Photos by: Getty Images, iStock and ThinkstockBy Stephanie Emma Pfeffer
Here's some good news: The country's economy is projected to improve (slowly, but surely) in the year ahead. Even though economic upswings tend to drive up prices, deals will be available in 2013-if you know where to look, says Greg McBride, senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com. Here, a few categories where your dollars will go farthest. Photos by Getty Images, iStock and Thinkstock.
1. Laptops, Flat-screen TVs and Digital Cameras
The cost of commoditized technology (products made with basic, widespread knowledge of hardware components) will keep going down, says Brad Wilson, founder of the savings website BradsDeals and author of Do More, Spend Less: The New Secrets of Living the Good Life for Less. Because of technological improvements, electronics parts are becoming cheaper and easier to manufacture, tempting more companies to get in on the action. As suppliers compete for market share, prices for consumers fall-except on those beloved Apple products. There isn't an oversupply since only one company makes them.
Finally! A gallon of gas will cost about 20 cents less in 2013 as compared to 2012, according to Tancred Lidderdale of the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That's because production by non-OPEC nations like the United States and Canada is growing and causing crude oil prices to drop. But beware: Crude oil is an internationally traded commodity, so events in the Middle East, Africa and the Gulf of Mexico can cause supply disruptions and impact what we pay at the pump.
3. Online Apparel
Never buy an item at list price, says Wilson, adding that online coupons exist for 9 out of 10 retailers at any given time. "Deals are quick to find-the trick is remembering to look." Among the money-saving opportunities are site-wide sales, percentages off, rebates and free shipping (which is practically a rule these days). Just do a Google search for your favorite retailer-say, Old Navy, Carter's or Sports Authority-followed by the words "coupon code." Or head to sites like RetailMeNot, FatWallet or BradsDeals, where the average visitor spends 88 seconds looking for a coupon and saves $24. And you can look forward to more discounts in 2013 because "stores now know we've been conditioned to get value out of a purchase," says Wilson-and retailers need to compete for shoppers' dollars.
Related: Check out these 9 buys that are cheaper online.
"You'll see more free apps because the public has voted with their wallets that a free product that's good enough beats a paid product that's perfect," says strategic innovation consultant Scott Steinberg. "Thousands of free or low-priced apps released in 2012 offered full-fledged, program-level quality and performance, training shoppers to expect more for less." Since you bank on paying so little, companies are forced to drop prices further and make top-notch programs for next-to-nothing, but they'll make money from charging a premium for extra features and selling ads within the apps.
Steinberg says these prices will plummet as more options flood the market, a result of hardware becoming more commoditized, public interest in tablets growing and competition strengthening among key tech players. Consumers who don't want a $500 iPad can now get a slew of lower-priced models starting at $199. "Even low-end devices are equipped with better graphics and more technological horsepower than ever," Steinberg says. "If all you want to do is read books, listen to music or surf the web, you can get a very good product for $200 to $300."
If you're still carrying a flip phone, this may be your year to switch. A rising number of carriers offering prepaid and monthly service made customers wary of longer contracts in 2012, according to Steinberg. That-along with the abundance of new, top-rated Android phone models-has led mobile carriers to "offer high-quality phones for as low as $100" when you commit to their service plan, says Steinberg. But prepare to pay higher monthly service fees as data charges rise.
7. Video Games
Prices on physical video games are going way down as manufacturers try to compete with digital downloads, says Steinberg. Free and super-cheap apps also vie for gamers' attention, as do streaming services and rentals. With little overhead for manufacturing, shipping and storage, these game-delivery systems keep costs down. That means actual video games must lower their prices to stay appealing. So games once sold for $60 will now cost $40, or even $30, Steinberg says.
8. Last-Minute Travel
The biggest travel trend for 2013 will be massive savings on mobile-exclusive deals via apps, says Expedia Travel Expert Sarah Gavin. Just don't anticipate the same savings to be available on websites. "There's a certain type of trip that people search for and book on a mobile device," she explains. "They tend to be short-term and closer to home, like an overnight or weekend at a hotel when the in-laws come to town." Hotels don't lower prices eight weeks out-they're hoping someone will still pay full price. But a high vacancy rate 48 hours in advance can mean drastic rate cutting to fill those rooms. As long as you're flexible, you can find last-minute deals for up to 60% off.
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9. Bundled Vacations
Big resort destinations will continue to offer major savings when you buy airfare, room and car rental all together. "You can save nearly $525 on a weeklong trip for two adults by booking those three things at once because individual carriers can hide low rates in the package price," says Gavin. Also, as new hotels are being built again, rooms need to be occupied. Expect the best deals at resorts in Cancun, the Caribbean and Hawaii, where people spend extra money on day-trip excursions, spa services and alcohol. "The room rate is only a small piece of the pie," explains Gavin. "Properties just want to get you there."
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Over the past few years, cruising has become increasingly popular as bigger, better ships turned into destinations themselves. But last year's Costa Concordia disaster off the coast of Italy dissuaded some would-be vacationers. "In 2013, cruise lines will offer incentives to entice travelers back to their ships," says Gavin. Look for onboard deals and credits-especially early in the year.
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