When is the best time to buy the best telescope for you? For many enthusiasts, the ideal answer would be right now! If you've got the astronomy bug, then it's never too soon to join the telescope community and explore the wonders of the sky up close.
But, of course, a realistic answer will always factor in cost and availability, so let's explore how planning and patience can net you a bargain.
Prices are likely to keep rising
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Unfortunately, telescope prices are on an upward trend, due to a variety of factors. Global supply chains have been under exceptional pressure in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, while geopolitical events only tighten the squeeze on what can be shipped, and where. This all results in increased production and shipping costs, which are naturally passed on to the customer. It's just another family of goods that's becoming ever more expensive, and it would be naïve to expect prices to 'return to normal' in the near future. If the market survives, higher prices will become the new normal.
It's not a lost cause though. There will always be reductions, and there will always be affordably priced telescopes marketed towards the beginner, some of which are just as appealing to seasoned astronomers.
Find a good beginner telescope
If you're looking to buy your first telescope, it's important to understand that it needn't be the flashiest, priciest model. In fact, it's better to get started with something robust, simple to operate, and small and light enough to enjoy using.
Manufacturers which offer a wide range of beginner's telescopes, such as Celestron and Sky-Watcher, haven't escaped sharp price rises, but they still represent the best value for newcomers. Picking something that's suitable for your needs and setting an appropriate budget is a great way to save. See our five money-saving tips for buying a telescope.
When is the best time of year to buy a telescope?
What about the time of year? Telescopes aren't fashion items, so there's no periodic rise and fall in price or availability. They're only temporarily marked down during sales, but if you're willing to be patient and strike when the time is right, your savings can be significant.
Even the best beginner's telescopes or best telescopes for kids can set you back a few hundred, where even 10% adds up. The various popular annual sales are a good place to start. Black Friday (Nov. 25) has become a days-long shopping event in the retail world, but with the darkening skies of autumn, appetite for telescopes tends to grow, so deep discounts aren't always forthcoming.
The same is often true for the January sales, but you might see retailers looking to clear out excess stock after the Christmas rush at this time of year. Telescopes are large items to store, and retailers which carry a wide variety of products (like photography and department stores) would prefer to be rid of any they over-order. As always, it's a good idea to keep an eye on our best telescope deals during these traditional sale periods.
Telescope availability may improve in summer
The spring and summer months are slower for the telescope market, and in less strained times, availability is better. Astronomical events, such as eclipses, can inspire in the short-term, themed sales designed to capitalize on the rise in the public interest, and certain dates are already earmarked to celebrate astronomy, such as International Astronomy Day (May 7 & Oct. 1) which occurs twice a year in spring and autumn.
Other dates like International Observe the Moon Night (Oct. 1) and World Space Week (Oct. 4-10) fall exclusively during busier periods, but some retailers launch sales in line with them. If you're planning to wait and purchase a particular telescope, you could track its price throughout these events to inform a likely favorable time to buy the following year.
Make your own connections
Finally, you might be able to make your own luck if you're in touch with a local telescope retailer. Ask them about the possibility of purchasing or reserving an ex-display telescope. In most cases, it'll be in perfect condition.
Also, keep one eye on the latest telescope reviews. When a manufacturer releases an updated model, you can expect to see the previous version going for less, just like last year's must-have smartphone.
For most of us, it doesn't feel like a good time to spend. Budgets are tight and prices are high, but discounts can always be found, and a properly maintained telescope will bring you many years of fabulous observing experiences. Shop around with patience — the wonders of the sky aren't going anywhere.
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Tom Kerss is an astronomer and the author of numerous best-selling books about the night sky for both adults and children, including Northern Lights, Diamonds Everywhere and the Starry Stories Series. He shares his passion for the stars with people all over the world, delivering courses, podcasts and media interviews. Having worked in Hawaii, Chile, Namibia, Iceland and Norway, Tom loves nothing more than to seek out the darkest and most beautiful skies on Earth, escaping his light-polluted home of London. He has a background in astrophysics and formerly worked at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.