NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- As students head back to school, retailers are banking on strong sales in stores, despite the flimsy economic recovery.
Even though back-to-school spending is expected to reach almost $84 billion this year, compared to $68.8 billion in 2011, about 85% of shoppers say the economy is impacting their spending habits, according to the National Retail Federation.
When shopping the old-fashioned way -- in an actual store -- scoring the best deals should be the top priority. MainStreet assembled ten savings strategies when shopping in-store for back-to-school deals.
1. Take advantage of student discounts
Retailers are offering exclusive discounts to students. Apple is giving away a $50-$200 iTunes gift card to those students who purchase a new computer or iPad for back-to-school.
And as MainStreet mentioned in its 30 Student Discount You’ll Love, major clothing store like J. Crew, Banana Republic and Ann Taylor offer students 15%-20%-off items in the store.
2. Act quick, or ask for a rain check
If you spot an incredible deal, don’t expect it to last.
“The best deals go out of stock in no time. Ask if the store will provide a rain check, which is where the store will honor the discount when the item comes back in stock,” says savings expert Jeanette Pavini of Coupons.com.
Ask the salesperson for a rain check, but if you can’t get a straight answer, try asking the manager, who will have more authority to give you the discounted price at a later date.
3. Keep those receipts
Holding onto your receipts is always a good idea, especially if the item is damaged or malfunctioning and needs to be returned. But that’s not the only reason.
What happens if the item goes on sale right after you buy it? Head back to the store with your receipt and ask for a price adjustment. Each store has different policy when it comes to price adjustments. Typically, the store will only offer the adjustment within 15 to 30 days after your initial purchase.
4. Price matching doesn’t end after your purchase has been made
This happens all the time: You purchase something and then come across another retailer that sells the same item for a lower price. Believe it or not, there’s a strong chance the more expensive retailer will go the extra mile to keep you in their store.
“If you're unwaveringly loyal to your favorite store, you don't have to forsake them for a better deal. Instead, see if they have a price matching policy. Some stores will provide you with a retroactive credit when you show them a competitor's ad listing a lower price on the identical item,” says consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch.
5. Be the second to ‘open the box’
The major electronic stores usually have a section of the store devoted to “open-boxed” items -- which simply mean that someone returned the item, the box is opened and the store can’t sell it as a new item anymore.
“These products have the same warranty as the new product -- perhaps another customer bought the item, but didn’t like it. On average, you’ll save 20%, though I’ve seen these items discounted as much as 40%,” says Pavini.
6. Take a tax holiday
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Take a look at your receipt the next time you make a purchase and unless you live in a state with no sales tax, you’ll notice how substantially sales tax adds to the amount you spend.
That’s why it’s time to start looking for tax holidays.
“During the month of August, some states, like Texas and Florida, offer tax holidays on clothing and school supplies, and clothing items that cost under $100 each, you can purchase tax-free,” advises Pavini.
Visit TaxAdmin.org to see if there are any upcoming tax holidays in your state.
Given the budget woes around the country, many states have cut back on these tax holidays, however, it’s still worth checking to see if your state has a tax holiday coming up.
7. Get gift cards at a discount
You can purchase gift cards to major retailers…at a discount. Visit sites like GiftCardGranny.com to buy discounted gift cards for many retailers.
Examples include a 13%-off Macy’s gift card and a 3%-off Target card.
8. Pack the brown paper bag with your own sandwich
There is a way to save money on school lunches -- it just requires a bit of planning and a little extra work.
Pavini suggests setting a weekly lunch menu based on sale items at the grocery store. Then, find coupons.
“For back-to-school lunches, I’ve compared the price of a turkey sandwich at the deli, which came to $7.13, but when I bought the ingredients at the grocery store (multigrain bread, turkey, cheddar cheese and mustard) and after a sale and a few coupons, the total came to $1.93 – that’s a 73% savings,” Pavini adds. “Food is one area where you have some control over your budget – it’s not like your rent or tuition.”
Easier said than done (or “made” in the case of a sandwich), but really, not that difficult to do or make in the grander scheme of things.
9. The best time to buy is…always changing
With some students already back in class and other students heading back to school in a matter of days, it’s time to strategically plan your purchases and stock up on what’s on sale now.
“Grocery items like boxed juices are on sale time of the year, so stock up on these items,” suggests Pavini.
It’s also important to check the store circulars each week and stay on top of when the deals hit the shelves. “During the last part of August and the beginning of September, common back-to-school items tend to go out of stock,” Pavini warns.
When you see a sale for an item you need, jump at the opportunity, otherwise someone else will.
10. Ask for a sale
If an item you’re eyeing isn’t on sale, don’t give up and buy the item at full price.
“Find out if there will be an upcoming sale by asking the store manager. There’s nothing more maddening than buying something and then a week later it goes on sale,” adds Pavini.
Pavini says some managers know the ads that will be coming out in advanced, and it’s one of those questions that are worth asking.
And keep in mind tips two through four from this list: rain checks, receipts and price matching. These days, the sale you missed is often just the one you need to complain about missing gently, and your purchase price will be adjusted.
--By Scott Gamm