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updated 8/16/2011 8:48:16 PM ET 2011-08-17T00:48:16

Back-to-school shopping is big, big business, second only to Christmas sales for most retailers. In USA Today, the marketing chief for Staples, Jevin Eagles says, "Back-to-school for us is just another Christmas." Consumers have been spending between $500 and $600 on school supplies over the last few years, according to the National Retail Federation. In 2008 the average American family spent $594.24. In 2009 the number dipped down to $548.72, but jumped back up to $606.40 in 2010. Good news for retailers, but is it good news for your wallet?

One perk of back to school shopping that can be advantageous to your wallet is "tax-free" day. According to Bargainist.com, "residents of about 20 states ... may not have to pay tax on those school supplies." Details of the sales tax holidays vary from state to state, but in many cases it's a blanket tax-free shopping day, so if you've been considering a larger purchase, make it on tax-free day and save significantly.

Technology purchases
School supplies are a lot more than a couple of notebooks and a pack of pens. High school and college students are switching out the back pack for a laptop bag, and even younger students need a computer to complete much of their homework. Major tech companies respond to the student demand by competing for brand loyalty with back-to-school bonuses, freebies, and discounts.

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$100 from Apple
Apple's been known for giving away an iPod with a student purchase of a Mac; this year, they've changed the deal to a $100 credit for digital downloads. The deal only applies to students, parents of students, or faculty and staff members, however.

Best Buy matches Apple's $100
Rumors abound online that Best Buy, in an attempt to grab some of those potential Apple customers, is also offering a $100 gift card to Mac buyers. The caveat is that it's unofficial and has to be specifically requested. It's definitely worth a try; no word on whether Best Buy's offer only applies to students as well.

Microsoft's giveaway
Microsoft got in the back-to-school tech deals early this year, starting its deal on May 22. According to the official Microsoft announcement, "Students buying a new Windows 7-based PC priced at $699 (U.S.) or more will also get a free Xbox 360 4GB console." That deal is almost good enough to pull those Apple lovers away. An Xbox console, normal purchase price of $199.99 or $100 in digital downloads? It's a $100 value difference that makes a good argument for Microsoft.

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Non-students aren't going to be able to take advantage of these specific back-to-school deals from Microsoft and Apple, unfortunately. If you're in the market for a new laptop, your best bet might be to look into the next tax holiday.

Non-tech school supplies
Other school supplies, those old-fashioned ones like notebooks and binders and pencils, are another story. Anyone can take advantage of great back-to-school deals on in all the major retailers. Most stores are setting up displays now, or already have, and will be running various deals for the next two months.

The way to take advantage of those deals is to watch the circulars and do some price comparing. Most retailers will rotate their best deals, offering certain items for a penny at certain times, or putting others on 2-for-1 sales and similar promotions. Clothing and shoes go on sale, too, though usually focused on what will appeal to the younger set both in sizes and styles.

Though deals particularly for students exclude the rest of us, smart shoppers can definitely save some money simply by shopping deals, using coupons, and comparing prices to get the best deal on other items.

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