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School shopping made easy (and cheaper)

Online deal sites are sweetening deals on everything from gym socks to dorm fridges.

By Donna_Freedman Aug 13, 2010 1:31PM
According to a recent survey by PriceGrabber.com, 26% of parents were to have started their back-to-school shopping before June 30. Nearly two-thirds said they would spread purchases throughout the summer.

Well, summer's almost over -- sorry, kids, it is -- and online deal sites are offering some extra incentives, from higher cash-back shopping rates to 31 free iPads.

The cash-back site Mr. Rebates is giving away an iPad a day in August. Just go there and shop as usual; if you're a winner, you'll be taken to a special page. Mr. Rebates also has raised the cash-back rate as high as 32% for a number of stores. Students: If you're in the market for textbook rentals, you can get 5% off plus 7% cash back at Chegg.com.
A quick glance at a few sites turned up deals like these:
  • Rather Be Shopping has up to 90% off at Abebooks.com. Yowza!
  • Savings.com features 40% off girls' jeans at Kohls, and hotels under $99 with an extra $20 off (what, you thought you'd be sleeping on your kid's dorm-room floor?).
  • Ebates.com is offering 5% cash back at Textbooks.com and 6% at Barnes & Noble, plus higher-than-usual rates at stores that sell computers, school supplies and clothing.
  • Over at FatWallet there's a free download of the Nookstudy e-book reader and a $58 compact fridge with 2% cash back plus free shipping -- you could have it sent straight to your freshman's dorm.
Savings.com spokeswoman Jen Holmes notes that free shipping can make the move-in easier. It means fewer items to cram into the car, and less time standing in line at stores to buy computer paper, toiletries or microwave popcorn. (Or little refrigerators.)

Target.com currently has free shipping for "home essentials" orders of $50 or more plus other discount codes, Holmes says. Or how about a semester's worth of personal-care products from Soap.com, which also offers free shipping?
Her most important tip: Never pay retail.

"With so many (companies) running back-to-school deals every week, there's really no reason to pay full price for any of the school supplies on your list," Holmes says.

Here are a few more tips: 
  • Not sure where to start? Price-aggregator sites such as PriceGrabber.com or BizRate will give you the best prices. Then check online discount sites for discount codes to match.
  • Browse site forums. Savings.com has an "Ask, Answer & Save" tool that lets you ask other readers for the hottest prices. Over at FatWallet, seasoned shoppers post combo deals -- sale price plus online discount code plus cash back -- in the "Hot Deals" section.
  • Combine online discount codes with clearance prices. "The stuff is darn near free," says Kyle James of Rather Be Shopping. Recently his wife spent only $35 for three pairs of children’s jeans, six shirts and two sweatshirts at OldNavy.com.
  • These deals aren't just for parents. If it's time to buy new shoes at Nordstrom or underwear and socks at Kohls, take advantage of the higher cash-back rates and codes for free shipping or additional discounts.
  • Sales tax holidays are still available or coming soon in Connecticut (Aug. 15-21), Florida (through Aug. 15), Illinois (through Aug. 15), Maryland (through Aug. 14), Massachusetts (Aug. 14-15) and Texas (Aug. 20-22).
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