Back-to-school shopping: 4 items to buy now, and 1 to skip

"August will see a flurry of deals on tablets, laptops, and headphones."


The return to school might look a little different this year, depending on whether your child is attending class virtually, in-person, or a mix of the two. This means your back-to-school shopping list might vary from what it's been in years past, as well.

Here are four items that will likely be marked down substantially, and one category of items that's unlikely to be discounted, experts say.

Great time to buy: School supplies

As always, basic supplies including notebook paper, folders, pens, pencils, and crayons will be on sale, says Julie Ramhold, consumer analyst with DealNews.com. "Look for things like folders and one-subject notebooks to be less than $1 each, and for multipacks of pens and pencils to go for around $2 depending on the brand and size of the package."

A one-inch, three-ring binder at Office Depot is discounted from $4 to $1.30, and a 150-count pack of notebook paper is discounted from $2.60 to $1, a 62% discount. At Target, a 10-pack of blue ballpoint pens is discounted from $1.89 to 99 cents, or 48% off, while an 8-count of mechanical pencils is discounted from $2.39 to $1.59.

Look for things like folders and one-subject notebooks to be less than $1 each.
Julie Ramhold
consumer analyst with DealNews.com

Great time to buy: Kids' clothing

"Both uniforms and general styles will be on sale," Ramhold says. "In some cases, we've already seen offers on these items for the last month or so, but the discounts will continue to pop up until Labor Day, and even through it in some cases."

At Kohl's, for example, a pleated girl's uniform skirt would regularly be between $26 and $28, depending on the size and color. Now it's on sale for between $15.47 and $16.66. Boys' school uniform pants are between $19.60 and $22.40, down from regular prices of $28 to $32.

At Old Navy, some girls' jeans are 30% off, and short-sleeved button downs for boys are also 30% off.

Great time to buy: Masks

Many schools will require masking for in-person learning, which means demand will go up. "Last year, we saw very few masks sized for kids from major retailers, but this year is completely different: You can find masks for all ages at plenty of traditional stores," Ramhold says.

At Gap, for example, a 3-pack of kids' masks is on sale for $5, down from $15. A JCPenney, a 3-pack of kids masks is discounted from $9 to $2, a 78% discount.

Also, PPE, including face masks, can be eligible for reimbursement if you have an FSA or HSA account.

Great time to buy: Electronics

This month especially, you'll see lots of deals on electronics, says Kristin McGrath shopping expert and editor at RetailMeNot. "August will see a flurry of deals on tablets, laptops and headphones, as retailers know that parents are on the lookout for upgrades," she says. "Apple's back-to-school offer even includes free Airpods and discounts on select products." 

At Best Buy, the latest MacBook Air model is $100 off and the latest MacBook Pro model is $200 off. At Samsung the Galaxy Book Pro 13-inch is discounted from $1,200 to $650, a 46% discount. On Amazon, if you buy two Fire tablets, you get 25% off the bundle.

Not a great time to buy: Home office supplies

Because many kids are returning to class in person, retailers are less likely to push products such as desks, office chairs, and lamps, Ramhold says.

"Some parents will be keeping their kids in virtual schooling or even switching them to home schooling this year," she says. "Odds are high that we won't see the same demand or discounts on those kinds of home office and school pieces."

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