Consumer Reports analysts track prices all year-round, so we can tell you when things are at their deepest discounted prices, month by month. If you crave a new MP3 player, new carpeting, or a new lawn mower, you can find great deals on them in May.
May flowers? This is the month many of us can finally get out and enjoy them, and start exercising outdoors; luckily you'll also find great prices on athletic apparel and shoes. Nature-lovers will also see sales on outdoor gear such as camping equipment. Small consumer electronics and cordless phones will be discounted, and you can find lower prices on mattresses.
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If you're in the market for any of those discounted items, we've got shopping tips and buying guides that can help you find the right models. Want to know what's on sale the rest of the year? Check our calendar of deals.
Our panelists have logged thousands of miles evaluating running, walking, and cross-training shoes. We've tested them on pavement, in gyms, and in our labs, too. We've checked whether the front of the shoe flexed enough to let you push off easily with the ball of your foot. And we've measured stability (control of ankle motion), shock absorption at the forefoot and heel (where the impact is greatest), and breathability (the ability to dissipate moisture). Weight also matters. The lighter the shoe, the better—as long as cushioning and stability don't suffer. For more tips, see our athletic shoe buying guide.
To get the deepest discounts on athletic (and other) apparel, make sure you time it right, say the editors at Shop Smart magazine. 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 60 years old and older get an extra 15 percent off.
At Target, women's clothing is generally marked down on Tuesdays, men's on Wednesday, and kids' on Mondays. Markdowns at Marshalls and T.J. Maxx usually happen on Wednesday.
About 40 million Americans go camping each year. That's more than the number who play golf. When we tested tents in the past, we found you'd be wise to doubt most tents' claimed accommodations. If a package says the tent fits eight people, that may be true only if they're stacked like cordwood or stash their gear in the car.
But large tents can weigh more than 30 pounds and often require two people to set up. Small tents generally weigh 6 to 11 pounds, but they can feel confining. To find the best tent for you and your family, visit several stores, including big box stores such as Sears and Walmart, and sporting-goods chains. You can also buy online, but set it up in a store first and walk (or crawl) inside. While you're at the store, see if the staff will beat any deals you found online.
Even the most luxurious carpet doesn't have to cost a fortune. Shop around to find carpet that fits your lifestyle and budget. Always request separate pricing for materials and installation so you can make an "apples-to-apples" comparison among different suppliers.
The wrong carpet may wear out quickly, fade, or show stains that resist your best cleaning efforts. Our carpet cleaner buying guide lists the pros and cons of DIY carpet cleaning versus hiring an expert. Our Ratings of carpet cleaning machines show which ones did best in our tests. We also have stain-fighting tips in our carpet stain remover buying guide, and Ratings of the most effective stain-removing products. And we've found that upright vacuums, especially with a bag, clean carpets best.
Our tests show that many new cordless phones have very good overall voice quality. Some are excellent, approaching the voice quality of the best corded phones.
In the store, hold the handset to see whether it fits the contours of your face. The earpiece should have rounded edges and a recessed center that fits nicely over the middle of your ear. Check the buttons and controls to make sure they're reasonably sized and legible.
Most cordless phones won't work without electricity unless they have some kind of power backup system. Look for a compartment in the charging base for a spare handset battery pack or for alkaline batteries for base-power backup. For more shopping tips, see our cordless phone buying guide.
A gas or electric push mower is fine for a small lawn. But you'll probably prefer a self-propelled gas model for slopes and a lawn tractor for a lawn one-half acre or larger.
Our tests show that you don't have to pay top dollar to get a great mower or tractor. Several models cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars less than our top-scoring machines, yet perform virtually as well. But paying just a little more often buys a lot more mower, especially at the lower end of the price spectrum.
Buy at a store, not online or over the phone, unless you've already tried the identical mattress in a store. A product manager for Tempur-Pedic told us that more online customers return their mattresses than shoppers who buy in a store.
Manufacturers usually modify innerspring mattresses for different sellers, changing the color, padding, quilting pattern, and so forth. Then each seller can call the mattress by a different name. Because such mattresses are at least somewhat different, and the names vary, you can't comparison shop. (A big chain such as Sears or Bloomingdale's has the same model names for the same beds at all of its stores, usually at the same price.)
Start out with the least expensive bed from a few top brands, and work your way up in cost. Hint: Stores keep the priciest models up front. Our mattress buying guide contains lots of additional shopping tips. We put mattresses to tough tests; you can see which ones came out on top in our Ratings.
If you're in the market for smaller consumer electronics such as an MP3 player, Blu-ray or streaming media player, or a home theater system, you should find some good savings this month.
Before you hit the stores, check out our shopping tips in our MP3 player reviews, buying guide, and Ratings. We've also got a buying guide for Blu-ray players and streaming media players and services, and one for home theater systems and sound bars. Check our Blu-ray player Ratings, streaming media player Ratings, and home theater systems and sound bars Ratings for the top models.
If you're in the market for a home theater or want to learn more about them, see the video below.
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