Watching The Weekend

Why Tax Free Weekends Might Not be the Best Way to Save Cash on School Supplies

According to the National Retail Federation, families of school-age kids will shell out about $687 on back-to-school supplies this year. A good chunk of that spending will likely be spent during upcoming state “holidays” that offer many school-related items with zero sales taxes. While these weekends can indeed provide some savings, it’s always worth approaching them with caution.

The New York Times reports that 16 states — Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia — are offering back-to-school tax-free weekends (or weeks) through August. You can check what states are offering what items through the Federation of Tax Administrators site. If you live in one of those states and decide to take the plunge, you can expect to save anywhere from four to nine percent, depending on if local sales taxes are exempted. Let’s say your kid needs a new backpack. If it was regularly priced at $30 with a seven percent tax rate, you’d save $2.10 during a promotional weekend.

Saving $2 doesn’t sound as exciting as you thought, right? Well, that’s why we suggested exercising caution. Not only are the savings during these weekends often quite slim, some states cap how much you can spend and how many items you can buy tax-free. Before you go shopping, make a list of the back-to-school items you need and do some online searches for the best deals. Don’t feel pressured to buy anything right away. If it happens that the best value for the things on your list is provided during one of the tax-free weekends, by all means do your shopping then. However, keep in mind that just because there’s a deal doesn’t mean you have to spend money. That’s one easy way to bust a budget.

Chris O'Shea

Chris O'Shea