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8 Ways to Shop Smarter in May

By Beth Pinsker, Editorial Director of dealnews

Shopping in May is a conundrum: The best sales happen over Memorial Day, but if you are going away, entertaining or just getting ready for summer, you need to stock up ahead of time. So what kind of prices are you going to find if you are looking for seasonal items like grills, swimsuits and bikes? We've culled through the dealnews data archives to let you know what you can expect. Is now is the best time to buy or should you wait? Here are the best strategies we've found for eight key seasonal categories in May:

Grills and BBQ
If you see advice out there that says the best time to buy grills is May, before the season, or September, after the season, think again. We've actually seen prices on grills remain fairly flat over the course of a season, and over the past several years. In fact, Walmart has been offering the same Uniflame 40,000 BTU Propane Gas Grill for the past three years, with the price only going from $127 to $115 (and is now $118). The same goes for Brinkman, Char-Broil and other top brands at top merchants. If you're looking to buy a grill, the best thing you can do is wait for a storewide 10% or 20% off sale at a store like Sears, Home Depot or Lowe's. If you're looking for BBQ accessories like meat thermometers, tools and brushes, it's best to look for special offers from a daily deal site like 13deals.com, which seem to be abundant in May.

Memorial Day
All major stores will have some kind of Memorial Day madness, and you can expect details of what's on sale by May 27. But not all sales are created equal. While electronics are often hugely touted — and Best Buy and others have huge sales — Memorial Day often isn't the best time of the year to buy those items (see below).

Last year, major department stores focused their best Memorial Day discounts on apparel: There were up to 50% off sales at Guess and Macy's, and Amazon.com offered a discount. This year, expect a lot of action at Walmart, as retail analysts have noted a slide in store sales, and a chain like Walmart uses major sales events to help turn the tide.

If you're headed into the great outdoors this summer and need some gear, Memorial Day sales may be your ticket to pre-season bargains. The major outdoor gear retailers like REI and Cabela's should have storewide discounts, and you'll be able to pick up major items like tents and cookers. Otherwise, the equipment is not heavily discounted this time of year, and in fact may be marked up. In our data, we've actually seen higher prices for the same item in May one year than it was the fall before. For basic items, Walmart offers the largest and most-often-discounted spread. If you're just looking for gizmos, Meritline is the place to find lanterns, multi-tools and the like.

While swimwear might be a popular item to buy in May, it's not heavily discounted. As you might expect, this particular item hits high discounts later in the summer when retailers are clearing the shelves for fall. Yet, you'll likely always find something on sale at sites like 6pm.com, and Victoria's Secret has a monthly sale on swimwear, which seems to happen twice in May.

If you're looking for a high-end bike, then May is probably not the best time of year for you to buy. There's plenty of selection out there, but you're going to basically be taken for a ride because prices don't fluctuate all that much, seasonally or otherwise. Based on our price trend data, REI, which offers a lot of bikes, seems to drop their prices in the fall, if they do at all, but look out for an anniversary sale at the end of May. Even discount bikes don't fluctuate that much, with Walmart following suit and dipping prices (if they do at all) in the fall.

Lawn, Garden and Patio
Expect to see pre-Memorial Day sales for all your lawn care and patio needs, especially from Home Depot and Sears — most retailers have already started to feature deals, like this set from JCPenney. But for Home Depot, at least, don't expect to see the best prices for patio furniture until later in the summer, and the best deals of all actually come in January. And for Sears, look for the best discounts in October. If you just can't wait, don't forget to look at a site like Amazon.com, which offers patio sets, umbrellas and other items on sale with surprisingly low shipping fees for such heavy orders.

While Best Buy and other electronics stores hop on the Memorial Day sale bandwagon, our data on laptop price trends actually shows an uptick in May. As during Black Friday season, what you might be seeing on sale are older models, or ones that have been marked up in order to be discounted (making the overall price higher than at other times of the year). For instance, for high-end core i7 laptops, our price trend data shows prices in May up to $40 higher.

The same analysis goes for HDTVs: While you might see low-end models on discount at electronics stores for Memorial Day, you still might not be getting the best price of the year. When it comes to HDTVs, the winter season — in particular November and December — is the best time to buy an HDTV. We've seen prices in May go from $100 to $250 more than they are at other times of the year, for the past few years. So if you're looking for a new TV, particular a model 52" or bigger, you might want to hang on and wait.

Beth Pinsker is dealnews' Editorial Director. She was most recently the Editor of WalletPop.com and has been a life-long bargain hunter. Follow her on Twitter — @bethpinsker. You can also sign up for an email alert for all dealnews features.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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down with marked up prices!