Back-to-School Shopping Tips for College Students

College students can often combine student discounts with Back-to-School sale items for even better deals.
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In just a few short months, college students will once again begin flooding back to campuses around the country. With the fall semester right around the corner, many are already beginning to tackle their back-to-school shopping lists. In fact, according to a recent National Retail Federation survey, about 30 percent of college students plan on spending more this summer on back-to-school items than last year.

It's no secret that retailers are kicking off sales and promotions earlier than ever, with deals popping up as soon as mid-July. But leveraging these deals to your advantage all comes down to being a smart shopper.

Whether you're on the lookout for a new laptop, bedding for your dorm room or school supplies, here are some insider tips that'll help college students get the most bang for their buck this back-to-school season.

Make a List—and Check It Twice

According to Michael Silverstein, senior partner and managing director of The Boston Consulting Group, failing to prepare is perhaps the biggest no-no for back-to-school shoppers. "You have to have a comprehensive list of what you want to buy," he says. "It'd be best to have it as brands, model and quantity. Then go out there and look online at every reputable supplier and compare prices."

He adds that visiting each retailer's website and looking for coupons and promotions can lead to major savings. The key, according to Silverstein, is to avoid basing your list on what's available and what's on sale. Instead, it should be driven by what you actually need. "Stay disciplined and be your own purchasing agent with a budget," he suggests. "And cross items off as you acquire them while keeping your eyes open for good buys for what's left on your list."

Zero in on Deals

This sounds like an obvious one, but doing even a little bit of digging can reveal some major cost-saving opportunities. When it comes to back-to-school shopping, Silverstein says to check out which retailers have a clearance department. "If they have a clearance department, you can buy last year's model," he says. "Think of it as buying this year's model at half price."

For school supplies, he also says that retailers like Staples, Office Depot, Target and Walmart are all good places to start. The Container Store is another big one. According to Silverstein, the organizing haven is currently running a killer annual summer sale. Translation: now is the time to snag dorm-room must-haves without breaking the bank. "And every person can go onto the Bed, Bath and Beyond website and qualify for a 20 percent-off coupon," he adds.

Get Real About Your Electronics Needs

Electronics typically top the shopping lists of most college students. To get the best savings, start by taking an honest look at what your needs are.

The truth is that prices for electronics like laptops and tablets usually drop significantly in October and November. Can you hold off on buying that new iPad for just a few months? If you can make do with what you've got until then, it could save you big bucks in the long run. When it comes time to buy, Silverstein says that it's hard to go wrong with Amazon or Best Buy."Best Buy very often will have coupons—sometimes as much as 10 or 20 percent off—that they offer to their best customers."

Silverstein also recommends looking into secondary electronic sources, many of which have incredible savings right now. "One supplier in particular would be Crutchfield, which has goods that vary from the very high end to medium to low," he says.

Take Advantage of Student Discounts

If you've got a college ID card in your wallet, then you're in a position to save even more money. Before making any purchase, be sure to inquire about specialty discounts for college students. For example, Apple boasts savings of up to $200 on new Macs for college students. And the savings extend across retail categories. J. Crew offers a 15 percent discount on most in-store purchases. Similarly, Sam's Club offers a collegiate membership program designed specifically to help college students save cash.

At the end of the day, keeping the most money in your pocket all comes down to making a plan—then sticking to it. "Be patient, be careful, be methodical in your search, and I believe you can generally get 40 to 50 percent off a [shopping] list," says Silverstein.

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About the Author
Marianne Hayes Contributor

Marianne Hayes is a freelance writer, wife and mother in Tampa Bay. After earning a degree in journalism and creative writing from the University of Central Florida, she spent nearly a decade getting lost in New York City and Los Angeles before making her way back home again in 2014. Marianne's writing has appeared in a variety of publications including The Huffington Post, Forbes.com, LearnVest, The Daily Beast and more. When she's not writing, Marianne is usually cruising her local bookstore with her two daughters.

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