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How to Shop End-of-Summer Sales

Stefanie O'Connell
A shopper walks past a sale sign on Oxford Street in central London December 29, 2013. REUTERS/Neil Hall

With back-to-school mania starting as early as July, it might feel as though you've missed your chance to cash in on back-to-school and end-of-season discounts. But the good news is that it is indeed still August, which means the best deal days are ahead.

Some of the best deals for back-to-school shopping come between mid-August and mid-September, with many sales peaking the week of September 9. And it's not just school supplies you'll find in the clearance aisle. With Labor Day right around the corner, everything from classic summer staples to this year's car models are being heavily discounted in an effort to make room for the influx of new fall, holiday and even new year inventory.

You can make the most of these discount opportunities by following these guidelines:

Comparison shop. A huge sign advertising a discount in big bold numbers doesn't necessarily translate to the best available price. Before leaving home, go online and do some comparison shopping using a site like PriceGrabber.com. If you're already in the store, use a barcode scanning app like RedLaser to automatically compare prices for the item online and in retail locations near you. If your scan or search reveals a cheaper price for the same product in another location, save yourself time and energy by asking for a price match in store.

Ask for additional discounts. You might be able to negotiate an even lower price than the lowest price advertised by asking for additional discounts on items with blemishes or scratches, or by taking home the floor model.

Take advantage of timing. According to e-commerce data, sales hit a peak on Mondays and slowly fade throughout the week, with a drastic dip on weekends. Focus your savings efforts on the earliest weekdays for the best chances of getting the best price.

If you find you bought too soon, then you can ask the store whether they'll retroactively honor the markdown. You'll probably have to bring the item and receipt back to the store to claim the additional savings, but on big purchases, those savings can be well worth the extra trip.

Reap the rewards. Be sure to subscribe to the rewards programs of your local retailers. These loyalty programs don't cost anything and give you all kinds of extra perks. For example, the CVS ExtraCare program not only provides its members with ExtraSavings in the form of personalized coupons, weekly circular deals and automatic discounts, it also has an ExtraBucks rewards system that works similarly to a cash back credit card. Shoppers earn 2 percent back on nearly all purchases made throughout the store, and each quarter, the ExtraBucks are paid out to the customer as "free CVS money."

Consider the return policy. Before committing to a purchase, ask about the stores' return policy. Many heavily discounted items, particularly from smaller boutiques maybe final sale. Take that into account before getting stuck with something that might not work for you or fit you.

Know what to buy. While discounts on all things summer and back-to-school are obviously in full swing, you can also score sweet deals on technology, small appliances, cars and travel. But not everything is hitting the clearance aisle just yet. While this might be a great time to replace your microwave, you'll want to wait till May or June to upgrade the fridge.

Know what you need. A sale is not an excuse to buy things you don't actually need. A deal is a deal no longer when it's not something you can make use of, regardless of the price.

Think ahead. If your patio furniture is on its last leg, or your children have worn their bathing suits to bits, you might be savvily taking advantage of end-of-summer clearance to stock up for next year. Just be sure to consider any changes that might happen over the next six to nine months. How much will your children grow? Will you be moving to a new home that still necessitates the replacement of your worn out summer time staples? Shop smarter by planning ahead for any foreseeable changes.

Shop altruistically. Along with deep discounts, some retailers are teaming up with worthy causes to make the end-of-summer shopping season a little more meaningful. For example, from August 21 through September 3, for every piece of denim purchased at H&M, the store will give a brand new item of denim apparel to someone in need with the help of K.I.D.S. /Fashion Delivers.

From now through the end of September, Quaker Oats is working with AdoptAClassroom.org to support local teachers, many of whom spend up to a $1,000 of their own money each year on classroom supplies. For every package code entered online at QuakerUpForClassrooms.com, Quaker is donating a $1 to the cause.

Be on the lookout for these charitable partnerships to make your end-of-summer savings even sweeter.

Stefanie O'Connell is a New York City based actress and freelance writer. She chronicles her struggle to "live the dream" on a starving artists' budget at thebrokeandbeautifullife.com.



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