|CNN's Gerri Willis reports on how to get the best deals, whether you're booking a vacation or filling up at the pump.
NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
You've probably been burned before. You have bought that computer two days after the sale ended, been forced to fill up at the most expensive gas station off the highway, and have had to pay through the nose because you procrastinated when planning your vacation.
There are windows of opportunities out there to save some money. But don't blink or they'll pass you by. In today's five tips, we'll fix your timing.
1. Computers: Avoid the rush
With Junior headed off to college in August, it's time to scout out a good deal on a laptop. Don't worry. There will be plenty of deals out there come July.
Each summer, Dell and Gateway put together student packages that start around $700. But similar (and sometimes better) deals can be found now.
Dell laptops are available right now at a starting price of $650 and come with a free printer. Gateway's laptops start at $699 and come with a free wireless router. Think about it, with no holiday or back-to-school rush, right now computer companies are using incentives to lure buyers.
Watch for the launch of new lines of computers too. Computer manufacturers often deeply discount older models of their products while they promote the great speed or capabilities of their newest line. To keep your own tabs on the prices of specific laptops, check out the e-mail alert services offered by www.FatWallet.com and www.TechBargains.com.
2. Gas: Rise, Shine & Fill'er up.
With gas prices at record highs, where can you find some relief? Unfortunately, in most areas, finding a gallon under $2 is a wild goose chase.
However, you can save yourself from a really painful price gouge by timing your fill-up just right. "The best time to buy gas is before lunchtime, really before 10:00am," says Brad Proctor, founder of GasPriceWatch.com, which monitors gas prices.
Proctor says the industry sets its prices at 10:00am Eastern; the changes ripple through the time zones, hitting the West Coast also around mid-morning. Company-owned stations raise their prices first, with franchisees in the area matching soon after.
Traditionally the best days to buy gas are Tuesdays and Wednesdays, claims Proctor. Gas prices are at their highest on the weekends and come down at the beginning of the week only so they can go up again the next weekend.
Since gas prices can vary in your neighborhood, check out www.GasPriceWatch.com or www.GasBuddy.com to see who's offering the best deal.
3. Cars: Time it & Work it.
If only there was a day, a time, and one dealer that could always guarantee a good deal on a new car. But unfortunately, it doesn't get that specific. The good news is that in today's market, good deals happen a lot more often than just once in a blue moon. But you have to combine some good timing with your bargaining power to really score a winner.
Rob Gentile, Associate Director of Auto Price Services at Consumer Reports, says there are three times a year that are generally known as good time to buy.
- At the end of the month: Dealers are usually willing to negotiate to cut enough deals to meet their sales targets.
- In the fall: The model year for most cars is changing over and automakers are throwing incentives at dealers to get rid of the previous model year.
- At the end of the year: During the last week of December, there is a clearance sale to really get rid of the current year's models to make room for the next year's models.
However, Gentile says that in the past five years, the auto market has changed and those times aren't the only windows of opportunities to find great deals. You've probably seen the newspaper loaded with advertisements touting incentives.
"But don't let the rebate be the only thing you walk away with, you can walk away with a lot more," says Gentile. A rule of thumb: Take any rebate worth $2,000 or more as a clue that the dealer is willing to negotiate further on that car.
The best times to go bargain hunting are mid-week, on Tuesday through Thursday, when dealerships are not busy. In order to negotiate, come armed with a list of prices that the dealer paid for the cars. For a guide, check out www.ConsumerReports.org, which offers a "New Car Price Service" for a small fee. For more tips on buying a car, see Five Tips: Buying a car.
4. Appliances: Get it gift-wrapped.
While everyone is out shopping for stocking stuffers around the holidays, stuff your new fridge. "You'll do best buying a major appliance during the winter months," according to The Dollar Stretcher, a consumer & shopping newsletter written by Gary Foreman. Appliances go on sale during cold weather months because in general, people aren't moving or remodeling at that time. December through February are prime months for shopping for those appliances.
While bargain hunting, don't just go for the cheapest appliance you can find. As Dad would say, there is something to be said for a high-quality machine. Your refrigerator alone consumes an average of 20 percent of your electricity each month, according to The Dollar Stretcher. So paying a bit more for an energy efficient one can save you money on your energy bill.
5. Travel: Take the cold shoulder.
When it's time to hit the road Jack, take the road less traveled and vacation out of season. We all know the times of year when the office is empty: Spring Break, July 4th, August, and late December. While being the only one working at those prime times is not fun, you don't have to wait months suffering just to save on your vacation. Pack your bags long before your colleagues do or as soon as they all get home. In travel terms, those times are called the shoulder season.
With spring break nearly over, you can strike great deals in Florida, the Caribbean, and Mexico from now through the summer. If you're headed to Europe, travel in the pre-Spring and post-summer months: February, September, October, and November. "On average, I expect it will cost $350-$500 more to travel to Europe in July than in September," says Tom Parson, CEO of BestFares.com.
For some travel planning, the best time is now. You might start planning next year's Spring Break today if you're hoping to use free tickets. Experts recommend you make frequent flier reservations starting 11 months ahead of time to get exactly what you want. And if you're stuck traveling during peak periods, right now is the time to book your summer vacation. Parsons says, "It's absolutely crucial to be done with your [summer vacation] bookings 2-3 weeks before Memorial Day...demand will exceed supply."
Gerri Willis is a personal finance editor for CNN Business News and the host for Open House. E-mail comments to email@example.com.