Even in the time of COVID, some things are inevitable and back to school shopping is one of them. Whether you’re in the in-person camp, the distance learning camp or the homeschooling camp, supplies are a must. While we all stumbled our way through it in the spring, help make whatever version of back to school you’re doing easier by having all of the supplies you need at the ready. And save on everything by shopping during the sales tax holiday a.k.a., tax-free weekend.
This year’s sales tax holiday is Friday, August 7th through Sunday, August 9th. That means from 12:01 A.M. on Friday through 11:59 P.M. on Sunday, you don’t pay taxes on eligible items. Sales taxes in our area are 8.25%, so tax-free weekend means you’re saving that much on everything you buy. It’s an automatic discount. You might think I’m crazy, but it adds up. First, I like a bargain, and frankly, I’d rather have that money for something else.
So how will things be different during this time of COVID? While COVID seems to have changed just about everything in our lives, the tax-free weekend will be as usual, so you can shop online and safely pick up your purchases or have them shipped to you. You don’t have to go anywhere. To help promote social distancing, qualifying items purchased by telephone, mail, custom order or any other means, including in-store purchase, will all be tax-exempt. However, the items must be paid for during the tax-free weekend.
What’s included during the sales tax holiday? A general rule of thumb is most clothing, footwear, school supplies, and backpacks priced less than $100. The Comptroller has a list of clothing items that are included, as well as school supplies. Backpacks, lunch boxes, glue sticks—they’re all on there. So are uniforms. Even in the world of who-knows-if-we’ll-be-in-person-or-doing-distance-learning, you’re probably still buying a million glue sticks, so you might as well save a little on them. (Inquiring minds want to know: What do they do with all of those glue sticks anyway?!? Watch your kids during distance learning and please report back.)
What’s not included: Any individual item priced more than $100 will not be tax-exempt and accessories such as jewelry, handbags, umbrellas and wallets will not be tax-exempt. Backpacks are, but luggage, briefcases and gym bags are not.
By the way, even if your little ones aren’t ready for school, you can still save money: diapers are included. Yes, diapers are tax free, as are baby clothes. But keep in mind: this isn’t your traditional, leisurely stroll through Target or any other store you enjoy. We need to stay safe, socially distance and get our littles ready for the school year, whatever that may look like. Get online, get what you need, and stay safe. Have extra time? Click around and grab that cute top. It’s tax-free, and we mamas deserve some wardrobe sprucing, too.
On that note, I usually use tax-free weekend to get basics for the whole family: socks, underwear, running shoes, pajamas, work-out clothes, bras—all of the things you don’t think about replenishing throughout the year or put off. And this year, while quarantining, I was determined to make things last. But new walking routines and at home fitness mean that we need to update some things and kids always seem to need new shoes. (How is that possible when we haven’t been going anywhere???) Once again, in my book, every little bit of savings helps, especially during these times.
Another thing to consider: you can stock up on supplies for your home office as well. Pens, paper, whatever you need as a #bossmom. I own a small business, so I always think about what I need and save a bit on binders, folders and more.
Of course, retailers know the holiday and usually use it to lure us to the stores, but these aren’t normal times. Don’t be surprised to see oodles of sales and specials during the weekend–and ads encouraging you to shop online and do curbside pickup. If you’re a comparison shopper, it’s your time to shine: check out the ads and see where you can find the best deals. Oh, and if you’re a thrifter or second-hand store shopper, tax-free applies to those stores, too. That’s right—you can score an even better deal than usual, so hit up your favorite spots.
If you’re ready to jump in and save some dough this year, here are a few things to keep in mind.
Tips to Help You Score During Tax-Free Weekend:
- Know your lists. That means the school supply lists and the “what my kids need” lists. Keep a copy of the school supply list handy. I prefer a hard copy so I can cross through what we’ve found/ordered. Back-to-school for us means underwear, socks, shoes, and all sorts of clothes, along with a backpack, lunch bag, and more, so I make a list of those things as well. This year, we’re re-using a lot of last year’s supplies, so our list is smaller. Know what your kids need, what their school allows, their sizes, and their likes/dislikes. Settle on some options before you’re shopping so you’re not stuck doing returns later.
- Know your stores (a.k.a., shop before the weekend). In other words, browse and know who has what. That even means you can load up your online cart and wait to click buy once the weekend is here. Makes sure you check out their ads and specials for the tax-free weekend, too, so you don’t miss out. Know what you’re getting where and make a list for each store. Consider office supply stores for school supplies (you can get some great deals). And if you have gift cards, coupons, loyalty cards, etc., get them out and use them. If you’re military, don’t forget those military discounts. Old Navy, Children’s Place, Addidas, and many of the stores at the outlet malls offer military discounts. Always ask, and save that dough to buy more glue sticks.
- If you’re going in person, go early. And go alone Yes, tax-free weekend is busy. There’s no way to know if it will be crowded, but this is a year to avoid that. Go early, avoid the rush and stay easily socially distant from your fellow shoppers. Get up, get out, and hit it. Coffee is always your friend (but it’s not tax-free, unfortunately). Stores often extend their hours during tax-free weekend, but as we all know, these are not usual times. Check store hours before you go. And if you can, leave the littles at home. It’ll be easier to tackle what you need to do quickly without extra hands in tow.
- Shop online. One more time for the folks in the back: online purchases are also exempt. You can click to your heart’s delight and fill your virtual cart while lounging in your PJs, and as long as you hit “purchase” after midnight on August 7th, you’ll automatically save sales tax (and avoid the crowds). I know a mom who fills her cart and saves it, then buys when she gets up on Friday. One year when my local store didn’t have the size I needed, I shopped online FROM THE STORE and placed my order. I then swore on my shoppers bible to shop online for the things I could—why waste time looking for Star Wars underwear when you can have it delivered to your door? This year, shopping online is a must.
- Buy ahead. If you know you’re going to be asked to donate more glue sticks throughout the year (do they eat them or what?!), buy now and stash them away. Or if you know that your child will lose/run out/need more than what’s on the supply list, just go ahead and buy while you can. Prices are better now—you won’t find school supplies on sale again until next August—there’s no tax, and you can’t always find supplies once school starts. (Stores have to make way for Christmas displays in September, don’t you know?!) And if you score a great deal, help those kids/families who need an extra hand to manage the expense of back to school: buy extra and donate to a school supply drive, like Communities in Schools.
However you’re doing back to school this year, I hope you’re able to stay safe and take advantage of tax-free weekend. And if you know the secret of where all of the glue sticks go, please let me know!