This time of year you see plenty of "Sale" signs in stores. You might think just about everything is on deep discount after the holidays.
Have you made a New Year’s resolution to get back in shape? You can even get a great deal on a gym membership in January. Health clubs sign up more new members early in the year than at any other time, and they’re all competing for your business. However, there’s no need to rush; gyms have monthly new membership quotas to meet, so you’re most likely to get a deep discount if you sign a contract toward the end of January.
Despite all the sale signs, some items are more deeply discounted later in the year. Consumer Reports product research experts, who track prices all year long, have compiled a list of items that are typically at their lowest price in January. So if you’re shopping for the best deals, here are the products to put on your list.
Want to know what’s on sale the rest of the year? See our calendar of deals.
1. Bargains on Bedding
Ever since Philadelphia department store pioneer John Wanamaker decided he would increase store foot traffic by decreeing January the time for a "white sale" in 1878, sheets (which were available in white only then) have been sold at a deep discount this month. But buying new sheets might not be as simple as checking the price tags.
Don’t shop on thread count alone. Our tests have confirmed that higher thread count doesn’t guarantee better sheets. In fact the top-scoring percale sheets in our last test, which had a claimed thread count of only 280, were strong, shrank very little, and easily fit mattresses up to 17 inches high, even after we washed and dried them five times.
Make sure you can return them. Only 4 of 23 sets of queen-size sheets performed well enough for us to recommend them in our last test. As for the other 19, we found a litany of problems: Some fitted sheets easily ripped or came apart at the seams in our strength tests. Other sets had fitted sheets that popped off the corners of mattresses they claimed to fit, or flat sheets that fell short on the sides of the bed. And some wrinkle-free sheets weren’t.
For more shopping tips, check out our sheet buying guide. Our Ratings show which sheets did best in our lab tests. If you’re shopping for young children, see our crib bedding buying guide.
2. Elliptical Deals
Ellipticals mimic the motion of running but without the impact. The moving hand grips and adjustable resistance on these machines allow you to turn cardiovascular exercise into a full-body workout.
Every model is a little different. Don’t buy an elliptical before using it in the store. That’s especially important with elliptical exercisers because the movement is less familiar than walking or running, and each machine has a slightly different pedaling profile. See our elliptical buying guide for more shopping tips.
What price can tell you. In our tests we’ve found ellipticals that cost $ 2,000 and up were well-built and felt stable to our testers, more like the $ 5,000 machines at gyms. And they were less likely to have defects. But you can still get a good basic model for less. In our elliptical Ratings (available to subscribers), the quality score reflects the severity and frequency of those defects.
3. Discounts on Toys
Now that the holidays are over you should be able to find great deals on most toys, although popular stuff, like anything with a Star Wars label on it, may still be full price for awhile.
Check age suggestions When toy shopping for young children, follow the manufacturer’s age recommendations displayed on the package. Although you might think that a more "advanced" toy will present a welcome challenge, in reality, it could be a source of frustration.
Look for hazards Avoid magnets and toys that have them. Small magnets can be accidentally swallowed by children and they can do tremendous harm. The CPSC recommends keeping toys with magnets away from children younger than six.
For more shopping and safety tips, read our toy buying guide.
4. Price Cuts on Treadmills
Spending several thousand dollars on a treadmill can get you sturdier construction, better hardware, and more features. But you can get a decent machine that provides a great workout for much less.
Take factors besides cost into account before buying. One important consideration is the amount of space you have for a treadmill. Non-folding models take up as much floor space as a couch or dining room table. A folding treadmill can save you about six-square-feet.
Decide where you want to shop. Budget and mid-priced treadmills are sold at large retailers such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, Sears, Sports Authority, and Walmart. For more expensive brands, you’ll generally need to hit a specialty fitness store. Whether you want to shop online for the best price or in a store, try the machine in person first. You might notice a problem–the deck is too short for your stride, for example–that you can’t detect by sight or user reviews alone.
Our treadmill buying guide provides more shopping tips; subscribers can also take advantage of our treadmill Ratings to make wise buying decisions.
5. TVs for Less
It’s possible to find a good television selling for a few hundred dollars, while others go for several thousand, and there are many sets that fall in between those extremes. Screen size, features, brand, and more affect the price. Our TV buying guide will help you get the most bang for your buck, no matter how much or how little you want to spend.
It’s hard to judge TVs well in stores. That’s because televisions are usually set to a Retail or Store mode, which pumps up brightness and color to a level that looks great under fluorescent lights. Subscribers should consult our TV Ratings to make sure you get a set that performed well in our lab tests.
Consider the size. Budget and room size permitting, we believe most consumers would be best served by at least a 40- to 42-inch screen for a primary television. A 46- or 50-inch set is often preferable in rooms where you’ll be sitting 8 to 10 feet or so from the screen. Consider an even bigger set for spacious family rooms. Just don’t buy a jumbo screen and sit right on top of it: If you sit too close to a TV screen you might notice the picture elements (pixels) that make up the images, which can be distracting, especially with lower-quality content like you might get when streaming video.
Ultra HD TVs, which have four times the number of individual picture elements (or "pixels") as 1080p models, allow you to sit closer to the TV without seeing the pixel grid; as a result, you may opt for a larger set without changing your seating distance.
6. Sales on Winter Clothes
As temperatures plummet, you’ll find good deals on winter clothing. In order to make room for new spring merchandise, stores will deepen discounts on winter apparel this month.
Time your visits. Shopping at the right time can save you even more. Kohl’s fans, for example, should check out the "Gold Star Clearance" racks, where prices are slashed up to 80 percent on weekend nights. Every Wednesday, shoppers who are 55 years old and older get an extra 15 percent off (customers should bring ID to verify their age).
At many large retailers, items are marked down on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Markdowns at Marshalls and T.J. Maxx usually happen on Wednesday, for example.
Look for deals in other departments. Another clothing item that will be cheap this month: Swimsuits.
Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.