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July, 2010 | Journal of a Dad
Archive | July, 2010

Back to School: State Sales Tax Holidays

My grandpa always said there are only two definite things in life: death and taxes. Well, a few of us may be lucky enough to escape death at some point, but many more of us will have an opportunity to escape at least some taxes this year during the Back to School State Sales Tax Holidays.

Unfortunately, it’s not so popular to not tax things these days, as evidenced by only 16 states taking part in the Holidays, which begin this weekend in Mississippi and are sprinkled throughout the month of August, lasting anywhere from two to 10 days.

We’ve listed the states, dates, and items that qualify for tax exemption below. Also included are links to the various state sites.

Before you plan your purchases, though, make sure you check out the fine print so they’re not calling for the defibrillator when you see your receipt. Be in the know. Here are some red flags to check out:

  • · Some states provide counties and cities the option to participate in the tax-free holiday.
  • · Computers are big-selling items during tax-free days but states have differing price limits and in some participating states computers aren’t included at all.
  • · Some states let you buy via mail, phone or internet as long as you’re paid up by the end of the holiday period while other states only allow in-store purchases.
  • · Check policies on gift certificate use and rain checks.
  • · If you’re in New Mexico, God help you, go straight to the web site for the definition of back to school items and at what threshold they are tax-free.
  • In Oklahoma, be aware that “Clothing or shoes primarily designed for athletic activity or protective use are fully taxable.” Uhhhhh…define “athletic activity” in a way that doesn’t describe my kids’ entire wardrobe! And we’ll shop elsewhere for our catcher’s mask and steel-toed sneakers.
  • And in Texas, don’t try to get new luggage, briefcases or duffle bags by passing them off as backpacks. To be tax-exempt, backpacks, including those with the wheels, must be able to be “worn on the back like a traditional backpack.”

The funniest thing about rules and regulations is that there’s a story behind every one. Get more information from each state’s web site.

So plan for your Back to School State Sales Tax Holidays and next time we’ll talk about taking advantage of them for far more reasons than just getting the students of the house prepared. For those of you in the 34 other states, please play along…and get on your legislators.


  • Alabama Aug. 6-8; clothing-$100, computers-$750, school supplies-$50, books-$30
  • Connecticut Aug. 15-21; clothing and footwear-$300
  • Florida Aug. 13-15; clothing and books-$50, school supplies-$10
  • Illinois Aug. 6-15; clothing, footwear and school supplies-$100
  • Iowa Aug. 6-7; clothing-$100
  • Louisiana Aug. 6-7; most purchases of tangible personal property-$2,500 or less
  • Maryland Aug. 8-14; clothing and footwear-$100
  • Mississippi July 30-31; clothing and footwear-$100
  • Missouri Aug. 6-8; clothing-$100, computers-$3,500, school supplies-$50
  • New Mexico Aug. 6-8; clothing-$100, computers-$1,000, school supplies-$15
  • North Carolina Aug. 6-8; clothing-$100, computers-$3,500, other computer-$250, school supplies-$100, instructional materials-$300, sports equipment-$50
  • Oklahoma Aug. 6-8; Clothing-$100
  • South Carolina Aug. 6-8; clothing, school supplies, computers and other school-related equipment are exempt from the sales and use tax.
  • Tennessee Aug. 6-8; clothing-$100, computers-$1,500, school supplies-$100
  • Texas Aug. 20-22; Clothing, backpacks and school supplies-$100
  • Virginia Aug. 6-8; clothing-$100, school supplies-$20
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Four Areas to Trim the Family Budget

With the mayor of Newark, NJ announcing financial conditions so dire in his city that he’s cutting Christmas decorations and toilet paper from the budget, I was encouraged to revisit the family budget, because a lack of holiday spirit or having to beg our neighbors to “spare a square” just can’t happen.

What I found is that the spell of unemployment we endured this year really forced us to adopt some fiscally responsible habits that helped out several line items in the budget. Here are four of the areas we improved along with the improvements:

1)      Transportation. We downsized to a one-car family and planned our trips better, thus saving on gasoline. It wasn’t easy to do, and many times can be inconvenient and downright near impossible, but once we forced ourselves to do it, we discovered how much gas we were wasting with overlapping or unnecessary trips to the store, back and forth for meals, etc. We came up with alternatives, got creative, and cut our gas bill almost in half (though honestly we still can’t wait until we can afford a second vehicle again!)

2)      Food. Shopping for food on a budget is very annoying to me because good food is more expensive than junk and I hate rummaging for coupons that half the time don’t justify the time searching for them by the savings they provide. But yes, coupons and sales papers, plus sites like www.redplum.com can arm you with at least a strategy to save and can occasionally save you a bundle. We are fortunate enough to live in close proximity to several grocery stores. Our strategy is to read the sales papers and plan an attack that includes getting all the best buy-one-get-one-free bargains at one store, the meat bargains at a second location, and whatever else is needed at the third store, which generally has the lowest prices but no sales.

3)      Entertainment. Our family loves movies and we love seeing them on the biggest screens possible. However, the cost of going to the theater can be ridiculous – especially since all the big films have to be seen in 3D now – and it’s easy to drop $100 for a family of four before even settling into your seat with your soda and popcorn. So, we’ve scaled back on that and have family movie nights at home. With Netflix, On Demand, and similar services, there are plenty of great movies we can see in the comfort of our den, and I can settle into the recliner with my soda and popcorn (or anything else for that matter) for just a few bucks. Gotta work on getting that new 3D TV, though.

4)      Recreation. Right now we are doing less of the amusement park-type thing and much more of the enjoying God’s green earth thing. Living in south Florida, we have some awesome beaches and parks we can visit year-round. We had gotten out of the habit of that, kind of like the guy I ran into in New York City who has lived there for years and never visited the Statue of Liberty. While that tour may cost some money, the point is there are some beautiful landmarks to be seen and wonders of nature to be rediscovered in or near the area in which you live. Bike, hike, fish, swim, picnic – take it all in.

That’s some of the things we’re doing right now to keep our tight budget under control. Find whatever works for you, but let’s all be sure we get our Christmas decorations up on time and everybody’s got TP!

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