Back to School Sales Aren't Only for Students

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Savvy shoppers for consumer electronics love the end of summer. That's because they know Back To School sales aren't just for students.

While some retailers limit their Back To School deals to customers with a valid e-mail address with a dot-edu extension, many more offer specials open to one and all.

Last year, retailers raked in $55 billion during Back To School season, a season that gets longer and longer every year. Apple kicked off its Back To School sale in June, before summer vacation had even begun for some school systems, and it's running to September 21.

During that period, Apple's offering a $100 Apple Gift Card to anyone who buys a MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, or iMac and a $50 gift card to iPad buyers. To take advantage of student discounts on hardware -- 5 to 8 percent off list price -- you'll need proof you're a student.

If you're a non-student interested in Apple hardware, you might be better off skirting the company's Back To School sale altogether and look for deals on either previous generation or current products at online resellers.

The staple of Back To School computer sales is "the bundle." It typically consists of a laptop and an entertainment console, like an Xbox or PlayStation. Last year, for instance, Amazon offered a $900 Back To School deal that included a 15-inch Dell XPS, $100 Amazon Gift Card and 4GB Xbox 360 Slim.

However, Louis Ramirez, writing for DealNews, cautions bundle shoppers about pulling the trigger too early on a deal. That $900 Xbox deal, for example, dropped by $100 a month after it was launched.

"As far as bundles are concerned," Ramirez notes, "we recommend you skip the July sales and opt for buying a bundle in August as these will provide a better value."

"And, once August arrives, we highly recommend buying the first bundle that suits your needs," he adds. "Unlike Apple's promotion, which runs till late September, it's rare to see good bundle deals repeat throughout August."

Bundled or not, the Back To School period is always an opportunity to find deals on laptops, which traditionally move briskly during the period. That's especially true of large notebooks, with displays of 17 inches or more. At Staples, for instance, Dell Inspiron dreadnoughts with Intel Core i5 or i3 processors running at 2.3 to 2.5 GHz with 6- to 8GB of RAM and 500- to 750GB hard drives are selling for less than $700.

Finding Back To School deals on traditional laptops appear to be easier than finding them for ultrabooks. Even though sales of the slim, energy-sipping notebooks have been below expectations, they're still selling at premium prices for a PC notebook, and, for the most part, they aren't popping up in Back To School sales yet.

If you're not in the market for a new computer or game console, Back To School sales are also a good place to pick up some extra external storage on the cheap. Walgreens, for instance, is selling SanDisk Cruzer USB 2.0 stick drives for $7.99 (4GB) and $10 (8GB).

Follow freelance technology writer John P. Mello Jr. and Today@PCWorld on Twitter.

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