As we set out to make our fall purchases, here's a motto worth embracing: "Paying full price is so last season." Sure, retailers enjoy cashing in at this time of year, when shoppers are giving their credit cards a workout. (Last year back-to-school and college spending was estimated at a whopping $68 billion.) But with a strategy in place, you can conquer your shopping like a champ, even when no sales are in sight. That's right: You can actually guarantee yourself a discount, whether you're buying a laptop or leather boots. Here's a roundup of some stellar ways to save.

1. Get Carded
Money blogger Karen Cordaway recommends buying discounted gift cards to stores like Old Navy and JCPenney. "That ensures savings before the sales even begin," she says. At, you can purchase other people's unwanted gift cards for up to 59 percent less than the stored value. Or use the free app Raise, which lets you buy and redeem cards on the spot for chains like Target, Macy's, and Sephora. The gift cards sell at an average discount of 12 percent.

Fall Frenzy: Average spending on back-to-school items grew 42 percent between 2005 and 2015.

2. Shop the Supersales
If you're in the market for an outdoor grill or patio furniture, September is the best month to strike: Waning demand equals steep discounts of up to 60 percent. "We've seen a four-burner gas grill drop from about $256 in April to $175 around Labor Day," says Benjamin Glaser, features editor at the site DealNews. Late summer and early fall are also the best times to buy a laptop, thanks to retailers vying for back-to-school dollars. Keep your eye out for markdowns at and Best Buy.

Hot Stuff: 75 percent of American adults own a barbecue grill or smoker.

3. Buy Now, Save Later
Keep receipts in your wallet for a couple of weeks—if the price of an item you purchased drops within 14 days, stores like Gap and Kohl's will refund you the difference. And with so much competition among retailers, sales are happening left and right, says retail analyst Kristin Bentz. "Markdowns can occur weekly, so it pays to visit often and watch closely," she says.

Cash Back: Shopping online? You can still try for a price adjustment, with the help of the website and app Paribus. After you link your email with it, the tool detects any receipts in your inbox and contacts retailers on your behalf to get money back if the price drops within a store's price-adjustment time frame.

4. Earn a Charm Discount
Your attitude can mean the difference between paying full price and receiving a markdown. "It's a scarily simple tactic," says Mark Ellwood, author of Bargain Fever. "My friend asked for a discount at a Prada store overseas and was stunned when they instantly offered him 20 percent off." His prescription: Smile and say, "I love this, but it's a bit expensive. How might I be able to get a discount?" There's usually some solution, he says, such as a friends-and-family coupon or a secret sale for VIP customers.

Farnoosh Torabi, personal finance expert and author of When She Makes More, hosts CNBC's Follow the Leader and the podcast So Money.


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