Christmas Gifts: Worst and Best Buys

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Itching to give a big-screen TV as a Christmas gift? How about a camera, snow blower or computer? "Hold on there Santa," say the folks at Kiplinger, who are experts on personal finance. While it's true you can find holiday specials on these gifts, John Miley of Kiplinger says you can find far bigger savings at other times of year, if you know when to shop for them.

Here's Kiplinger's list of the 10 most over-priced Christmas gifts, plus our own list of a few surprising best buys.

Personal Computers: What's the best time of year to buy a laptop? Not December, says Miley. He recommends August, when retailers are dangling discounts of up to 20% to lure college students. Another good time is Black Friday—the day after Thanksgiving.

TVs: Wait until January or February to give the gift of HDTV, says Kiplinger. That's when retailers start cutting prices on last year's models to make room for new ones that start arriving in March. The savings per set can amount to hundreds of dollars.

Linens: Ever since the 19th century, retailers and catalog companies have offered January 'white sales'—discounts of up to 60% on towels, blankets, sheets and other linens.

Tools: Maybe the best gift you can give your dad is proof you're not a chump: Wait to buy tools until Father's Day in June. Prices will fall 25% from what you'd have had to pay at Christmas.

Snow Blowers: Mark Di Vincenzo, author and bargain expert, tells Kiplinger the worst time to buy a snow blower is right now. The best time? Di Vincenzo, author of "Buy Ketchup in May and Fly at Noon: A Guide to the Best Time to Buy This, Do That and Go There," says it's March, after winter's heaviest storms have passed. Prices drop 30% to 40%.

Cameras: The payoff to waiting until late February is that you'll pay 30% less. The biggest trade shows in electronics are in January and February, after which merchants begin unloading last year's models at a discount. Shop Presidents' Day sales.

Outerwear: February and March are the ideal months to pick up coats, hats, gloves and other winter clothing. Retailers, who assume most people have already bought winter wear, are eager to unload their remaining inventory.

Skis: Sure, it would be nice to have Santa leave a nice new pair of skis under the tree. But the best deals come in March and April, as the ski season winds down. So says Stephen Regenold, editor of

Furniture: In the unlikely event you were bent on getting Uncle Ned a new sofa -- don't. Hold off until January, and you'll find sofas and other furniture will be cheaper by up to 50%. Reason: New inventory hits furniture showrooms in February.

Cars: What better surprise could there be than seeing a new car in your driveway Christmas morning? Seeing it there New Years Eve. By postponing your purchase, you'll enjoy the late December discount — more than 8% below sticker price, on average — that dealers use to clear out inventory before year's end. Even some 2011 models, already on lots, are being discounted in order to boost year-end totals, according to TrueCar, which collects sales data. The 2011 Nissan Sentra 2.0 is already selling for 18% below sticker, and the 2011 Ford Flex SEL is 24% below.

By contrast, what are some of the best things to buy as Christmas gifts, if you want to save money? Author Di Vincenzo gives the following:

Champagne: The best month to buy champagne — and sparkling wines in general — is December, he says. "It's surprising. You'd think it would be the worst month, because champagne is in demand. But there's fierce competition between wine makers and between retailers. Stores lower prices to get people to come in."

NFL Tickets: By December, Di Vincenzo says, you usually know if your team is going to make the playoffs. If it's not, you can find very reasonably priced tickets for December home games.

Wedding dresses: "What often happens," explains Di Vincenzo, "is that people get proposed to at Christmas or on New Year's Eve" There's a January rush to bridal shops, so dress prices are high then, he points out.

"For people who already know they're going to get married, buying a dress between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a great time. The bridal shops are stocking up; they're much less crowded than in January, and they're looking for a way to boost their year-end results. Plus, you can do some negotiating; the markup on wedding dresses is so high that prices are rarely firm."

Travel to Europe: Disneyworld may be hopping in December, and airline tickets to Florida hard to afford. But December flights to Europe are a steal, says Di Vincenzo. "Most people want to stay home at Christmas. And business people aren't traveling." Result: airlines cut prices, especially on business seats. "I know of cases where people have flown to Europe business class at Christmas for the same price that other people, flying at other times, have had to pay for coach."