The season is here: blurry-eyed parents staring at school supply lists wondering where to find that semi-hex graphite drawing pencil, a rainbow of poly folders and enough glue sticks to stretch to the moon and not break the bank. After back-to-back unusual school years, most of us are eager for some normalcy. But back to school shopping? Not so much. But saving on all of that through the sales tax holiday a.k.a., tax-free weekend? Bring it on!
This year’s sales tax holiday is Friday, August 6th through Sunday, August 8th. 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.
And no matter how you shop, you can save. You can shop online and pick up your purchases or have them shipped. You don’t have to go anywhere. Qualifying items purchased by telephone, mail, custom order or any other means, including in-store purchases, 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. (Inquiring minds want to know: What do they do with all of those glue sticks anyway?!?)
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.
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. I’ve never been good at shopping for myself, but since COVID, I really haven’t updated much. Paired with end of summer sales, you can really save and let’s face it: we wear summer clothes year-round in SA, so there’s no harm in snagging something cute for mom, too.
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 run a few specials. Don’t be surprised to see oodles of sales and deals during the weekend–and ads encouraging you to shop online and do curbside pickup because that is now routine for pretty much everyone. 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 still re-using a lot of the supplies we have left from both 2020 and our hybrid year last year, 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. Go early, avoid the rush and stay sane instead of rushed by crowds. 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. 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 6th, 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?
- 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.
Finally, not a tip but something teachers love: buy the brands they ask for. There is a difference and for us parents, it may mean spending a bit more initially, but you won’t be forced to buy more when the inferior crayons/pencils/whatever don’t make it past Thanksgiving.
However you’re doing back to school this year, I hope you’re able to take advantage of tax-free weekend. And if you know the secret of where all of the glue sticks go, please let me know!