December is a big month for buying things.
Even though holiday shopping now begins in early November, the looming Christmas holiday means that retail cash registers are still humming during the last month of the year. To win their share of those dollars retailers like Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT), Target (NYSE:TGT), and Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) offer discounts through the end of the month.
But, just because there are deals to be had does not mean that everything is offered at a good price. Some items should be avoided because December is not the month where they are sold for the least money.
It's a great season to be shopping, but you still have to be careful if you want to protect your wallet. Just because a deal looks good or the markdown percentage is high does not mean you won't save a few bucks by waiting.
Skip the high-end TVs
Best Buy, Wal-Mart, and Target all built a large amount of their Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotions around selling inexpensive TVs. The Target I visited late on Black Friday literally had on-sale televisions sprinkled throughout the store. They were in front of the clothes, in the baby aisles, and pretty much anywhere else there was space.
The deals offered by all three retailers were spectacular, but they were mostly on lower-end and off-brand models. The expensive top-of-line TVs are generally cheaper after the holiday shopping season with the best deal often found on Super Bowl weekend.
Wait for winter gear
In general the best time to buy seasonal items is during the off-season. That makes December a poor time to buy ski equipment or snowboards largely because demand is high due to people who simply can't wait.
If your snowboard has worn out or your kids outgrew their snow boots, you need to replace them or it in order to participate in the sport. That need keeps retailers busy and makes it unnecessary for them to offer big in-season discounts.
The real deals on skis and snowboards come once the snows have melted. In the spring retailers will want to move what has now become last-year's models. Selection won't be as good, but savings will be high.
Pause on that calendar
Until the ghost of Dick Clark finishes counting down the new year, you'll pay full price for a calendar. December is peak calendar season with people logically trading in last year's model for a new one.
But, if you can wait until it's already 2016 then it's a lot like buying Halloween candy on Nov. 1 or Valentine's Day items on Feb. 15. In January calendar prices fall by half or more in many cases, so waiting will save you significantly.
Hold off on that laptop
Black Friday and Cyber Monday did have some very good laptops sales with Best Buy even briefly offering a Windows 10 laptop for $150, but the Christmas season is not generally the best time to buy a laptop. Instead, wait for the back-to-school season where you can save as much as 25% off new models and even more on older ones, consumer spending expert Andrea Woroch told Bankrate.com.
She also noted that during August and September retailers are likely to offer bundle promotions with free printers, gift cards, or other add-ons to make the offer more enticing. And, she added, because laptops are a popular gift, retailers often discount another type of computer during the holiday shopping season.
"Desktops are really a good deal during the holidays," Woroch said.
Wait on those Christmas decorations
If you were planning on making your house look like it belongs on the Las Vegas strip for Christmas, you're better off planning a year in advance.
"If you wait until December 26, you'll see discounts of 40% to 75% off seasonal goods," wrote Lindsay Sakraida at DealNews.com.
And, if you can hold out until the 26th, you can wait a few more days until retailers including Target and Wal-Mart have pushed Christmas items into discount piles to make way for Valentine's day displays.
Of course, a discount is only useful if the item you buy can be used at a later date. So, even though live Christmas tree stores start cutting prices around Dec. 20 and get very desperate as the big day approaches, you may want to consider the actual value proposition of waiting until the last minute to buy yours.