Back to school sales start earlier than you’d think each summer, with deals popping up well over a month before kids actually start the new school year. In other words, there are lots of back to school deals happening right now. Depending on where you live, upcoming tax free weekends — when retailers are allowed to waive sales tax on certain purchases — make it even easier to save even more on clothing, tech, school supplies, and other essentials.
When do back-to-school deals hit their peak? Well, you could argue that all of the big Amazon Prime Day sales — including deals from Walmart, Target, and other retailers in addition to Amazon — truly kick off the back-to-school shopping season, which now begins a scant few weeks after some students finish up school.
Amazon Prime Day 2019 had some truly amazing deals for students and other shoppers alike — that $699 Apple MacBook Air sale comes to mind — but don’t worry if you missed out. There are plenty of back-to-school sales and deals to come, from retailers like Kohls.com, Macys.com, Sears.com, Target, and Walmart, and in many states there’s an easy way to save even more, by way of annual tax free shopping days.
What states have tax-free weekends and other special sales tax holidays during the back-to-school period?
Here’s the list of states with upcoming tax free days, and exactly when 2019 sales tax holidays take place, according to the Federation of Tax Administrators:
• Arkansas Tax Free Days: Aug. 3-4
• Connecticut Tax Free Week: Aug. 18-24
• Florida Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday: Aug. 2-6
• Iowa Sales Tax Holiday: Aug 2-3
• Maryland Tax Free Week: Aug. 11-17
• Massachusetts Tax Free Days: Aug. 17-18
• Mississippi Tax Free Days: July 26-27
• Missouri Back to School Sales Tax Holiday: Aug. 2-4
• New Mexico Tax Free Holiday: Aug. 2-4
• Ohio Sales Tax Holiday: Aug. 2-4
• Oklahoma Sales Tax Holiday: Aug. 2-4
• South Carolina Sales Tax Free Weekend: Aug. 2-4
• Tennessee Sales Tax Holiday: July 26-28
• Texas Tax Free Weekend: Aug. 9-11
• Virginia Sales Tax Holiday: Aug. 2-4
Click on any of the state-specific links for more details about each back to school sales tax holiday. Aside from the timing of sales tax holidays, there are two other key ways each state’s “no sales tax” events differ are the duration and the scope of what’s included. While many states just have a tax free weekend or three-day weekend, Florida’s lasts for five days and both Connecticut and Maryland hold theirs for a whole week.
All sales tax holidays include clothing — and don’t forget, this includes school uniforms — but beyond that, the categories of things you can buy tax-free varies by state. Most include school supplies, some include footwear, backpacks and/or computers, as well. Most states also cap the tax-free perk at a certain dollar amount (say, $100 for clothing), which also varies by location.
Although there’s some debate about how effective sales tax holidays are from a policy (and consumer savings) standpoint, that’s no reason not to take advantage of a chance to shop tax free. This is the peak time of year for stores to advertise their back-to-school sales, and you can often save a few more dollars by making purchases during sales tax holidays.
The best deals during back-to-school sales change from week to week (and even from day to day). Among the best deals we spotted just before publishing this story:
• Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus Graphing Calculator, $88 at Walmart (down from $116)
• Sharpie 12-Pack Fluorescent Highlighters, $4.97 at Walmart (down from $7.47)
• Staples 100-pack 3x5 index cards, $.50 (down from $1.59)
• Staples composition notebook, $.75 (down from $2.29)
• AmazonBasics 10-pack pressboard file folder, $18.96 (down from $22.99)
• X-ACTO electric pencil sharpener, $28 at Amazon (down from $60)
• Save $10 at Target when you spend at least $40 on kids’ clothing and accessories
You can take advantage of “no sales tax” shopping days no matter if you’re making purchases in-person or online (assuming you’re physically located in the corresponding state when buying). Major stores are advertising back-to-school sales on clothes and uniforms, shoes, backpacks, and accessories, and you can check out the latest discounts, online coupons, promo codes, free shipping offers, and other deals in the links below:
Just remember: Sales tax holidays only save you money if you stick to items you had planned to buy anyway, and only if you’re buying things that qualify for tax-free shopping on the appropriate days.
Retailers love any opportunity to encourage Americans to pull out their wallets — hence all those “Black Friday in July” shopping events that get glommed onto Amazon Prime Day, which is a made-up sales event in and of itself — so it’s important not to get carried away.
Tax free doesn’t mean free free, after all.
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