Between now and the end of August, 16 states are hosting "sales tax holidays" that let you avoid paying state sales tax on items like school supplies, computers, and clothing. Depending on where you live, those potential savings can run from 4% to 8%.
It may not sound like a lot until you consider that households expect to spend an average $696.70 on back-to-school purchases and $976.78 for back-to-college, according to the National Retail Federation. If the bulk of what you buy qualifies — or if you're making one qualifying big-ticket purchase, like a MacBook Air ($1,099 and up) — shopping on those specific days could easily save you $50 or more.
Which items are tax-free during the holiday varies from state to state. The lists can get very detailed — for example, Maryland says "yes" to belts but "no" to belt buckles — so it's smart to confirm the details on your state's resource site before you load up your cart.
Here are the best products to buy during these tax-free weekends, according to shopping experts:
Sales-tax holidays often coincide with retailers' big back-to-school sales, letting you double up on savings. "The same items that you can expect to be discounted for back-to-school sales will be discounted during tax-free weekends," says Kristin McGrath, a shopping expert at Offers.com.
For example, a three-pack of Elmer's Glue Sticks at Walmart is marked down from $4.97 to $2.97. If you bought two packs at regular price on a typical weekend, the cost with a 7% tax would be $10.64. But at the discounted price on tax-free weekend, you'd only spend $5.94.
"One under-the-radar item to shop for is diapers," McGrath says, since many states include them in sales tax holidays. This can be a good opportunity to stock up, especially if you can add on store sales and coupons.
At Walgreens, a 22-count of Pampers Cruisers diapers is priced at $12.99, or two for $20 on sale. Plus, the store offers a $3 coupon when you buy two packs. Buying two, and avoiding a 7% sales tax, you'd drop your price per diaper from $0.63 to $0.39.
As summer winds down, many stores will start clearance sales for warm-weather clothing like tank tops and shorts. Sales-tax holidays could be a great opportunity to scoop up deals for next summer or pick up items that can be layered to wear in colder weather.
For example, at Old Navy, kids' summer clothes are already reduced to $4, $5, $6, or $7 apiece, depending on the item category, with other discounts you can stack at checkout. A $9.99 tank is currently $4, before you apply another 20% discount. Buying over the holiday would save you 70% compared to the regular price with a 7% sales tax.
Jill Gonzalez of WalletHub suggests buying computers or computer equipment, which will be part of upcoming sales tax holidays in states including Tennessee, Florida, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Mexico, and South Carolina. At Walmart, a Samsung Galaxy Tablet is currently marked down from $127.99 to $97.99. If you bought it at regular price with a 7% tax, you would spend $136.95. But at the discounted price on tax-free weekend, you'll only spend $97.99.
Remember that each state sets price thresholds, which are essentially a limit to how much each item can cost in order to be exempt from tax during the holiday. For example, in Virginia school supplies must be less than $20 per item to qualify. In Missouri, computers must be less than $1,500.
Still, if you're savvy, tax-free sales can net some satisfying savings.
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