Looking to save money on school supplies? It's all in the timing

Need a sweater? Wait until later in the fall. Backpacks? Hold off until late September, if you can.

Torin Halsey/Wichita Falls Times Record New/AP
In this Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015, file photo, Tori Smith, center, director of the Southwest Branch of the Boys and Girls Club in Wichita Falls, Texas, and employees of Academy Sports and Outdoors help several club members pick out new backpacks for school.

The start of the school year is just around the corner, and you haven't shopped yet?

Don't fret. To get the best deals, it's all in the timing.

Need sweater? Wait until later in the fall. Backpacks? Hold off until late September, if you can.

"I think it is knowing and planning ahead of time. What am I going to need in the next six months?" said Kristin Cook, managing editor of Ben's Bargains, an online deal site that put together a list of the worst things to buy right now for the back-to-school season.

Of course, some discounters have consistently low prices. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which pushes everyday low prices, has launched extra discounts for the back-to-school shopping period. Earlier this month, it launched thousands of new price cuts, including on the 10 most-searched items online so an assortment of $12.88 backpacks are now $7.

And you should take advantage of limited free shipping offers. Target Corp. is temporarily waiving the minimum purchase order of $25 for free shipping on all items until Saturday. However, oversized handling fees may still apply.

There are also other gimmicks. J.C. Penney, which operates 800 stores nationwide, is offering $10 haircuts for kids for grades kindergarten through sixth until Aug. 31.

You can also take advantage of tax-free back-to-school shopping. Seventeen states have such sales tax "holidays."

"Arm yourself with information," said Traci Gregorski, vice president of marketing for research firm Market Track, which tracks promotions at various retailers. "Lots can be found on websites, apps and circulars."

Here are the best times to buy the following types of items:

SCHOOL SUPPLIES:

Start shopping now for pens, notebooks and other supplies.

Staples brought back its "Less List," which offers basics like one-subject notebooks for 25 cents and two-pocket folders for 15 cents, as well as a 24-pack Crayola crayons for 50 cents.

Wal-Mart rolled back prices on all three Texas Instrument calculators to $88. These graphing calculators are for high school and above and are normally $96 to $125.

Target is testing a new way to shop for supplies online called School List Assist, which is an online hub that offers a selection of the most common supplies for grades kindergarten through eighth grade.

For those stores with high spending thresholds for free shipping, just go to the store, said Benjamin K. Glaser, features editor at DealNews, because you'll just spend more trying to meet that $50 minimum.

CLOTHING AND ACCESSORIES

Now is a good time to stock up on summer clothing, taking advantage of clearance sales. Gap's Old Navy, for example, is offering up to 60 percent off on summer tops. Macy's is highlighting light-weight casual dresses for teens that are $29.99 and under.

But it's best to wait to buy jeans, boots, sweaters and until well after school starts.

Gregorksi monitored circulars at 13 stores including J.C. Penney, Macy's, Sears, Target and Wal-Mart the past two years.

"The key takeaway here is that the best chance to get a deal on these fall clothing items is in October," said Gregorski. "Not only are there more products on promotion, but the deals are as good and often better than the back-to-school months."

If you can hold off on buying boots a little longer than that, just take advantage of the Black Friday sales, Cook says.

COMPUTERS AND SMART PHONES:

Hold off on upgrading Apple iPhone and Apple iPad because Apple typically announces new launches later in the fall.

But Glaser notes late August is the best time to buy a laptop before Black Friday sales hit. Right now, the average discounts for laptops are 15 percent, but you can get 25 percent off by the end of the month, he said.

"Laptops are making a comeback, especially the sub-$200 models, due to the influence of Google's Chromebook," Cook says. "In fact, sub-$150 models are popping up as of late and should continue through the end of the year."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.