How to navigate back-to-school sales

Summer is almost over, which means back-to-school sales are here. How should shopper navigate all of the back-to-school sales? Try shopping in-store for basic school supplies.

Tim Barbe/Chattanooga Times Free Press/AP/File
Heather Wheatley, left, and her daughter, Nora, 2, shop for back-to-school supplies at the Dollar General in Red Bank, Tenn. Summer is almost over, which means back-to-school sales are here. One tip is to shop in-store for basic school supplies.

For many of us, August marks a sort of return to reality after a summer of late nights, lazy days, and beach vacations. The school year is starting anew, which means routines and discipline and all that other un-fun stuff will once again be in play.

But there's one bright spot — back-to-school shopping. At no other time would picking out folders, notebooks, and pencils seem so exciting, but we all have fond childhood memories of selecting just the right supplies to match our school lists. Plus there's the bonus of new clothes, and for college, maybe even new furniture and gadgets.

It can get a little overwhelming, actually, and the costs add up if you're not careful. So DealNews is here to help; we took a look at our archive of sales from last summer to see what you can expect from sales on items commonly needed at the beginning of the school year.

For deals on school supplies, head in-store

When it comes to basic supplies, shopping in-store will probably be your best bet. We did see an Editors' Choice deal from CVS online last year, with 30 percent off sitewide, but it was really only worth it if you planned to stock up all at once, since you had to spend $49 to get free shipping. Similarly, Amazon offered great prices on items like Post-Its and markers, but they were add-on items, meaning you had to meet a shipping threshold to even buy them.

Shopping in-store, on the other hand, netted steals like 1-cent backpacks at OfficeMaxSam's Club also offered a free trial weekend, and Target took $2 off any Up & Up school item.StaplesWalmart, and Costco held sales that weren't particularly mind-blowing, but a discount is a discount. And there's some good news if you just can't be bothered to leave the house: backpacks tend to be strongly discounted at merchants as varied as Eddie Bauer, the Disney Store, and 6pm.

Shop for clothing discounts of up to 60 percent off

In just the first half of August last year, we saw nearly 100 deals on apparel and accessories. And although only a handful of those deals were marked as Editors' Choice, the range of options was enough to satisfy even the pickiest preteen. AeropostaleCalvin KleinKohl'sNordstrom, and Lands' End were among the choices, and are likely to be again; for these early month sales, look for coupons that slash up to 30 percent off new fall apparel.

Alternatively, pick through the summer sales for items that will transition well into the colder months and score discounts of up to 60 percent off or more, especially as August comes to a close.

Retailers discount college life: Snack foods = brain power

While your student will likely spend a lot of time at the dining hall, we all know that dorm snacks are what fuel those occasional all-night study sessions. Luckily we saw 89 food-related deals during the prime school shopping window last year, which tracks for a 39 percent increase in the category from the previous month. These deals mostly consisted of bulk packs of items like juice, energy bars, nuts and peanut butter, popcorn, and coffee, with savings of anywhere from $10 to $50.

Sitting pretty on cheap furniture

Furniture and appliance postings were up by nearly 10 percent last year during August, and the number of Editors' Choice deals on furniture doubled. You won't go wrong picking up a bean bag, bunk bed, or entertainment center this month. Look to Walmart and Target in particular for super cheap options, like a $17 bean bag chair, $45 desk, or a book case for around $50.

Meanwhile, bedding deals also jumped by 13 percent, but the rate of Editors' Choice deals stayed about the same; basically, you probably won't find an outstanding price on a comforter set, but you will have your pick of decent buys that slash up to 60% off.

32" TVs and nerdy delights

We've mentioned before that TVs deals are somewhat middling in August, especially since we know that Black Friday doorbusters aren't too far off at this point. However, students in search of a small, basic set might be able to snag a good deal this month. A 32" 1080p TV is perfectly sized for a dorm room, and prices for these sets dropped to $170 in July, which is the best rate we've seen all year. Prices will drop further in November, but if you need a new dorm room TV for your first semester, look for deals in the $170 to $180 range.

Lastly, one merchant that bears a special mention for college shoppers is ThinkGeek, purveyor of cheeky nerd goods and desk decor. We saw a 50 percent increase in ThinkGeek deals for back-to-school compared to the previous month, including an excellent $25 off $50 offer and specials on school and novelty items. If your student is tired of all the drab necessities you've had to buy, this would be a good opportunity to liven things up a bit with, perhaps, some Guardians of the Galaxy toys.

You should feel smarter already. Giving you a head start on your year of education is just one of the services we at DealNews are proud to offer. In fact, we have a whole guide on school sales. It's not the same kind of required reading as you'll get in English class, but perusing it will probably improve your life.

Elizabeth Zimmerman is an associate editor at DealNews, where this article first appeared:

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