Smart Buying

8 Ways to Spend Less on Back-to-School Electronics

Follow these tips to save money on computers, tablets and smart phones for kids.

Electronics are on the back-to-school shopping lists of more than 55% of families with school-aged children, according to a National Retail Federation Survey. If you're among those planning to buy a computer, tablet or smart phone for your kid, you can keep the cost of these purchases under control by following these tips.

Shop on a sales tax holidays. Seventeen states will have sales tax holidays in July and August that will allow consumers to purchase back-to-school items, such as clothing, computers and school supplies, tax free. If you live in one of these states (see our list), plan to do your electronics shopping on a sales tax holiday. Avoiding sales tax can help you save 4% to 10% depending on the state.

Shop online. Shopping online makes it easy to compare prices from several retailers. And there are plenty of sites that do the bargain hunting for you by scouring the Web for the best deals. Our favorite deal site, dealnews.com, has a page devoted to the best computer deals. Amazon and PriceGrabber are good sources for comparing prices. Or you can find deeply discounted computers and other tech items on daily deal site Woot.com. Sign up for the site's e-mail alerts so you don't have to monitor it daily for deals.

Take advantage of price-match policies. If you find a good deal online but don't want to pay shipping costs, you might be able to get the same price in a brick-and-mortar store if it has a price-match policy. For example, Best Buy and Target will match Amazon prices. See How Stores' Price-Match Policies Compare.

Buy refurbished. You can save a lot by purchasing refurbished tech items, which are used but restored to like-new condition and usually have a one-year warranty. Among the sites where your can find refurbished computers, tablets and other products are Apple.com, BestBuy.com, Dell.com, Newegg.com, TigerDirect.com (formerly CompUSA.com) and Walmart.com.

Take advantage of trade-in programs. One way to pay less for a new tech item is to trade in a used item. A number of retailers, including Best Buy and Radio Shack, have trade-in programs that offer cash, a gift card or credit for the value of a used item that can be applied toward the purchase of a new item.

Look for bundles. If you're buying a laptop, look for bundle deals, which are popular back-to-school promotions among tech retailers. The deals typically include a gift card, printer, gaming console or other accessory along with a laptop -- at a price not much higher than what you'd pay for a laptop alone. according to dealnews.com. Among the best bundles dealnews.com has seen are Amazon's laptop and $100 gift card for $430 and Best Buy's Hewlett-Packard laptop with a flash drive, laptop sleeve and Kapersky Internet Sercurity for $300.

Get a free phone. Mobile phone service providers, such as AT&T, Sprint and Verizon, often offer free smart phones when you sign up for a two-year service plan. Considering smart phones usually cost $200 or more, this can be a major savings. Check the provider's Web sites for offers. Or you could spend more to buy an unlocked phone (a phone that's not locked into a single-carrier's network) but cut the cost of a service plan by more than a half by opting for a prepaid wireless provider. See Cut the Cost of an iPhone in Half.

Don't splurge on features you won't use. When buying a laptop for your child, Dealnews.com recommends looking for systems with a dual-core processor (not a pricey quad-core setup). And you'll spend about $270 less is you opt for Intel's Ivy Bridge system -- which should meet a student's needs -- rather than its new Haswell system, according to dealnews.com. Also say no to tech support and retailers' extended warranties. Your credit card might offer an extended warranty. Another extra to avoid is Microsoft Office Home & Student edition ($139.99) because you can use Google Docs for free.

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