Clark Howard’s Back to School Shopping Tips

Clark Howard’s Back to School Shopping Tips



I was in the stores two days ago and the back to school goods were on the shelves. A lot of what I saw out there was a real bargain. Both Target and Walmart had bargain aisles, sometimes called “Action Alley.”

There were true deals on pens, pencils, paper, notebooks, folders, all of it. You saw the merchandise there as loss leaders in boxes that were combo shipping crates and temporary displays. In fact, things were so cheap that businesses in need of office supplies should have taken advantage of these sales. Office supply superstores do the same kind of loss leaders as the Walmarts and Targets of the world. So, back to school shopping is not just for kids anymore.

In reality, back to school season is a tough slog for retailers because schools around the country go back at different times. In the North and the Pacific Northwest, schools typically go back after Labor Day. But in much of the rest of the country, schools go back as early as the first or second week of August. For retailers, that means a lot of really good sales have already started.

I was with my kids doing the back to school shopping thing recently. I was able to get golf shirts for my son for $4.88 at Walmart and $5 at Target. Both stores had school uniform sections with extremely inexpensive clothing for kids. My middle child is 15, so for her it’s a whole different thing. I am not involved in her shopping anymore.

Meanwhile, the greatest bargains in the back to school category are all the tablets. Tablets are so unloved right now. They were so hot two years ago and last year, but this year they’re not. That’s led to a massive oversupply of both Android and Apple tab – lets. Off-brand Android tablets are $29, $39, and $49. If you want the iPad Mini, you’ll pay $200 to $220. Brand-name Androids start at $89. Laptops, meanwhile, generally start at $179 as the lead price point for a 15.6-inch screen. My favorite site for finding electronics deals is that leads me to a good point about clothes shopping. If your kid is still at the age where he or she wears whatever you buy, fine. But if your kid has hit fashion central, don’t do clothes shopping until after school is back in session for two weeks. I learned the hard way with my oldest child that if you buy before school starts, you’re out of luck. Those clothes can often sit in a closet gathering dust. So let your fashion-sensitive kids get a sense of what they want to wear and then buy it.

One thing to be aware of is tax-free shopping days. Retailers are very savvy promoting these tax holidays and actually bump prices up because people come in and buy anything because it’s tax-free. So the whole idea of tax-free shopping days creates artificial demand. But, if you’re not careful, the tax savings evaporate and you’re left with the higher prices. So be sure you know your prices before you go shopping, otherwise you’re likely to not get a deal.

Editor’s note: Clark Howard is a nationally-syndicated consumer expert who shows consumers ways to save more, spend less and avoid getting ripped off. His radio show is heard every day on more than 200 radio stations throughout North America. Visit for more information and to check out his latest bestseller, Clark Howard’s Living Large for the Long Haul


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