This year's best back-to-school deals

The ever-shrinking summer vacation means many children and young adults are going back to school next week, and that means back-to-school sales have flipped into high gear. That can help cost-conscious parents save on everything from grammar school uniforms and notepads to dorm supplies.

Here are some of the best back-to-school deals around now:

Clothing and uniforms

If you've got grammar school kids in need of clothing and uniforms, Walmart has rock-bottom prices. With girls and boys uniform polo shirts on sale for $4.47, Walmart's Back-to-School Cyber Days promotion beats the sales price for polo shirts at Sear's by 50 percent or more. Walmart is also advertising uniform pants for $10 and blue jeans for as little as $15. Backpacks appropriate for youngsters are selling for between $4 and $8.

Computers

Best Buy is offering $100 discounts on most computers, including MacBooks and iMacs. But if you're in the market for a laptop or desktop PC, you might want to look at Costco instead. Not only are the warehouse giant's prices hard to beat, but it offers 90-day no-questions-asked returns on electronics, lifetime technical support and extends the manufacturer's warranty for two years. Thus, when your student swears his software ate his homework, you can call Costco's "concierge" to get it back.

Dorm supplies

Bed, Bath and Beyond has one of the most consumer-friendly dorm-shopping experiences in America. It not only provides "checklists" for things a new college student might not think of -- like shower shoes and bath caddies -- but also offers a system that lets you order stuff here and pick it up at the store nearest campus, saving on shipping and schlepping. Prices are reasonable too. Wastebaskets sell for $6 and shower caddies for $8. But if you've got the time to shop online and have things delivered to the dorm, you might also want to check out Wayfair.com, which offers discounts of up to 70% on dorm bedding and bath supplies.

Paper and pens

If you've got a subscription to Amazon Prime and can get your shipping for free, Amazon has plenty of great deals on the red, blue and black pens that you'll use in quantity once school starts, including a 60-pack of BIC pens for a paltry $4.79. The site also offers great deals on Composition notebooks and other school supplies. But if you'd have to pay for shipping or simply don't have the time to wait, Costco, Office Depot and Staples also offer great deals. Go to Costco if you're equipping a passel of kids because the store sells only in bulk and you'll otherwise end up with enough pencils to last a lifetime. If you've only got one or two kids to outfit and you're debating between Staples vs. Office Depot, choose the store that's closest. The difference in school supply prices isn't worth an extra gallon of gas.

Textbooks

College students who plan ahead can also save a fortune on textbooks by buying or renting online. The challenge is to get the booklist early and then start price-comparing on the main discount sites -- Chegg, Bigwords, AbeBooks, DealOz, Half.com and Amazon. Don't assume that any one of these sites will have the best deal on all of your textbooks all of the time. Instead, the deals vary based on the text and edition. Remarkably, renting is sometimes more costly than buying. That said, you can save hundreds of dollars off the school bookstore prices, so shopping around is worth the time. Moreover, your college library may have a few copies of each text and may be able to get more, if you ask in advance. Check with your instructors to see when you'll be focusing on each book and reserve your library copies accordingly.