Alison Barretta, dealnews Senior Editor, with contributions from Louis Ramirez
Has this classic tune from Alice Cooper about the end of the school year been playing in your head on repeat for several weeks already? Well unless school is out forever (congratulations and welcome to the real world!), you're probably going to start singing a completely different song real soon.
It seems that the back-to-school creep is upon us already. But there's actually little harm in waiting until the end of your summer vacation to pick up back-to-school supplies and such: even stronger back-to-school sales are likely to appear in the coming weeks. In fact, after analyzing our data from mid- to late-summer last year, we've put together this back-to-school buying guide to help you get the best deals on a variety of campus goods. And once you know the scoop on scoring bargain dorm furniture, school supplies, laptop cases and backpacks, printers, TVs, and tablets, you can then relax and commence with your endless loop of School's Out for just a little while longer.
Budget Dorm Room Decorating
Whether it's a dormitory or an apartment, the place you're going to call home for the next year should be made to feel like one. Fortunately, cheap dorm room furniture deals abound. And there's enough savings to be had that you won't be left eating ramen noodles for dinner every night on your expensive couch.
In the middle of summer last year, when we really started seeing notable dorm room-related discounts. Walmart, in particular, offered best-ever prices on futons, including the Editors' Choice Kebo Futon Sofa Bed (originally $125 with free shipping) for $99 shipped in early- to mid-August. Meanwhile, Target took up to 30% off desks, chairs, and other furniture in mid-July; by the end of July 2012, that discount climbed to as much as 43% off. Yet, if you're in no rush to buy that super-comfy bean bag chair, you can wait until the end of July or early August and still save.
Where to Find Free and Cheap School Supplies
Are you that person in class who always has to ask to borrow a pencil/pen/eraser/
tater tot? Make this the year you shed that reputation by fully stocking your own academic arsenal. The best part is that you'll be able to do so without breaking the bank. (You can use the leftover cash to buy your own tots.)
Although Staples' first sale on school supplies has come and gone, don't worry; last year showed that August was a prime time to buy these items for virtually nothing... as in $0. Be on the lookout for Staples, Office Depot, and OfficeMax to heavily slash prices on school supplies within the next few weeks. Some caveats: These discounts may include rebates, be limited to in-store purchases, and/or be for rewards program members only.
Meanwhile, also in mid- to late-August, Best Buy, Walmart, and even Fry's Electronics peddled copybooks for just a few cents... and in-store pickup contributed to even larger savings for these items. All in all, saving your school supply shopping until just before Labor Day means you'll be able to bag stellar prices and still be able to choose from relatively decent stock.
Bargain Back-to-School Bags
You only have two arms (unless you're part of the X-Men, we guess) so you should invest in a backpack or messenger bag to easily transport your brand new stuff around campus. Discounts on back-to-school bags cropped up in mid-July last year, and the same has been the case this summer; already, we've seen back-to-school laptop backpacks starting at $10 shipped, while JCPenney has cut 40% to 50% off a wider selection of bags.
Of course, we anticipate that these promos won't be the only (or best) backpack and messenger bag sales this summer. If last year's trend is any indication, late July and early August is when we'll see even steeper discounts. TigerDirect boasted a selection of laptop bags for $0 after rebate from August through well into September last year. Several stores, such as Sears, L.L. Bean, and Oakley, offered significant discounts on backpacks and laptop cases last August as well. It's likely we'll see a broad spectrum of back-to-school bags on sales again in the upcoming weeks, so there's no harm in waiting to buy that perfect new bag.
The Best Back-to-School Printers for College Students
Assuming you chose to ignore our suggestion to not to buy a printer for college, then you'll surely want one you can count on to spit out papers as quickly (and impeccably) as possible. Depending on your budget and needs, it's possible to score a printer for college at a great price — provided you purchase at the right time.
Last summer, significant discounts on printers kicked off in late July, when Canon cut 30% off its factory-refurbished printers in the best such sale we'd seen from the manufacturer. However, August was the month for substantial price cuts on name-brand inkjet printers. For instance, we saw a Canon multifunction wireless inkjet printer bundled with a calculator for $50 with shipping from Canon — a price low of $35 for just the printer alone. Amazon offered a similar Canon model with iOS and Android wireless compatibility for $58 with free shipping. At the time it was a price low of $40, though the sale was eventually beaten in a Black Friday deal, also from Amazon.
Looking to buy a no-frills inkjet printer? Basic models dropped to as low as $20 last year; some stores offered bundle deals (with extra paper or a flash drive) for at least $12 more. Remain patient until the final week of July and it won't feel like you'll need print extra cash to buy a new printer for college. (But we suggest you don't do that anyway. It's illegal!)
Dorm Room-Sized 32" HDTVs Will Hit Rock Bottom This FallWhile you might think we're crazy for saying that students don't need a TV in their dorm room, we can probably all agree that a huge and high-end HDTV is excessive for a tiny room. So while you can currently find great deals on 55" sets (and some stellar deals on 2013 HDTVs), for college purposes, students are better off with a cheap 32" 1080p set that will take up little space.
For the past two years, these TVs have seen all-time lows during the months of September and November, with an annual 15% price drop. Last year's lowest price was $169, and if you factor in at least an additional 10% price drop this year, you can expect to find HDTVS priced at around $154 this fall. That said, anything under $200 is typically a buy-it-now price. Also keep in mind that, unlike big-screen TVs, the majority of deals on 32" HDTVs come from smaller companies: Best Buy's Insignia brand, Sceptre, and Seiki. Regardless of which brand you choose, unless you see a sudden price drop in the coming weeks, don't buy a TV this month; instead, wait until at least mid-September to make your purchase.
Should You Get an iPad for College?All in all, when it comes to productivity, a tablet isn't as useful as a laptop for most college students. Despite this notion, the iPad/Android debate remains heated, especially among tech savvy and brand-loyal students. That said, we think the best tablets for college students are Android-based, as these devices see steeper discounts than Apple's iPads. Off-brand tablets, like a Kobo, offer even greater savings, with prices as low as $55. However, the user experience is limited as these models come with only 8GB of storage, run older versions of Android, and usually make other compromises. (Some off-brand tablets have limited access to the Android Market store, for instance.)
More popular Android tablets, like those from Samsung and ASUS, can be generally had for about $200. Amazon Kindle fans should check Amazon's Local Offers, which in July offered the Kindle Fire 7" Android Tablet for an all-time low of $129. Also keep an eye on the flagship ASUS Google Nexus 7 16GB 7" Android Tablet, which hit its all-time low of $149 in July.
If you must have an iPad, we suggest considering an iPad mini refurb from the Apple Store. Currently, iPad mini refurbs are 15% off Apple's full retail price. Alternatively, you can go the reseller route, which could save you 12% off the cost of a new model.
Patience Pays Off
Although we're already seeing back-to-school sales at many retailers, these promotions will carry over into next month and/or be upstaged by stronger discounts later. So take it easy — continue to sleep late, watch bad daytime TV, and eat cereal for dinner. Start scheduling your shopping dates for a few weeks from now, and you'll reap the benefits of amazing markdowns and plentiful sales.
Of course, if a rare best-of-year sale should appear out of the blue, you can be alerted of it immediately when you sign up for a dealnews email alert. Meanwhile, you can also check our Back-to-School Laptop Guide and Back-to-School Apparel Sale Guide for more buying advice.