I love bargain hunting, and January is my favorite month for shopping. It's one of the best times of the year to find great deals on non-grocery items, particularly toys and clothing.
Why January? Let's take a break from discussing grocery couponing and focus on shopping for the best seasonal discounts.
Every December, department and clothing stores bring in a lot of new merchandise. Everyone's shopping for gifts, so stores stock up on holiday goods. Shelves are packed with new clothing and toys. When the New Year rolls around, stores can be stuck with leftover holiday inventory. Their pain is our gain.
Time for a clearance! There are more clearance sales in January than in any other month. Stores are eager to clear out holiday decorations, Christmas tree trimmings and other similar seasonal items. By mid-January, keep an eye on clearance aisles for toy bargains, too. Stores typically bring in lots of toy inventories before Christmas. About a month after Dec. 25, they slash the prices on whatever is left over. Any toys that were brought in for the Christmas season will take a big dip in price, with discounts from 50 to 75 percent off. Even stores that stock toys year-round will hold clearance sales. Any merchandise beyond their standard inventory will be marked down dramatically.
Shoppers eager for a bargain can usually do even better at a store that doesn't stock toys throughout the year. These stores are quicker to discount holiday inventory in order to optimize shelf space for regular merchandise.
For the past five years, I have completed an entire year's worth of toy shopping in January. All of it! That includes toys for my kids' birthdays, other children's birthdays, Toys for Tots donations and toys for the following Christmas season. It's wonderful to know I'm already done with some of my holiday shopping a year in advance! I try to stick to toys that never really go out of style. I've bought everything from a basketball hoop (reduced from $15 to $2) to an electric slot car track (originally $50, marked down to $12.50).
January is also a great time for clothing clearances. Many department stores clear out not just excess holiday inventory, but end-of-year inventory, too. Any merchandise that didn't sell during the year is brought out and priced to move. And unlike other times of the year, when stores spend big to advertise Labor Day, Fourth of July or back-to-school sales, they don't usually announce January clothing clearances too loudly. I always scout the clothing sales in January since I learned that clearance racks will be bulging with bargains.
I buy most of the clothing my children will need for the coming year in January. Even though the weather is still cold in most parts of the country, winter coats will already be on sale because stores move them out to make room for swimwear!
And don't forget to use as many coupons as you can for optimal savings. I always try to combine several coupons - for example, a coupon that's good for $10 off a $50 purchase and a 20 percent discount coupon - during January clearance sales to capture even greater savings. It's always worth getting on store mailing lists, either via snail mail or email, to stay notified of promotions. Happy shopping!
• Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about couponing at her website, www.jillcataldo.com. Email your own couponing victories and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.