The 3 Best Items to Buy on Labor Day

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) – If you have to spend your Labor Day out shopping, it's best to know where the deals are before everyone with a circular or a spam email gets to them as well.

The retail cycle doesn't care about your vacation spending, kids's summer camps or back-to-school shopping. It wants its seasonal cut or else. Last year, retail spending beyond food services dropped from $379.2 billion in August to $378.8 billion in September. That was the first such fall lull since the years couching the recession from 2006 through 2009.

It's why you're already seeing candy corn in the supermarket and drugstore aisles, pumpkin beer in the convenience and liquor store coolers and a Halloween superstores where your local Family Dollar used to be. Retailers don't like unpleasant surprises and will do just about anything they can to keep spending on the upswing from now through the holidays.

It's not holiday creep, it's just unavoidable retail reality. January and February are typically the slowest buying months on the calendar, which explains crazy post-Christmas sales and big President's Day car deals. Just behind them, however, is September. According to Census Bureau data, even before the recession retail sales tend would drop off by as much as $30 billion from August to September before picking up again in October.

Faced with the knowledge that retailers will be targeting your wallet for winter holiday shopping as soon as October and will try to disrupt your Thanksgiving dinner with their “Black Friday” sales, no one would blame you for disappearing into a retail bunker for a few weeks before facing the worst. If you're looking for deals or are just in need of certain items, however, here's a list for the few souls brave enough to dedicate part of their holiday to handing over hard-earned cash:

Cars

When car dealers put up their banners and balloons and run loud ads declaring that they need to move last year's models to make room for new arrivals, they're not just handing you some line. September starts the slow, post-summer descent for car sales that typically bottoms out in November. Last year, 81% of all cars sold in September were 2013s, according to auto pricing site TrueCar. Dealers want to feature and move more 2014 models to bump up the new year's 18% sales share, so buyers will see increasing incentives as the month progresses.

If models have been redesigned or discontinued, dealers can't get them off the lot soon enough. With Ford giving its Expedition SUV a complete makeover for 2015, dealers are hacking roughly 14.5% off their suggested retail price just to get 2014 vehicles off the lot. Also, with a newly upgraded F-150 pickup coming to showrooms for 2015, dealers are giving away $4,250 in cash incentive through Labor Day to get 2014 models out the door. The folks at General Motors are letting their dealers hand over $4,000 in cash just to get rid of the 2014 Chevy Malibu, while Nissan dealers are throwing $4,500 at customers just to part with the 2014 Rogue.

Holiday plane tickets

There is no such thing as a “deal” on holiday airfare.

With airline holiday surcharges that stretch from November through January, limited airline capacity for peak demand and punishing price hikes as travelers drift later into the season without booking, travel site FareCompare's editor Rick Seaney says the best holiday travelers can hope for is a “better bad deal.” The best chance for that great lousy fare comes in September, when airlines first start discounting fall and winter prices. Seaney notes that if you're planning on flying the Wednesday before Thanksgiving or the Sunday after it, you'd have to book now just to ensure a seat. If you want to save, flying in on the Monday before Thanksgiving and leaving either the Saturday or Monday afterward is your best bet. As for Christmas, it's once again a matter of booking to ensure a seat rather than to secure a good price. Unless you feel like flying out on Dec. 16 and leaving on Christmas Day, there are no “deals” — only reduced demand.

Whatever you do, don't wait around for a holiday miracle. Beginning in the last week of October, airfare shoppers start paying an extra five dollars a day for their airfare for every day they waited. Overall, airfares jump by $100 between early October and mid-November. Want to save money? Pick an airline such as JetBlue or Southwest that doesn't charge baggage fees. Otherwise, listen to your friends and relatives: Book the flight already.

Wine

It's harvest season at most wineries, which means the grapes are being picked, the wine is being bottled and last year's vintage needs to get out of here.

While Labor Day may still be a bit early for some winery harvests, many are already working on their new vintages and pushing out older stock. It's the time selection is at its peak and prices will be at their most reasonable.

According to the Wine Institute, a wine industry group, U.S. wine sales grew by 3% by volume and 5% by value in 2013, continuing 20 consecutive years of growth. Even low-budget imports from Australia are getting squeezed by homegrown products from California and elsewhere as the U.S. recovers from its recession. Sales of California wines plummeted from $18.9 billion in 2007 to $17.9 billion in 2009, then rebounded to a record $23.1 billion just last year.

— Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.

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At the time of publication, the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned. This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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