Back-to-school savings: Where to find great deals
The new school year is about to start and you still have so much shopping left to do. No worries. It's not too late to snag some bargains.
Even though you've missed some back-to school promotions, a lot of great deals are just being rolled out. Mid- to late August is typically the time to find the best prices on kids' clothing, according to the website dealnews.com.
Many families have held off on their back-to-school shopping this year, according to a recent Associated Press report, and that could result in even sweeter markdowns in the next few weeks.
"It was a lousy start," retail consultant Walter Loeb told AP. "There will be even more discounts to make up the sales."
(Read more: Huge deals on back-to-school clothes)
If there are things you want but can wait for—maybe a backpack or a few extra pieces of clothing—you can take advantage of deals through September as retailers try to close out the season and get ready for the holidays.
"With a lot of summer items, if they can transition into fall or winter, you can see discounts of up to 90 percent off," said Lindsay Sakraida, features editor at dealnews.
Remember that selections will be limited as time goes on.
Why pay full price for that laptop, tablet, cellphone or other device your child needs? Think refurbished and you can save 20 percent to 30 percent on these just-like-new products.
"This is pretty much a no-brainer if you're trying to save money on back-to-school technology," said Rob Caskey, vice president of Secondipity, a site that specializes in refurbished electronics.
"The refurbished products we offer come with the manufacturer's warranties, just like a new product would," Caskey said. "They're reconditioned to factory specifications. So, you're really getting a product that is like new, but you're paying a lot less for it."
(Read more: Aéropostale sounds warning on back-to-school)
Many online electronics stores offer refurbished items, as do many big-name manufacturers. A quick search on the Acer website turned up a number of Aspire laptops (with Windows 8) for between $150 and $475 off suggested retail. They all had a standard one-year warranty.
This is current technology, the same that is in stores. These items just made their way into the secondary market for some reason—maybe the packaging was damaged or the product was a return and can't be sold as new.
Consumer Reports has some timely tips on how to get back-to-school discounts on computers and other electronics.
Save on school supplies
The sales are in full swing and are mighty tempting. Just don't base all your shopping on a few eye-catching offers.
"Stores lure you in with great deals, like pencils for a penny, but you have to be careful or you could wind up paying too much for the other items on your list," said Jody Rohlena, senior editor with Consumer Reports ShopSmart magazine. "Beyond comparing the sales, you want to know who has the lowest everyday prices."
For its August issue, the magazine sent secret shoppers to price-check school supplies at Office Depot, Staples, Target and Walmart. Their list included pens, pencils, paper, notebooks, glue sticks, folders and highlighters.
Walmart and Target had much better prices overall than the office supply stores. Walmart had the lowest prices on the most items. Staples and Office Depot tied for the highest prices on most things on the list.
ShopSmart says if you find yourself beyond the sale bins at an office supply store, you could wind up paying more than twice as much as at a discount store. For example, Norcom Notebook Paper (150 sheets, college-ruled) was $3.01 at Office Depot and just 82 cents at Walmart. That's a 73 percent difference. Again, that was the regular price at both stores.
(Read more: Last chapter for independent bookstores? Not yet)
Consumer Reports suggests looking for store brands, which can save you almost 75 percent.
How to be a savvy shopper
There's a lot to do to get the family ready for the start of the new school year, but if you take a little time to prepare for your shopping trips, you could save a bundle.
These tips are from ShopSmart:
Check out weekly sales circulars for the best deals: Sites such as Spoofee and SundaySaver link you to local ads for dozens of stores.
Download the weekly ads and sales app: This mobile tool, free for Apple devices, lets you see the latest ad pages while on the go without dealing with paper clutter.
Look for sales online: Online prices are often the same as those in stores, but you may have to shell out for shipping if you buy online.
Ask for a price match. If you find a better deal, show the cashier the competitor's ad on your smartphone or from the paper and ask the store to meet it.