Consumer Reports analysts track prices all year-round, so we can tell you when things are at their deepest discounts, month by month. If you crave a new MP3 player, carpeting, or a lawn mower, you can find great deals on them in May.
Planting May flowers? This is the month many of us can finally get out and work in our yards and start exercising outdoors; luckily you'll also find great prices on athletic apparel and shoes. Nature-lovers will benefit from 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. This year you'll also find some deals on hybrid cars.
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.
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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 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.
Time it right. Ask salespeople at your favorite retailers when markdowns tend to occur. An associate at Kohl’s, for example, told us they typically mark down the most stuff on the second and fourth Saturday of each month. And don’t forget about outlets. Additional price slashing generally takes place on holidays, including the 4th of July. To avoid the crowds, plan your trip for Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, when there are fewer shoppers. Plus that’s often when new merchandise is delivered.
About 40 million Americans go camping each year. That's more than the number who play golf.
Consider size carefully. 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. Also keep in mind that 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.
Shop around. 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 to see how easy it is to put up and and walk (or crawl) inside to check how many people it will comfortably fit. 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.
Get a complete quote. Always request separate pricing for materials and installation so you can make an "apples-to-apples" comparison among different suppliers.
Think about carpet care. 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.
Give it a try. 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.
Get some backup. 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.
Lower gas prices have cooled car buyers' interest in hybrids. To lure them back to showrooms, automakers have rolled out some of the biggest incentives in the industry on hybrids and electric cars. Some of the deals won't last through this month, but a couple will be around through early July.
Check our fuel economy figures. Hybrid technology comes in many forms, and not all hybrids are ultra efficient. Our data show that full-hybrids (those capable of driving on electric power alone for at least short distances) yield the biggest improvements in fuel economy.
New vs. used If you're considering whether to buy a new or used hybrid, there are several factors to consider. The most important may be obsolescence. Hybrid technology is moving at almost personal-electronics speed. Reliable used hybrids can be a welcome alternative. The used-car market is about three times the size of the new-car market, so there's plenty of choice out there. For more tips, check out our Hybrid/EV buying guide. Subscribers can find out which models shine in our Ratings.
While you're checking out the great deals on mowers this month, read our buying guide to decide which type of mower fits your needs; subscribers can find our recommended models in each category in our Ratings.
Don't be swayed by numbers. Our latest tests confirm that more horsepower doesn't necessarily mean higher-quality mowing. Mower manufacturers have swapped horsepower numbers for engine-size and torque specifications, but even those don't guarantee better results.
Consider your lawn. 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.
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.)
Take them for a spin. 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.
Shop back to front. Start out with the least expensive bed from a few top brands, and work your way up in cost. Stores keep the priciest models up front, so head to the back of the store first. 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.
Early fall is a good time to buy many small consumer electronics such as MP3 players, DVD players, and Blu-ray players. As with many items you buy, deciding which ones are right for you depends on which type fit your needs and come with features that are important to you. Our buying guides can help; for example, we have one for MP3s, DVD players, and Blu-ray players, and a list of other electronics guides. Subscribers can also access our ratings of MP3s and Blu-ray players.
Give them a try. For example, whichever type of MP3 player you choose, make sure you'll be comfortable using the device. Look for a display that is easy to read and controls that can be worked with one hand, useful features iPods lack. When it comes to home theaters, audition systems in the store and ask about a return or exchange if the one you buy doesn't suit you.
Consider online retailers, too. In recent years, the Consumer Reports readers we've surveyed who shopped online were more satisfied overall than those who shopped at a walk-in store. In fact, websites as a whole outdid walk-in stores for quality, selection, and price.
Wondering where you should go to get the best deal on electronics? Watch the video below to find out.
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