lesser” 1080p resolution. For the average student or home user, a 1080p laptop is more than sufficient, and the best deal we’ve seen so far for a 15-inch system has been $499.

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