The Store Sales Cycle: Your Monthly Guide to Clearance Prices

by Paul Michael on 2 June 2011 1 comment
Photo: Yuri_Arcurs

My recent article on extreme couponing definitely got people talking. There's nothing like a lively debate. However, I always like to take something positive away from even the most negative of experiences, and I did discover something that extreme couponers know well — the store sales cycle.

For various reasons, including overstocking of products that are in season and clearing the aisles for the next big holiday, stores put items on sale at the same times every year. With very few exceptions, the same products get cleared out as regularly as clockwork every year, and knowing when they go on sale can help you stock up and save money. (See also: Wise Bread's Shopping Calendar product-buying guides)

Here's a basic, month-by-month guide to the major products, produce, and categories that go on sale throughout the year.

Keep it handy the next time you plan a big shop, or when you clip a few coupons (I'm not against coupons, just extreme couponing). This is for the United States, by the way; other countries will have the same kinds of sales after major holidays or events, but many other factors will vary the list.

January

Super Bowl is just around the corner, so look for bargains on Pepsi and Coke products, chips and dips, cheese, beer, crackers, snacks, hot dogs and wings, frozen appetizers, and pizzas. Also, with the diet trend in full swing with the start of a new year, look for low-fat, low-carb specials: granola bars, diet frozen meals, diet cereals, yogurts, diet sodas and drinks, and Slim Fast shakes. And as it is cold and flu season, look for bargains in the medicine aisles, including vitamins, fish oils, cold remedies, and chapsticks.

Major Events

Preparation for Super Bowl Sunday, New Year's Resolutions

Seasonal Produce on Sale

Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, grapefruit, leeks, lemons, oranges, papayas, tangelos, and tangerines.

Clearance Items

The holidays are over, so look for major bargains in toys, Christmas decorations, seasonal candy, wrapping papers, and greeting cards.

February

Did you know there was a month devoted to canned goods? Well, it comes with great bargains. And as canned food takes forever to go bad, you can stock up on items like soups, canned vegetables and fruits, canned pie fillings, and canned meats and seafood. This is also a good time to grab breakfast foods, like oatmeal, waffles, and syrups.

Chinese New Year also brings bargains in the specialty food aisles, so grab soy sauce, noodles, canned Asian products (vegetables and sauces), dried Asian mushrooms, and Asian cooking oils. 

Major Events

Valentine's Day, Black History Month, Chinese New Year, National Canned Food Month

Seasonal Produce on Sale

Broccoli, cauliflower, grapefruit, lemons, oranges, and papayas.

Clearance Items

The day for love is followed by a week of sales. Once Valentine's Day is done, look for major bargains on heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, flowers, themed candies, greeting cards and wrap, perfumes, and deodorant gift boxes.

March

Clear out the freezer for Frozen Food Month. You’ll find hundreds of deals in the frozen food aisles, including plenty of frozen vegetables, meats, readymade meals, breakfast items, and pizzas. A lot of products go on sale this month for spring cleaning, including paper towels, cleaning supplies, cloths, garbage bags, and protective gloves.

Major Events

St. Patrick’s Day, Frozen Food Month, Mardi Gras

Seasonal Produce on Sale

Broccoli, lettuce, pineapples, and mangoes.

Clearance Items

Great sales items follow St. Paddy’s Day, including themed beer glasses, t-shirts, signs, decorations, and candies. Guinness items often go on sale, too.

April

Lots of baking supplies go on sale in April. Look for bargains in the baking aisles, like sugar, flour, cake mixes, nuts, coconut, marshmallows, cake decorating supplies, butter and margarine, chocolate chips, and sprinkles. Earth Day also brings bargains in the organic section of the store, as well as savings on energy-efficient bulbs, tofu, reusable bags, and biodegradable products.

Major Events

Easter, Earth Day

Seasonal Produce on Sale

Broccoli, lettuce, zucchini, rhubarb, artichokes, asparagus, spring peas, pineapples, and mangoes.

Clearance Items

A glut of cheap candy is coming your way with after-Easter bargains including chocolate eggs and bunnies, baskets, toys, themed decorations, and egg-painting kits.

May

The first great grilling event of the year brings bargains in meats, cheeses, BBQ sauces, charcoal, salads and salad dressings, chips and dips, marinades, hot dogs, burgers, and buns. You’ll also find Cinco De Mayo deals, including drink mixes, tortillas, spices, and liquor.

Major Events

Memorial Day, Cinco De Mayo, Mother’s Day

Seasonal Produce on Sale

Okra, zucchini, rhubarb, artichokes, asparagus, spring peas, broccoli, lettuce, cherries, pineapples, and apricots.

Clearance Items

Once Mother’s Day is over, you can expect bargain flowers, chocolates, greeting cards, craft items, clothing, and other themed products. The same is true for Memorial Day and Cinco De Mayo leftovers, including decorations, t-shirts and aprons, eating utensils, paper plates, sunscreen, and insect repellant.

June

Celebrating dairy products for National Dairy Month means that there are deals galore, including eggs, milk, cheese, cream cheese, butter, ice cream, yogurt, frozen yogurt, creams, and whipped toppings. You should also see bargains for 4th of July preparation, including condiments, charcoal, salad dressing, and chips and dips.

Major Events

Father’s Day, National Dairy Month

Seasonal Produce on Sale

Corn, lettuce, watermelon, strawberries, cantaloupe, blueberries, peaches, and apricots.

Clearance Items

After Father's Day, expect clearance items like themed ties, t-shirts, boxed deodorant/aftershave sets, greeting cards, tool sets, gift wrap, and gardening items.

July

No big surprises here. July 4th brings some great bargains on sodas, juice boxes, hot dogs, hamburgers, steaks, chicken, salmon, BBQ sauces, condiments, charcoal, salad dressings, liquor and drink mixes, chips and dips, aluminum foil, and baking potatoes. You’ll also find some great deals in the ice cream aisles.

Major Events

Independence Day, National Ice Cream Month

Seasonal Produce on Sale

Cucumbers, tomatoes, summer squash, corn, green beans, lettuce, watermelon, strawberries, cantaloupe, blueberries, apricots, kiwi, raspberries, and plums.

Clearance Items

After July 4th, look for all kinds of slashed prices on things like themed decorations, paper plates and napkins, utensils, banners, patriotic pins, and flags. You should also see the beginning of some back-to-school bargains.

August

As you get into back-to-school mode, look for a feeding frenzy with juice boxes, Lunchables and other ready-made kid snacks, cereals, pudding cups, tissues, granola bars, fruit snacks, canned fruit, lunchmeats, and cheese slices. Also, disinfectants, hand sanitizers, and cleaning wipes.

Major Events

Back to School

Seasonal Produce on Sale

Cucumbers, corn, eggplant, tomatoes, summer squash, green beans, lettuce, watermelon, strawberries, cantaloupe, blueberries, peaches, apricots, kiwi, raspberries, and plums.

Clearance Items

It’s hard to believe, but by August the retailers are already done with summer and are planning for Halloween. Seriously. So look for clearance items like sunscreen, insect repellent, swimsuits, shorts, caps, sporting goods, tents, charcoal, flip-flops, and water toys.

September

Another month, another reason to get the grill out. Actually, it’s probably the last major time to do it before the winter, so look for the usual BBQ special offers. Back-to-school products are still going strong with special offers, and a lot of breakfast products will be on sale, ready to help you get your kids in the mood for school. September is also a good time to get your diabetes supplies, including glucose meters, testing strips, and sugar-free products.

Major Events

Labor Day, Hispanic Heritage Month

Seasonal Produce on Sale

Eggplants, pumpkins, tomatoes, spinach, lettuce, grapes, and pomegranates.

Clearance Items

Once the kids are actually back in school, all of those supplies go on sale. Look for pencils, pens, erasers, scissors, notebooks, backpacks, and all sorts of other school supplies.

October

With the holidays approaching fast, the baking aisles start to offer tempting sales. Canned pumpkin, pie crusts, baking chips, chocolates, and other baking supplies go on sale now. There’s also an Italian flavor to the special offers in October, with wines, pasta products, and frozen pizzas also on sale this month. And you will see some good bargains in the pet food aisles, particularly dog food (dry and canned).

Major Events

Halloween, Columbus Day, Yom Kippur

Seasonal Produce on Sale

Sweet potatoes, pumpkins, winter squash, broccoli, spinach, lettuce, cranberries, apples, pomegranates, and grapes.

Clearance Items

The stores are still trying to dump the last of the summer items. Look for fans, more camping equipment, and outdoor furniture.

November

Well, it’s Black Friday month. That means everything in the entire store is on sale at some point. But barring that, there are scheduled deals in specific departments. Thanksgiving runs the show, with bargains to be found on turkeys, stuffing, soups, canned yams and vegetables, canned pumpkin, cranberry sauce, marshmallows, gravy mixes, pie crusts, flour, sugar, baking soda and powder, cake mixes, frosting, evaporated/condensed milk, chocolate chips, broths, Jell-O and pudding, hot cocoa, and coffee and tea.

Major Events

Thanksgiving, Black Friday

Seasonal Produce on Sale

Pumpkins, winter squash, sweet potatoes, broccoli, mushrooms, spinach, cranberries, oranges, pears, and pomegranates.

Clearance Items

Halloween is expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Stock up on the supplies now, with everything Halloween-related going on sale for the first few weeks of November. It’s not uncommon to see 90% off costumes and decorations in the week following Halloween; the stores want the shelf space for Christmas.

December

‘Tis the season to spend all of your money, but there are bargains to be had. Eggnog deals start the month off right, as well as instant potatoes, gravy mixes, champagne, disposable containers, foil and cling wrap, party platters, and all the other great baking and party foods that went on sale for Thanksgiving.

Major Events

Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa

Seasonal Produce on Sale

Sweet potatoes, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, pears, oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, papayas, and pomegranates.

Clearance Items

After Thanksgiving, the shelves are filled with clearance products around the theme. All sorts of fall merchandise, frozen turkeys, stuffing, festive doormats, and outdoor decorations are available for slashed prices. And Christmas, well, that goes without saying. Now is the time to stock up on all the decorations and gift wrap that you need for next year, as well as gifts including children’s toys, non-perishable gift boxes, and other seasonal treats.

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claire7676

GREAT article! I just printed this out to keep as a reference guide. THANKS! :)