Despite back to school ads saturating the airwaves earlier than ever before, consumers should not believe that July is a better time than August to buy back to school items.

In a NerdWallet analysis of over 500 back to school deals from 2012 across 8 national retailers such as Target, Walmart, Office Depot and Staples, 78% of the back to school items selling in July sold at the exact same price in August, 12% of items dropped in price in August, and only 10% of items rose in price.

Walmart was the most reliable pricer throughout the back to school season, offering 98% of back to school items surveyed for the same price in August as in July. Office Depot was the best back to school destination for procrastinators, as the retailer sold 62% of its items for cheaper in August, while Walgreens was the best store to buy at in July, as 50% of Walgreens back to school deals were more expensive in August.

Sample data set (full data set available below):

Back to School Deals of July 2012 and August 2012
OfficeMax Items + August Prices Savings in August 2012 When to Buy
Duracell Coppertop AA or AAA Batteries (20 pk) – $16.99
Elmer’s and Avery Glue Sticks (3 ct) – $2.00
OfficeMax Filler Paper (500 ct) – $0.50 $0.50 August
Target Items + August Prices Savings in August 2012 When to Buy
2-Pocket Poly Folder with or without prongs – $0.49
Mead 70-sheet notebook (wide or college ruled) – $0.49
RoseArt 12 ct Colored Pencils – $0.49 $0.03 August
Walmart Items + August Prices Savings in August 2012 When to Buy
Avery 1″ Durable Binder – $1.94
Avery 5 Tab Style Edge Dividers – $2.50
Avery 1″ Durable Binder With Clear Cover – $2.47 ($0.23) July
Staples Items + August Prices Savings in August 2012 When to Buy
2013 Staples desk pad calendar – $5.00
Bic Mechanical pencils 24 pack – $4.00
Bic Dry Erase Markers fine tip – 4 pack (Limit 2 per customer) – $1.00 ($0.50) July
Kroger Items + August Prices Savings in August 2012 When to Buy
Bic Brite Liner Highlighter 5pk – $1.99
Bic Cristal Pens 10pk – $0.89
Sharpie Permanent Markers 2pk – $0.99 $0.50 August
Office Depot Items + August Prices Savings in August 2012 When to Buy
3M Command Damage Free Hooks 3 pack – $2.00
Elmer’s Washable School Glue – $1.00
2 Hole Manual Pencil Sharpener – $0.25 $0.74 August
Kmart Items + August Prices Savings in August 2012 When to Buy
Crayola Crayons 24 ct. – $0.49
Crayola Markers 10 ct. – $0.99
Backpacks, Slings, or Messengers – $10.00 $4.00 August
Walgreens Items + August Prices Savings in August 2012 When to Buy
100 pk Wexford Index Cards – $0.39
Elmer’s Glue Sticks – 5pk colored or 6pk disappearing purple – $2.99
PaperMate mechanical pencils 30pk – $2.99 ($1.00) July


Back to school promotions for 2013 started as soon as some schools let out for the summer, with some advertising beginning even before the Fourth of July.

“Retailers want consumers to buy early and buy often,” says Matthew Ong, senior retail analyst at NerdWallet. “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.”

Early retailer ad spend is a technique to fight for tight back to school consumer dollars, not an indication that the best deals will come and go before August. “While the weak economy means shoppers will likely want to break up the back to school tab over multiple pay periods, there’s really no other advantage to shopping in July for school supplies,” says Ong.

The study also revealed the key indicators of a good back to school deal. Shoppers who buy at Staples, for example, should look for glue and notebooks that can be purchased for 1¢ each with a minimum $5 purchase. Consumers should look for restricted quantity deals, too – deals tagged with qualifiers like “Limit 2” – because these deals are often the best of the season.

Buyer Beware:

Shoppers should be wary of bundled quantity deals, though, as these items might sell individually for a lower individual price in the following weeks. Bundles aren’t necessarily good deals.


NerdWallet analyzed over 500 back to school deals from 8 retailers’ weekly ads from 2012. We were able to successfully find price points in both July and August for 181 of these deals, and these 181 deals were used as the sample size for the study. Some key considerations:

• Deals for the week of 7/29/12 were counted as July deals
• Prices within 1¢ were counted as the same price (ex. a Pink Pearl eraser selling at $0.50 in July was considered to be the same deal as a Pink Pearl eraser selling at $0.49 in August)
• If there were multiple price points in the same month, we chose the latest price in the month


Original image from Shutterstock.