Back to School Sales – Not Just for School Anymore!

We all know food is seasonal, but what about office supplies? Absolutely. Clothing? You betcha. Body Wash? You got it! Cameras, computers, bedding? Musical instruments? Batteries? Some of the lowest prices of the year on many items can be found during the back to school sales.

photo from the daily dish


The one time a year event generates a glut of sales from about the first week of July. The sales peter off in August, so the early bird catches the worm.

  • Even if you don’t have kids, use the school supply sales to stock up your home or office for dirt cheap. If you have kids, rethink your shopping strategies for Back to School and you’ll save a bundle.
  • Take advantage of other sales, too, to restock for the year for the whole family. Clothing is a no-brainer, but there is high competition for your dollar on a number of items we might not normally associate with the back to school sales. Scan below for some thoughts.

Is it worthwhile to get out there in the stores? I just finished the last case of free computer paper I picked up a couple of years ago (and I donated one case to a church) at Office Max and I still am on my supply of my favorite Pilot G-2 pens I picked up in 2009…several dozen for a total of 27 cents and tax. This year I got a great deal on my favorite sporty socks. Thank you back to school days!

School Supplies

I wish I knew back when my kids were young what I know now. I’d get the list at “back to school night” and go to a store, usually Target (my school indicated on the list that Target was one of the stores that had all the items “at a sales price”) and drop a bundle, multiplied by how many kids I had in school. Every year, more and more was required, the store was crowded with all the parents and kids in the special display corner, the kids were with me and it was a nightmare! An expensive nightmare!

Then I learned a few tricks:

  • Get a box with a lid and as the school supplies come back in the house in bags and backpacks at the end of the school year, rather than having them “disappear” into the kids rooms, collect them and stash them in the box. You can start your “shopping” from there.
  • Watch sales starting the first week of July.
  • Use a coupon matching site to alert you to great values and specials.
  • Be flexible enough to pick up different items at more than one place in small shopping trips rather than one large one.
  • Open your mind to finding values at places you might not have thought great values would be found.
  • You don’t always have to be “exact” and buy everything and anything the school tells you to – in most cases, close is usually good enough.
  • If possible, leave the kids behind. And by the way, if you can “school” your kids into the idea that you are buying items for their “use” and not necessarily for their “ownership” it will be easier to train them into taking care of and passing down some of the more expensive items to younger siblings. (Ahem, to child number one – yes, that’s right, I’m talking to you – who sold her clarinet, pocketed the money, and I didn’t realize it until I was looking for it for child number 2! I have very smart kids, too smart.)


School sales often start long before the school puts out a list. Certain items are going to be a no brainer. Folders, notebooks, colored pencils, crayons, white board markers, loose leaf paper, pens, etc. are all going to be on sale from about the first week of July through late August, perhaps early September. Start picking up the basics.

Beat them at their own Game

The sales in stores are designed to draw you in for free or nearly free items, and they hope once you get there, you’ll maximize your time and buy all the other items you need that aren’t on sale.

Beat them at their own game – check your coupon matching site and as you drive by a store during the week, stop in and grab the three or four items that are free or nearly free. You can easily hit several stores, spending just a few minutes at each, which is especially easy for some of the smaller stores like CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens.

A bit more effort is going to be involved in hitting the Targets and Walmarts – you’ll probably have to drive to them, more walking in the parking lots and the stores. You’ll have to decide if the sale that week is worth the effort. Perhaps a family member works near one – give them the short list. Divide and conquer.

Use a Coupon Matching Site

This is absolutely key. You can spend hours pouring over ads looking for deals and still not see or know of the deals the experts are putting together for you – it takes minutes to scan a list, print off or cut out a few coupons and the sites will also show you the best deals even if you aren’t using coupons.

As always, I recommend Carrie Roche and her Pocket Your Dollars site. She and her team have minimal ads and cookies and do a fantastic job on CVS, Walmart, Target, Walgreens as well as some of the office supply stores like Staples, etc. While local to Minnesota, her weekly shopping lists include these nationwide stores. Shoppers also add their own deals and lists are updated in a lively discussion at the bottom of these postings. Simply check off what you wish to buy and print the list.

Get the Store Cards

Make sure to sign up and use any reward or store cards for points back, special deals, etc. If you don’t have time in the back to school frenzy, collect the literature all in one place so that when things cool down you’ll have a chance to look them over. You can make a file and throw your extra cards in there, too, so you can locate them if you lose yours.

Be Flexible about where you shop

Look at the ads and coupon matching sites for drug stores (some of the best deals are there) as well as the big stores like Target and Walmart, and office supply stores. Always sign up for the rewards at office supply stores. Often you can get amazing deals for absolutely nothing with their special rebates and points offers.

Take Advantage of Other Items on Sale

Back to school sales often include a lot of items that kids need for college – everything from bedding to desk items, portable type furniture, small refrigerators, microwaves, small appliances, computers, laptops, pads and phones. Watch for those sales, too.

There may be some great deals on batteries, cameras, and first aid items. You’ll see the “last hurrah” summer sales for things like razors, bug spray, itch sticks, sun block, etc. Watch for great sales on all personal items – body wash, toothbrushes, and so on.

Make up is usually at a low in August – even if you’re not setting up a daughter for college or your teenager for back to school, think about getting rid of the old and replenishing your supply – especially any eye make up which should be regularly changed out to minimize the damage of dangerous infection.

Clothing, of course, is always going to be on sale in August. While parents may be worried about the big hits their budgets are taking, consider using this time period to shop the clearance racks and the back to school sales, not only for your kids, but for the rest of the family. Great deals can be had on everything. Pick up enough of the basic items for the year – underwear and socks, for instance, instead of buying them when you need them at a higher price. Pick up clearance items for next summer.

Look also for musical instruments and sports equipment – ever wished you could learn to play the Fleugalhorn? Now is the time to buy it. With sports equipment, you’ll find great sales on items that kids will need for school and also clearance on all the summer stuff.

 Watch for Tax Free days

Some states offer special days that are tax-free on clothing and other items. Stores will generally jump in with great sales to compete for your dollars. See what your state offers on Carrie’s post on Tax Free Days.

Chime In

Do you have favorite ways to leverage the Back to School Sales to your advantage that I haven’t covered? There’s a mind-boggling amount of stuff on sale – any help would be appreciated!

By the way, this article is just one of many included under my 12 Strategies (Menu at the top of the page.) Open the drop down menu and scroll down to “Cyclic Changes” and you’ll see a number of posts on taking advantages of seasonal sales.

Cyclic Changes in the Market – What I call Man Made – Holidays

So many Holidays have great sales – while it “seems” to make sense sometimes to budget a set amount of money per week for food, food doesn’t cost the same every week! The amount of savings can be much greater if you can identify when to expect great sales on items, and what those items are and budget a bit extra for those weeks.

Then beat the grocer at their own game! Instead of passively being drawn into a store to pick up one or two specials and then buy whatever else you need for the week, buy as much as possible of the specials for the Holiday week and weeks or months beyond. Make up the rest of your meal from low priced staples and such you have “banked” at home. Of course, only buy what you can store and use in a reasonable time period.

 Links for The Twelve Strategies: 

If you made it this far, what am I missing, guys? What bargains do you look for in this extended Holiday season?

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