What to Buy (and Skip) in October 2021

by Ann deBruyn

Retail seasons can be as predictable as the pumpkin-spice lattes now available at most cafes. But, like much of the last year and a half, shopping this October may look a little different. And it could involve buying stocking stuffers in addition to candy corn.

Here’s what to buy and skip this month to score discounts and, in some cases, ensure timely delivery.

First, what about holiday shopping?

While the rest of this article is about saving money with seasonal deals, this guidance is specifically for getting December holiday purchases in hand on time.

“If you absolutely have to have it by a certain date, then you may have to sacrifice the best price,” says Patricia Huddleston, professor of retailing at Michigan State University.

Why the rush? Supply-chain disruptions and shipping delays will likely add to the time between when you shop for something and when you actually receive it.

You may have to wait longer than you expected to receive products bought online, for example. Or you may have to scout multiple stores or place back orders for items that are out of stock, says Katherine Cullen, senior director of industry and consumer insights at the National Retail Federation.

To avoid stress and delays, Cullen suggests beginning your holiday shopping early. She also recommends checking retailers’ websites, apps and social media accounts. Through these tools, she says, you can often determine which items are in stock, as well as which are out of stock but available online or at a different location.

Buy: Winter outerwear

Around this time of year, Huddleston says you’ll likely see the earliest sales on coats, hats and gloves. Retailers know that many shoppers may still be enjoying relatively warm weather in October, she points out. So these sales are meant to get customers who are sporting T-shirts to start thinking about buying parkas.

Skip: Other clothing

While this is the time to upgrade your coat, you're better off skipping other types of clothing purchases if you can hold off a couple of months. “The markdowns are best around the holiday season and after Christmas,” Huddleston says.

At that point, she says most winter apparel, including tops and bottoms, will be discounted to make way for spring inventory. In case you missed the October sales, Huddleston adds that coats, hats and boots will likely go back on sale for the same reason. The one exception to end-of-year sales may be formalwear that could be worn for New Year’s Eve parties, she says.

Buy: Outdoor furniture and grills

Expect major markdowns on summer inventory that retailers are desperately trying to offload. Specifically, Huddleston recommends searching for sales on outdoor furniture and grills.

While you’re already upgrading your yard, Huddleston suggests checking out garden centers early in the month for deals on perennials.

Skip: Electronics

Save major spending on electronics for Black Friday (Nov. 26). That’s when you typically see the heftiest discounts on TVs, gaming consoles, laptops, tablets, smartphones and activity trackers. These savings can add up to hundreds of dollars.

Of course, keep in mind that advice about holiday purchases. If you want a new TV under the tree, you may have to weigh the best price against the chance it won’t arrive on time.

Buy: Halloween gear

The closer to Halloween, the steeper discounts will be on costumes, Huddleston says, because retailers want to get rid of as much of their stock as possible by Oct. 31. The same goes for Halloween-themed candy, she adds. (For both, she says: “Of course, your best deals are going to be on Nov. 1.”)

Again, consider the potential risk of delayed timing and limited stock. If you absolutely need a specific costume by Halloween, the discounts may not be worth waiting until the last minute. If you’re fine with whatever costumes are left in stock, take advantage of scary-good deals.

Bonus: Tacos and desserts

In addition to shelves and shelves of Halloween candy, you’ve got two food holidays to look forward to. National Taco Day is Oct. 4, and National Dessert Day is Oct. 14.

In years past, many local and national restaurants have offered discounts for just these occasions. Keep an eye out for promotional signage at your local taco joints, bakeries and other restaurants. Also check for deals on these restaurants’ websites, as well as their Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages.