January tends to bring a much needed break from the spend-a-thon that is the holidays.

After a season of shopping for gifts, hitting the stores again may be the last thing on many consumers' minds right now. But that's perhaps why it's such a good time to shop.

Not only have the crowds retreated from the shopping centers, stores are desperate to boost first-quarter sales and shed their old merchandise.

In fact, January, February and March have some of the best deals of the year. Here are ideas what to shop for during the first quarter.

Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail

January

Apparel is one of the best things to shop for during after-Christmas sales. Of course, you'll find routine markdowns at national retail chains such as Old Navy and J.C. Penney. But in my opinion, the best sales are on designer items that aren't typically marked down.

January is one of the few times of year that high-end stores such as Berlin's, Gwynn's and Copper Penny have markdowns of up to 70 percent off. That means you can buy a pair of designer boots or jeans for about $100 or less.

Furniture also is a good buy this month. Retailers buy spring collections in October, and most of that merchandise is shipped to stores in February. That means many retailers need to make room for the new collections this month. Sears and Pottery Barn usually have good sales on last season's items.

One local furniture store, Southeastern Galleries, has taken advantage of the furniture turnover to get in-season collections at discounted prices. When the showrooms close in October, most of the display pieces go into storage.

That's when Rick Cooper, vice president of Southeastern Galleries, makes his move. He travels to storage warehouses across the Southeast to buy sample pieces at discounted prices.

"We have the big year-end sale in January because that's when we get most of that merchandise in stock," he said. "It ends up saving the customer about 25 percent more on our already low prices."

February

February gives Black Friday a run for its money when it comes to deals on flat-screen TVs. Retailers will mark down 2013 models after the Superbowl, but you'll have to buy them quickly. Many of last year's TVs will be gone once 2014 versions are released at the end of the month, according to electronics website CNET.com.

You also should wait until February to buy new luggage, according to the AARP. It's a slow month for travel, so demand is low for suitcases. TJ Maxx and department stores such as J.C. Penney and Belk tend to have some of the best selections on affordable bags.

March

It's a bit of a reach on the grocery industry's part, but March is actually National Frozen Foods Month.

While I wouldn't encourage anyone to binge all month on over-processed TV dinners, I will say you should keep the scissors nearby for all the coupons you'll see on frozen veggies, fruits and pizzas.

With spring around the corner, you also can expect to find lower prices on gardening tools and accessories, AARP says.

But you should wait until mid-summer to find deals on larger equipment such as lawn mowers and hedge trimmers.