Back-to-school shopping isn't kid's play. Parents now spend 42 percent more on supplies than they did a decade ago.
That means spending this year will reach $24.9 billion, with each American family shelling out about $630 on everything from electronics to a new outfit for the first day of school, according to the National Retail Federation. With that much money on the line, retailers are rolling out deals and promotions to try to lure parents through their doors, though so far this year they've shown some reluctance to do that.
While it's useful to sniff out specific deals at retailers such as Best Buy (BBY), which is offering $100 discounts on most computers, you should keep some rules of thumb in mind when stocking up in the next few weeks, according to Ben's Bargains, a deal and coupon site started in 2000 by a student at University of California, Berkeley. Overall, the back-to-school sales this summer aren't as attractive as they were in past years, said Kristin Cook, the site's managing editor.
"The sales aren't that different from what retailers are doing most of the year," Cook said. "If at all possible, waiting for two weeks until after school starts" is the best strategy for stocking up on items such as new backpacks and clothes, when retailers will start to mark down their inventory. "Older kids might not have a problem with waiting and using last year's backpack," she added.
While it might not be practical to wait to purchase smaller items such as paper and pens, parents should educate themselves about which types of bigger-ticket goods will offer better values this summer.
Read on to learn about which items you should avoid, and which offer stronger values.
Fall clothing lines
Because these fashions have just hit the stores, they won't provide the best discounts for shoppers. While retailers may offer between 10 percent to 30 percent off the retail price for fall fashions, that's far from the deeper discounts shoppers can find on summer clothing.
If you're in the market for a new jacket, the site suggested waiting until after Labor Day, when outerwear will be much less expensive than it is now.
If you're looking for a sale on backpacks, don't hold your breath. Retailers are loath to discount this item because the back-to-school season is prime time for student demand.
Parents said they'll spend about $104 this summer stocking up on school supplies including backpacks, notebooks, pencils and lunch boxes, according to NPD. Given that backpacks typically range from $20 to $50, that can eat up a big chunk of a parent's budget.
If possible, wait until late September to buy a new backpack, when retailers will start discounting because the back-to-school season will have come to an end, according to Ben's Bargains.
A better option now is to buy laptop bags, which will be on sale as an add-on for people buying laptops during the weeks before school starts, the site recommended. Camping and hiking bags will also be on sale, given the end of the summer outdoor season.
Avoid buying a tablet computer in the weeks before school begins. That's because most tablet sales don't take place until late October through early December, when the holiday shopping season swings into high gear, according to Ben's Bargains.
Instead, consider buying a laptop, given that Google's (GOOG) Chromebook is spurring demand for lower-priced devices, such as the Acer Chromebook, which sells for about $150. Other sub-$150 models should be available throughout the year, the shopping site noted.
Finding a sale on boots will be tough going during the back-to-school season, so it's better to wait until Black Friday sales hit stores in November, Ben's Bargains recommended.
A better buy when it comes to footwear? Look for sneakers or running shoes because retailers will be discounting these items as summer draws to a close. "Running shoes are heavily discounted right now, but you use them year-round," Cook noted. "If you live somewhere that's cold, you can still use them at the gym."
The next three months will see manufacturers rolling out new smartphone models, which means sales will be far and few between. If you can hold out until mid-November, you'll be rewarded with some excellent deals when older models will be discounted.
A smarter purchase right now is to seek out action cameras like a GoPro (GPRO), which are better for recording video than even some smartphones, Ben's Bargains noted. Said Cook: "It's something typically used more outdoors, so they are getting marked down" as summer fades away.