If you’re looking for back-to-school deals, or even early Christmas presents, take advantage of the state’s tenth annual State Sales Tax Holiday August 7-9. Started in 1997 as a way to help families with the high cost of clothes and school supplies, it has swept the nation, with 17 states participating this year. If you can wait a few days after school starts, you’ll snag an extra 4% discount.
At the stroke of midnight on August 7, Alabama retailers in participating localities will withhold state sales tax and use tax on selected items for three days. Shoppers in Birmingham will enjoy a price break on clothing, classroom items, computers and books. Not all cities and counties in the state will take part, and some might apply local taxes. Click here to see a full list.
Here’s what you can expect to save on:
Clothes and Shoes
Each item must be $100 or less. It includes tops and bottoms, school uniforms, jeans and jackets. Look for discounts on tights and socks, hats and underwear. Footwear, from sneakers to those summer bargain sandals, is also tax-exempt. The discount applies to diapers, too, so your littles won’t miss out, either.
Computers and Software
Maximum purchase price: $750. Not until Black Friday will you find deals this good on a laptop or desktop. Printers, paper and ink cartridges are also exempt. The category known as “accessories” gets tricky: You must buy them as part of a package with a computer because items sold separately like mice and speakers, are not exempt. And you will want to check out separate deals on smartphones because they will be taxed, as well.
Each item must cost $50 or less. This is a broad category that includes your usual binders, calculators, pencils and pens. It also includes school art supplies like paints, clay and sketch pads. Textbooks between $30 and $50, maps and globes are also part of the deal. Books, treated as a separate item, must be $30 or less to be state sales tax-tax exempt.
Watch for Exceptions
The list of what is and is not tax-exempt can get pretty tricky. Some can be downright comical: belts are excluded from sales tax, but separate buckles are taxable. Eyeglasses are non-taxable; goggles are taxed. You won’t pay tax on sneakers but you will on skates and ballet shoes. School uniforms are not taxed but patches and the sewing materials used to affix them are. Here is a list of all exempt and non-exempt items.
Do your Back-to-School Homework
Your kid may be the one burning the midnight oil after August 5, but if you want to save, do some looking around beforehand. An extra 4 percent may not amount to much, but if you combine it with other deals, you can think of it as icing on the cake.
Skip the Stores
Take a cue from Cyber Monday and shop online when possible. This should be easy to do with standard items like spiral notebooks and other school supplies. Do a reconnaissance mission before clothing sales to get an idea of sizes, price ranges and colors. You can also use an app like PriceJump or a browser extension to find what you’re looking for and make instant comparisons.
Stack those Coupons
In many cases you can combine offers to get the best deals. Try accessing a retailer’s website through a couponing website. This works for national retailers as well as local stores. Combine manufacturer and store coupons, and, if you’re so inclined, open a store credit card or join its email list to save more. Finally, look for deals that earn cash back or give rebates.
Be a Smart Shopper
Whenever you take advantage of any sale, always make a list of what you really need first and stick to it. Be careful not to overspend just because the tax holiday is going on in your area. To keep things in perspective, remember that the regular state sales tax rate in Alabama is only 4%, so that’s how much money you’ll be saving. Think of it as icing on the cake to your other discounts. By shopping around and using coupons, the deals will definitely be worth your while.
Marie Hickman is a writer focused on savings, personal finance and family living. She is a featured contributor to the Valpak.com family of couponing blog as well as She Knows, Midlife Boulevard and The Penny Hoarder.