Even if you’re not a parent, August is a month to use back-to-school sales to your advantage; this time of year is great for stocking up on office and craft supplies, new clothes and shoes, and snack foods for your work lunches. To help you make the most of this annual rite of passage (even as a fabulous LGBT adult), consider these 10 tips on how to get the biggest bang for your buck as classes go back in session.
1. Hit the clearance racks first
This is one of the most important rules to shopping on a budget, and it’s one I live by 100 percent of the time: Before you browse anywhere else in the store, head straight to the clearance section. Sure, I would love to have the new arrival that’s sitting in the window and that costs full price, but that’s not an option when I’m trying to stretch my dollar as much as possible. Still, even shopping the clearance comes with its own set of rules, first and foremost of which is to avoid impulse buys even when they’re dirt cheap. If you need an item, buy it; if you don’t, think about it for a few minutes and decide if you have to have it or if you can live without it.
2. Buy out of season whenever possible
Don’t be misled by sales on shorts and other summer gear at back-to-school time just because autumn is quickly approaching. Retailers know that there’s still some steam left in warm-weather apparel, and while they’ll be on sale, they won’t be discounted at rock-bottom prices. For the ultimate deal on seasonal clothing, I recommend buying out of season altogether. Pick up shorts in the winter and sweaters in the summer to be confident that you scored the lowest price available.
3. Sign up for retail e-mail lists
Sure, you run the risk of having your inbox flooded with marketing messages when you sign up for retailers’ email lists, but I think the pros outweigh the cons here. Not only will you know about upcoming sales, but often you’ll receive email-only coupons that you can use in store and online. Of course, once the sales are over, you can always unsubscribe from the lists so your inbox isn’t inundated with junk mail. Another great tactic here is to create a separate email account to which to send all your marketing messages so your primary box stays neat and organized.
4. Search for coupon codes when shopping online
Just like I head straight for the clearance section when shopping in store, I always (always!) search for coupon codes when shopping online. Most retailers have coupon codes available – especially at peak shopping times – and they’re generally easy to locate with a quick search online. If you come across a site that features multiple codes, don’t hesitate to try a few different options at checkout to see which gives you the greatest discount.
5. Download savings apps
Plenty of retailers have their own apps these days – like American Eagle Outfitters, for instance – and sometimes there are app-only discounts associated with them. It’s certainly worth a search in the app store to see if there’s one for your favorite stores and brands. In addition to these private apps, there also are several third-party apps that offer discounts (check out shopkick) along with those that reward you with actual cash back, my favorite of which is Ibotta.
6. Stack coupons from multiple sources
Now that I’ve given you several options on where to find discounts and coupons, it’s your job to make the most of them. Don’t be afraid to try stacking your savings – especially if you’re shopping in store. There’s no harm in asking the associate which available discounts you can use or if you can use multiple discounts and coupons if you have them. The worst the associate can say is “no,” but you’ll be pleasantly surprised if they extend you the courtesy.
7. Compare prices between circulars and websites
One of the biggest mistakes people make when shopping sales is to hone in on a deal and scoop it up without first considering other sales. A great way to avoid this problem is to compare prices on similar items between paper circulars that you may receive, in-store prices and web prices. By doing this you can feel satisfied that you did your due diligence to save as much as possible.
8. Ask if you qualify for discounts at the register
Are you a senior citizen, student, military or other special group? If you are, you may qualify for an additional discount at the register. Nine times out of 10 you have to ask for it because it’s generally not advertised, but you’ll be happy you did.
9. Contact retailers directly via social media
I can’t guarantee that contacting a retailer via social media to ask for a discount code will work for you, but it’s worked for me in the past (on Twitter). And I think it’s worth a try, especially if you can’t find any discount codes online. Again, “no” is the worst answer you can get (or in this case, just plain silence), but it never hurts to send a harmless query.
10. Time your shopping assault properly
Back-to-school sales will vary in how long they run from retailer to retailer, but if you live in a state that offers tax-free items for a certain period of time (usually on clothing and shoes for a week to 10 days sometimes in August), it’s best to sync your shopping assault with this once-a-year break. You can save a small fortune in what you would have paid in taxes – perhaps enough to book a relaxing massage after you’ve shopped till you dropped.
* Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and blogger whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world, including CNN.com, The Huffington Post, The Advocate, Instinct magazine, and Out.com, among many others.