'Tis the season to bag a bargain

RICHARD MEADOWS
Last updated 10:30 15/11/2012
christchurch shoppers
TIMING IS EVERYTHING: Big seasonal discounts are there for the taking, you just need to employ a little bit of cunning.

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Ever noticed that right after Christmas, the prices plunge of rolls of gaudy wrapping paper, stuffed snowmen and artificial trees?

The bargain bins quickly fill to overflowing, and the savviest shoppers stock up on festive kitsch a whole year in advance.

Timing is everything, whether you're buying cheap Christmas clutter or a million-dollar property.

Some products are the same price year round, but many are heavily influenced by the annual pattern of imports, new model releases and sales.

Big seasonal discounts are there for the taking. You just need to employ a little bit of cunning.

Here is a guide on how to roll with the seasons, starting with the best goods to buy right now.

Spring

Fancy whipping up a stuffed capsicum dish for dinner tonight? At $2.30 a pop or about $12 a kilogram in the supermarkets, you would have to be either mad or rich.

"I am amazed when I go shopping," says Ben Gleisner, national director of Wellington-based Conscious Consumers.

"My mum is a classic one. She writes the same shopping list, no matter what season it is."

Your wallet will thank you for adapting your menu around seasonal fruit and vegetables, Gleisner says.

When Conscious Consumers scouted around, it found that out- of-season imported produce was often five times as expensive as in- season produce.

You usually pay a premium for transport, storage and refrigeration, and the food is often less fresh.

That's not to mention the ethical considerations.

"Seasonal food usually means local food, which usually means it travels less distance to your kitchen table," he says.

Capsicums might be out, but asparagus, avocados, courgettes, tangelos, beetroot and strawberries are in.

Right now is also the perfect time to consider giving your body a bit of a spring-clean.

Many gyms offer spring specials to hook in new members hoping to chisel out a beach body for summer. They offer free trials, discounted memberships or waive joining fees, which are often $50 to $100.

If you want to go down the DIY route, fitness stores also tend to have clearance sales of exercise equipment at this time.

In late spring, when the glorious sun finally starts to emerge, a roaring log fire is the last thing on anyone's mind. That makes it the perfect time to buy a big trailerload of firewood.

Christchurch's City Firewood confirms that wood tends to be about $10 cheaper a cubic metre in the off-season, which could be an annual saving of $100.

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Summer

Refusing to follow the crowd usually saves you cash, but not if the crowd is stampeding towards a massive clearance sale.

The silly season is the perfect time to get major deals on things like consumer electronics and homeware.

Retailers heavily discount to move stock after Christmas, and the Boxing Day sales, in particular, are worth checking out if you can handle the crowds.

For example, Farmers had 10 to 50 per cent off everything last year, and Noel Leeming took 20 per cent off its biggest brands.

Before the first sunburn has even peeled off your nose, the summer clothing sales begin. Ezibuy's summer clearance started in mid-January last year, which is standard timing.

It has been that way for years, says Retailers' Association chief executive John Albertson.

"Summer stock starts to arrive in August which, if you look at New Zealand's weather patterns, is quite early."

It might be a little odd to clear out summer ranges before the hottest month, but it works in favour of patient shoppers.

If you can wait until mid- summer to buy new jandals or togs, you'll save a lot.

Summer offers an abundance of cheap seasonal produce too - apricots and other stonefruit, lots of berries, cherries, courgettes, melons, tomatoes and sweetcorn.

Autumn

There's not a lot going on in autumn. Chocolate is cheap after the Easter sugar rush, or there are healthier alternatives like feijoas, kiwifruit and mandarins.

Some stores start to clear out sporting equipment, bicycles and big, bulky items like swimming pools.

By this point in the year, most of the lovebirds have got their sunny beach weddings out of the way.

Pity the poor groomsmen slowly cooking in their penguin suits. About 40 per cent of all weddings take place in summer.

If you buck the trend and stage your nuptials in the nippier months, you will save more cash for a nice tropical honeymoon.

Christchurch wedding planner Emma Newman says a wedding in the colder months doesn't have to be a frosty affair. Think candelight, banquet halls and roaring fires.

Towards the end of autumn and throughout winter, churches, venues and other businesses that cater to couples notice a slowdown in trade.

"If you are prepared to negotiate in an honest and open manner, you may well be able to afford yourself a discount," says Newman.

You can't waltz in and demand a half-price deal. A 20 per cent discount is more realistic, though, and that potentially knocks several thousand dollars off the cost of a wedding.

Winter

Things really start to heat up for bargain-hunters in the depths of winter.

End-of-season clothing clearance sales kick into life as early as late June, long before the coldest days have arrived.

That's because most clothing for sale in New Zealand is imported. If new stock arrives early, it's expensive for retailers to store it, so they prefer to put it on the rack.

Not only will the range of coats and woolly undergarments available shrink as winter progresses, so will their prices.

Keen fishermen and nautical types should also think about buying a boat in winter, when only the hardiest souls venture out on the water.

That applies to second-hand and new alike, with many dealers clearing out older inventory for the new models.

If it's too rough to drop a line out on the maiden voyage, there is plenty of seasonal fish on the menu at the supermarket - blue cod, hake, hoki, snapper and trevally.

Finally, it's no coincidence that the vast majority of properties are listed for sale in spring or summer.

Every house looks fantastic with the sun pouring in and the real estate flags fluttering in the breeze, says Jenny Campbell, of the Professional Advisers Association.

"You are likely to pick up a bargain in the winter, because it's not the optimal time to sell," she says. "If it's a wet, cold, rainy horrible weekend, people aren't going to go to open homes, are they?"

Campbell reckons people who sell in the winter often do so because they have no other choice. That means their bad luck could become your good fortune.

Of course, fewer listings in winter mean there will be more competition for what's on offer. But at the very least, Campbell says, you can scout out prospective properties when they look their worst.

Seasonal deals are all around if you know where to look. Avoid the crowd, plan your purchases and nab a bargain.

- The Press

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