Retailers' August Discounts: Deal or No Deal?

Some offers come with big catches.

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With back-to-school shopping season sneaking up and consumers still feeling pinched for cash, retailers are doing what they can to grab our attention. Some of the deals are worth taking advantage of, but others are just gimmicks. (You can watch me talking about some of these offers with Carmen Wong Ulrich on last night's On the Money on CNBC.) Here's an overview of what to watch out for:

Apple

The deal: Students can buy a new Mac and get a free iPod. In practice, it's a little bit more complicated than just picking up your free mp3 player—you have to shell out for both the Mac and the iPod, before Sept. 15, and then you are eligible for a rebate up to $299 for the iPod.

The catch: Most students don't need to head off to school with a shiny new iPod, or a pricey Mac, for that matter. Lower-cost computers can be found by comparison shopping online. But for students who really want a Mac and an iPod, this is an unusually good deal—just make sure to file for the rebate, which consumers usually forget to do.

Wal-Mart

The deal: The megaretailer is offering free shipping on many of its back to school items—but the items don't ship to your home, they ship to the store closest to you. The benefit is that you have access to hundreds more items that may not be carried in your local store.

The catch: This deal won't work for people who waited until the last minute and need items quickly. But if you can plan ahead, then you can pick out exactly what you want online and wait for it to arrive for pick-up, without paying extra for shipping.

Target

The deal: Target is offering free shipping on many products, including computers, kitchen supplies, and furniture until Sunday.

The catch: There isn't one—this is a great deal for people who need to buy new computers or other supplies right now, and might be worth speeding up those purchasing decisions so you can get that free shipping.