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Back-to-School College Shopping: What to Buy and What to Skip

Sabah Karimi

Back-to-school sales are taking center stage at your favorite big-box store and will continue through most of September. If you're college bound or shopping for a college student, make sure you're getting the best deals on dorm room furniture, electronics and supplies. Take advantage of sales tax holidays, and don't overlook the benefits of buying some of those must-haves online.

Here's a closer look at what you should be buying -- and skipping -- when you're heading back to college this season:

What to Buy

Summer apparel. Deal News reports that retailers are becoming more aggressive with clothing discounts as the end of summer draws near, and you could expect to pay up to 70 percent off retail prices when you shop summer clearance sales. Stock up on some basics that you can layer with through the fall and winter months, or just pick up a few casual pieces for those days you're lounging around the dorm.

Backpacks. August is one of the best months to buy a backpack. Whether you're hauling around your laptop and textbooks or just need a carryall to take around campus so you don't have to make a pit stop at the dorm, invest in a sturdy backpack with contoured straps.

Digital cameras and camcorders. If you need to take high-quality pictures for school projects or just want to invest in a digital camera or camcorder this year, you'll find the best prices on these electronics right after September. Take some time to shop around, and don't overlook manufacturer rebates and online flash sales for even better deals.

Laptops and tablets. Need a new laptop or tablet for school? You'll snag the lowest prices on laptops right when back-to-school shopping season comes to a close. If you can hold off on making that laptop purchase for a few weeks, there's a good chance you'll end up paying a lower price.

Storage containers and shelving. Everything you need to stay organized during the school year is likely to be on sale. Stock up on those storage boxes, shelving units and other organizational tools to keep your dorm or apartment in order. Look for back-to-school promotions on dorm basics, and take advantage of online coupons and free shipping offers to save even more.

What to Skip

Mobile phones. If you're in the market for a smartphone, wait a few months for new deals from major mobile service providers. Back-to-school season isn't the best time to sign that new contract because newer models are usually slated to come out before the holidays.

Jeans. Denim and fall clothing collections have just hit the racks and won't be on sale for at least a few weeks. So don't add jeans to the end-of-summer clothing roundup.

Televisions. July is the slow season for TV sales, so if you missed out on some deals earlier this summer but still want a new television, it might make sense to wait until Black Friday sales roll around. Alternatively, take a look at refurbished or overstock items from reputable retailers.

GPS navigators. You may need one of these if you're commuting to campus every day or attending college in a new city. But hold off on that purchase until November or December when you can get the best deals on GPS navigators and other small electronics. Use the Google Maps app on your smartphone in the interim.

Don 't Forget the School Supplies

Back-to-school season is a great time to stock up on school supplies and office essentials. You'll find the best discounts on school supplies after the first week of the semester, but your choices may be limited. Take advantage of last-minute deals and weekly sales available online and offline during the few weeks leading up to the first day of class to round up all the basics. Buying these supplies in bulk is another way to save money, and you can have everything shipped directly to the dorm or apartment -- saving you time and stress dealing with those back-to-school crowds.

Sabah Karimi is a columnist for the blog Wise Bread, where you can find consumer tips like how to select the best balance transfer credit cards.

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