A procrastinator's guide to holiday shopping

Procrastination has its benefits. If you're one of those consumers who didn't go all-in on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, you haven't only not lost out, but you might have a fighting chance to get even better deals over the next week or so.

With Free Shipping Day on Friday (Dec. 18), when lots of retailers offer online shoppers free shipping with a guarantee of delivery by Christmas Eve, many merchants also use it to offer discounts to push last-minute sales.

Shopping expert Kyle James, who writes the Rather-Be-Shopping blog, did an analysis of eight years of coupon offerings and found that mid-December is peak time for bargains in several gift-giving categories.

Here are the categories and the dates, all this week, that he predicts will deliver the best opportunities this year:

Toys: Wednesday

Apparel and shoes: Friday

Tools and hardware: Wednesday

Jewelry: Monday through Thursday

Kitchen stuff: Friday

"I was able to dig into our database and find patterns where we tend to get the most coupons and deals for specific products," James said. "In many cases, these days will definitely give you better-than-Black Friday prices."

While you'll miss out on the limited-supply door-buster deals reserved for those who waited in lines after Thanksgiving dinner, James offered some examples of the great buys he has gotten on these days.

Last year, he said, Toys 'R' Us offered $10 off all regular-price Barbie items. Mindware, he said, discounted all orders by 15 percent. Target (TGT) had a sale featuring 20 percent off select toys. Dell offered 37 percent off its Inspiron laptop. HP (HPQ) discounted configurable desktop PCs by 30 percent. And Best Buy (BBY) had a $100 off sale on Dell 2-in-1 laptops.

"You can actually save more in December," James said, "by shopping when retailers start feeling the pinch of lackluster sales and start offering great deals and coupons."

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    Mitch Lipka is an award-winning consumer columnist. He was in charge of consumer news for AOL's personal finance site and was a senior editor at Consumer Reports. He was also a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, among other publications.