To help you gear up for the coming school year without overpaying for back to school essentials, we've highlighted some popular products that frequently go on sale during back to school season and offered strategies you can use to get the lowest prices possible.
What Types of Products Go on Sale During Back to School Season?
- Basic School Supplies: Deals on essential supplies like writing utensils, binders and composition books usually start early and run all season long. Start looking for discount supplies around the last week of July, but expect to see better deals once school is in session and retailers are trying to clear shelf space.
- Clothing and Apparel: We recommend waiting until close to the end of fall to start seriously looking for deals on shoes and clothing. However, you might find some good discounts on major brands during Labor Day sales or through spring/summer clearance sales in July and early August.
- Backpacks: Backpack sales surge just before school starts, but it's still possible to find good deals in August when retailers like REI have sales. And if you can delay your purchase until mid-September (or later) you may be able to save even more on high-quality brands like L.L. Bean, The North Face or Lands' End. By that point, retailers are looking to clear stock. And stores like Pottery Barn Kids normally have solid backpack deals at that time as well.
- Food: If you plan on packing lunches and bringing snacks, we recommend looking into Amazon's Subscribe & Save program. Anyone willing to commit to automatic reordering can save up to 15% on snacks like Goldfish, cookies and Planters peanuts. Alternatively, consider signing up for a Costco or Sam's Club membership to get your favorite lunchtime staples in bulk.
When do Back to School Sales Typically Start?
Generally speaking you can start looking for back to school sales about five weeks before the end of August (around July 26th). However, discounts often get better once the initial rush has subsided, so you'll see the best deals on many products close to the end of the year. Tips to Maximize Savings While Back to School Shopping
- Have Your Student ID Ready: Student IDs are an easy way to save as they can help you score discounted items—especially electronics and clothing. In some cases, a .edu email address also gets the job done. Retailers who've offered student discounts in the past include Apple, Best Buy and J.Crew.
- Make a List of Supplies You Really Need: Most schools share required supplies lists before the first day of class. And you can usually contact the teacher directly to find out what you will and won't need. In addition to helping you stave off impulse buys, it's also totally possible you don't actually need a lot of the recommended items.
- Wait Until Later in the Year for Non-Essentials: Just as stores deeply discount holiday decorations the day after Christmas, prices on back to school items usually drop after the school year starts. Get what you really need, then wait until a good sale for the rest. Plus you can always set Deal Alerts to ensure you hear about the sale you've been waiting for the second it starts.
- If You Know What Stores You'll be Going to, Sign Up for Newsletters: Newsletters go straight to your inbox and allow you to check out the deals at your leisure. You can also follow your favorite stores on social media where they often promote savings events and sales. Just be sure to search Slickdeals as a price reference before you buy—sometimes a sale price is not as good as it might seem.
- You Don't Really Need the Premium Version of Every School Supply: Supplies like crayons, glue sticks, protractors or rulers tend to only see occasional use, so go for the generic brand or discount products. Stores like Walmart or Target often have general school supplies for less than a dollar, which can easily be over 75% off the price of the name-brand versions.
If you're looking to fill out a teacher's classroom wishlist, the local Dollar Tree is a great place to find disinfectant wipes, tissues, baby wipes, hand sanitizer and more. (It wouldn't hurt to stock a college dorm room with some of these items either.)
Discount Back to School Products for College Students
- Dorm Essentials: A few weeks before school starts, expect to see discounts on Twin XL bedding (which fits most dorm beds) and pillows. We've also seen good deals on non-essential—but nice to have—electronics like portable 4K TVs and printers.
- Airfare: It's wise to start thinking about your holiday flight home early in the semester. We've historically seen a flurry of airfare deals around August or September.
- Computers and Tablets: Typically, gadgets like computers, graphing calculators and tablets are deeply discounted in October and November. If you can hold off for a couple of months, you could wind up saving a lot of cash. If you can't wait, it's common for stores like Best Buy and Staples to offer sales or coupons that take 10 to 20 percent off.
- Dining & Restaurants: Keep an eye out for coupons offering free meals from fast food or fast casual restaurants. In the past, we've seen BOGO deals from places like Dunkin' Donuts and Panda Express.
Tips For Saving Money While on Campus
- Take advantage of the Amazon Prime Student program: Amazon offers a special Prime Membership exclusively for college students. Anyone with a .edu email can sign up for a free six-month trial that grants them full access to all Amazon Prime perks. When the trial period is up, Prime Student costs $59 per year (or $6.49 per month), and lasts for either four years or until the student graduates.
- For Low-Level Classes, Try to Find Older Editions of Textbooks: Most entry-level textbooks stay pretty much the same year after year, even though a "new edition" comes out once every 12 months. This means you can usually pick up an old edition for a fraction of the new edition's retail price. If a required section is missing from your copy, just go to the library or ask to borrow a classmate's book.
Any product or service prices/offers that appear in this article are accurate at time of publish, and are subject to change without notice. Please verify the actual selling price and offer details on the merchant’s site before making a purchase.