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The Best Time to Buy Everything

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AT 50 CENTS a roll instead of the regular retail price of $4 buying wrapping paper after New Year's is an easy way to save. The same holds true for buying half-price inflatable pool loungers and patio furniture after Labor Day weekend.

In fact, bargain lovers know that there's a smart time to buy just about anything. For example, those looking for a great deal on a car should shop on weekday mornings in September. Groceries are cheapest on Sunday evenings.

We talked to the experts, and found the best time to buy everything from wine to wedding dresses.

Airplane Tickets

When to buy: On a Wednesday, 21 days (or a couple of days earlier) before your flight.

Why: Airlines make major pricing changes (and run fare sales) every week, typically on Tuesday evenings and Wednesday mornings. About 21 days out from your flight, you'll see plenty of deals out there as airlines scramble to fill seats, says Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel.com, a consumer travel advice Web site. Don't wait much longer, she cautions; prices jump significantly from 14 to seven days ahead of departure.

Appliances

When to buy: During a holiday weekend.

Why: You'll find sales on select models all year long, but retailers bring out the big guns for holiday weekends, says Carolyn Forte, homecare director for the Good Housekeeping Institute. But don't worry about spending your Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends shopping for a new fridge smaller holidays like Columbus Day and President's Day have their share of sales, too.

Baby Clothes

When to buy: During your pregnancy.

Broadway Tickets

When to buy: Hours before the curtain rises.

Why: How does a $25 front-row seat to the smash musical "Wicked" sound? Several musicals offer same-day ticket lotteries that offer up orchestra seats at inexpensive prices. If you'd rather not gamble on getting a seat, wait in line at the famous TKTS boothFor the right times to drop by TKTS, and other ways to save, see our column A Midsummer Night's Dream

Cars

When to buy: Weekday mornings in September.

Why: By September, all the next year's models have arrived at the lot, and dealers are desperate to get rid of the current year's leftovers, says Phil Reed, consumer advice editor for Edmunds.com. It's the prime time of year for incentives and sales, not to mention bargaining. "Any car that's been on the lot for a long time loses its value in the eyes of the car salesman," he says.

For more, see our column Summer Car Savings

Champagne

When to buy: December

Clothing

When to buy: Thursday evenings, six to eight weeks after an item arrives in stores.

Why: After an item lingers in stores a month or more, retailers start dropping its price to get it out the door, says Kathryn Finney, author of "How to Be a Budget Fashionista." These season-end clearances tend to be the same month that designers host fashion weeks (February and September) to preview the next fall or spring collections. So smart buyers can check the catwalk to see if any of this season's trends say, leggings or military-style jackets will still be hot next year, and then scoop them up on clearance.

Hitting the mall on a weekday ensures you'll get a good selection. "On the weekend, you'll only get picked-over stuff because the stores don't have time to restock," she says. By Thursday, most of the weekend sales have begun, but everything available is on the floor.

When to buy: Just after a new model is launched.

Why: When the latest and greatest of a product is released, you'll often see prices drop on what had previously been the best thing out there, says Tom Merritt, executive editor for CNET, an electronics review web site. Case in point: When Apple released the Nano last September, prices for the now-discontinued Mini dropped 12%, from $199 for a 4GB to about $175. So keep your eyes open for announcements from major manufacturers. Want a little less work? Time your purchases for after big annual technology show like MacWorld (next held Jan. 8-12, 2007) and the International Consumer Electronics Show (next held Jan. 8-11, 2007).

Gas

When to buy: Early morning or late evening on a weekday.

Why: Time your trip based on whether prices are rising or falling, advises Marshall Brain, founder of HowStuffWorks, a consumer guide. Gas stations tend to change their prices between 10 a.m. and noon, so hit the pump in the early morning if gas prices are on the rise. Go later in the day if prices are falling. Tipsters on GasPriceWatch.com reported that on Sept. 3, a WaWa gas station in Lanoka Harbor, N.J., was offering regular gas for $2.85 a gallon. One day later the station's price had dropped to $2.65. In that case, going early would have cost you 20 cents more per gallon.

Gift Cards

When to buy: A day or two before you give it.

Why: These days, gift cards carry a plethora of hidden pitfalls, from expiration dates to dormancy fees, says Dan Horne, a professor of marketing at Providence College known as the "Gift Card Guru." That countdown to fees starts as soon as you buy the card. "You don't want to short-change the recipient," he says.

Groceries

When to buy: Sunday evenings.

Why: Store sales tend to run Wednesday through Tuesday, says Teri Gault, founder of The Grocery Game, a consumer savings program. On Sunday, you'll also have the latest round of manufacturer's coupons from your morning paper. "You can maximize your coupons available for that shopping week," she says. Heading to the store close to closing time means you'll have access to sales on fresh items that must be sold by the end of the day, such as meats and baked goods.

Of course, you'll also benefit from in-season items that can be frozen for use later in the year, says Gault. That means turkeys at Thanksgiving and hams at Christmas and Easter. During the spring and summer, buy fresh produce. Peaches bought at $1 per pound now can be kept frozen for smoothies and pies throughout the winter, she says.

Shrubs, Trees and Other Plants

When to buy: Fall

Why: Take a break from raking up leaves to purchase trees, shrubs and other perennials for your yard. Prices nosedive after midsummer, as garden supply stores and nurseries try to clear out their stock. You can also get great deals on bulbs during the fall. Just store them according to the package instructions for best planting results next spring. For more, see our column Cheap Landscaping Tricks

Televisions

When to buy: Six to 12 months after a particular model is launched.

Wedding Dresses

When to buy: Between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Why: Boutiques are stocked up on dresses for the post-Christmas rush (many people get engaged over the holidays), yet traffic is low, says Fields, who also co-authored "Bridal Bargains." "It's not a busy time to buy a wedding dress because people are thinking about the holidays," he says. You'll also have room to bargain.

Wine

When to buy: Early fall.

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