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When to Shop to Get the Best Back-to-School Deals

Attention early-bird shoppers: A new study finds that prices on school supplies are as good or better in August than in July.

My kids head back to school on Aug. 6. And if I paid attention to retailers' ads, I should be shopping right now to get the best prices on school necessities. Good thing I don't let marketing sway my purchasing decisions. A new study by money-saving Web site NerdWallet found that in 2012 90% of back-to-school items for sale in July sold for the same or lower price in August.

“Retailers want consumers to buy early and buy often,” says Matthew Ong, senior retail analyst at NerdWallet, in a written statement. “Just like how Black Friday was pushed earlier into Thanksgiving in 2012 than ever before, retailers are pushing the back-to-school season forward to try and encourage you to spend more money. Don’t give in -- the deals will be the same or even better in August.”

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NerdWallet analyzed more than 500 back-to-school deals from nine major retailers' weekly ads in July and August 2012. It looked at prices on items such as pens, pencils, markers, crayons, binders, folders, paper, glue sticks and backpacks. The retailers included Kmart, Kroger, Meijer, Office Depot, OfficeMax, Staples, Target, Walgreens and Walmart. Only 10% of items rose in price in August, while 78% remained the same and 12% dropped in price. If you live in one of the 16 states with sales-tax holidays in August, you should strongly consider holding off on your back-to-school shopping until then.

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Here are more of NerdWallet's findings:

-- Walmart's pricing last year was the most consistent among retailers, with 98% of its back-to-school items remaining at the same price in July and August.

-- About 50% of back-to-school items at Walgreens were more expensive in August than in July.

-- Office Depot had better deals last August, with 62% of its back-to-school items at a lower price.

To make sure you're getting the best deal, follow these tips from NerdWallet:

Look for quantity limits. When you see a limit on the amount you can purchase of a particular item, that means the item is likely at its lowest price of the season.

Take advantage of Staples' 1-cent items. Look for Staples to offer certain school supplies for just 1 cent each if you spend at least $5 on other items. For example, glue, folders and pencil cases will be 1 cent each with a $5 minimum purchase July 28 through August 3.

Be wary of bundles. You might see retailers promoting bundles of items as special offers. But these items will likely sell for lower prices individually in the following weeks.

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