Independence Day sales -- real and bogus

Nothing spells American independence quite like a trip to the mall -- at least, that's what retailers are counting on this 4th of July holiday. Proclaiming that they've got deals on everything from clothing to barbecues, stores are hoping to lure you in for some good old-fashioned American consumerism.

If you're in a shopping mood, or even just planning a holiday party that requires a trip to the grocery store, the holiday does offer some legitimate bargains. But buying things you don't need is always a bad way to "save," so make a shopping list and stick to it. Also know that some "sales" are pretty pathetic for real bargain-hunters. Meanwhile, there are also plenty of websites and at least one new smartphone application that can help you find the lowest prices.

Groceries

If you're stocking up for a July 4 barbecue, you should know that there's a new free app that can make finding the best prices for whatever's on your grocery list a breeze, if you happen to live in a handful of cities where it's up and running. Called StockUp, the tool offers crowd-sourced prices on hundreds of products, from beer to bagels.

With a 10-item grocery list of common 4th of July favorites, such as hot dogs, pretzels and Coke, the app's makers say you'd be smart to shop at Target, where the price of this list of groceries came in at $22.34 versus $37.49 at Safeway. The bad news? For now StockUp is only fully operational in Washington, D.C., New York, San Francisco and Atlanta. But they encourage consumers to download the app and start recording prices in their neighborhoods. If you do, you'll get points that can be claimed for cash rewards. The app is available in both the Apple and Android stores.

Clothing

Sure, you know that summer's only started, but to clothing retailers, those shorts and swimsuits are already beginning to seem stale. The July 4 is when you're likely to see lots of sales of swimming gear and cotton shifts, shorts and shirts, said Charles Tran, founder of credit-card comparison site CreditDonkey. But realize that if you don't need these items yet, the discounts will get better later in the summer. Then again, more popular styles may also be gone.

Grills

If you've been lusting after that luxury barbecue or smoker, you may be tempted to buy it on the weekend of the 4th, when all the big-box stores are likely to put them on sale. But if you can hold off for another month, the prices are almost certain to fall sharply next month, said Mark LoCastro of DealNews. In fact, retailers know you want to grill something this weekend, so while the tags will proclaim "Independence Day sale!," the prices could drop lower as early as next week.

Patio furniture

The good news is you're likely to find real deals on patio furniture, LoCastro adds. Why? The unusually cold spring in the Midwest and East Coast discouraged consumers from buying lawn chairs and patio sets, so retailers have them in quantity taking up loads of space in their showrooms. DealNews has already seen discounts as high as 50 percent on patio furniture, and they're likely to limbo lower for the holiday weekend.

Video games

Parents with bored teens moping around the house will be happy to know that video games and consoles also go on sale this weekend. And what better way can your kids spend their time than learning to be murderers and thieves with a new edition of Grand Theft Auto?

Maybe it's worth noting that even though they may not be on sale, it's cheaper (and way healthier) to buy the kids books and, maybe, a basketball or Slip'N Slide.

Paint

Of course, you could also put the kids to work on a few little home improvement projects. Home improvement stores generally put paint on sale at the start of summer. Garden stores are likely to offer cut prices on plants, too.

Appliances

You'll see appliance sales at this time of year, too, LoCastro said. Don't bite. The deals will get far better when the weather cools down.

Electronics

Also hold off on electronics purchases, from Apple's cheaper iMac to the Kindle phone, computer systems and television sets. Today's deals are anemic compared to what's likely to be available around Thanksgiving.

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