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Five Tips To Help Families Thrive at Back to School Sales

In our household, we have come to the conclusion that there are too many things worth dreading in the world for us to sweat the small stuff. So we pull together and try to make the small stuff fun, or at least somewhat satisfying. Such is the case when we deal with Back to School sales. They are necessary, but boy can they be tedious and frustrating, especially if you (or most likely mom) are on your own with two or three kids in tow trying to find the exact items on those two to three different classroom supply lists at the same time, maneuvering your way to the picked over shelves, through everybody else who has the lists and kids trying to do the same thing you are and certainly quicker than you are, and hoping against hope the entire time that the item is in stock here so you don’t have to do this all over again at another store.

So, after a family huddle, we’ve come up with a strategy to attack the Back to School sales together, in a way that leaves everyone satisfied with the experience.

1)      Plan. Check to see if your state has the sales tax holidays coming up. If they do, plan your shopping for those days to save some money. Plan to shop for whatever you need that you can get tax-free, including clothing, etc., not just school supplies. Check the sales papers and web sites too so you know which stores have the best deals.

2)      Review. We’ve found, sometimes after the fact, that we’ve already had many of the items on those classroom supply lists left over from the year before (hmmm…how does that happen?) or just laying around the house. Check before you head out.

3)      Consolidate. If you have more than one student in the house, consolidate the lists down to one to eliminate retracing your steps in the store. Maybe even split the master list up and assign a portion to different family members. For kids, time them on their section or make it like a scavenger hunt.

4)      Restock. Back to School sales are a great opportunity to restock the home office. Great prices on file folders, binders, Sharpies, dry erase markers, pens, pencils, staplers, paper, etc., not to mention, if you’re shopping tax-free, computers as well.

5)      Divide and Conquer. Whether it’s just to speed up the process or to take full advantage of the tax-free status of items, split up and pay at different registers on the way out. With dollar limits on the tax exempt items per purchase, this could allow you to get much more at a bargain. This works especially well with the dollar limit on tax-free clothing.

So how’s everybody satisfied then? Well, beyond the fun and satisfaction of working as a team, the experience should be somewhat quick and relatively painless for the family – and as a bonus everybody should be able to pick an item or two for themselves! And we all know when mama’s happy, everybody’s happy!

Good luck out there, and remember you can get all the State Sales Tax Holiday information from our previous post here at Journal of a Dad.

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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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