August 10, 2012

Save more than 8% on no-tax weekend

Texas' tax-free weekend covers more than back-to-school items.

Rants, raves, reviews and resources for Dallas-Fort Worth parents

The popular state and local sales tax holiday is back next week, and it's not just for savings on back-to-school items.

The list of exempt items includes most clothing for adults, preschoolers and even babies, including diapers.

The state's 13th sales tax holiday is scheduled to begin at 12:01 a.m. Friday and run until midnight Sunday, Aug. 19. Items must be under $100 in price and listed among the exempt items to qualify.

This year, shoppers will save an estimated $64.8 million in state and local sales taxes during the weekend, or about $8 for every $100 spent, according to the Texas comptroller's office.

Twenty-seven school supplies are on the exempt list, from binders to writing tablets. While most items are under a couple of dollars in value, the list also includes more expensive items like backpacks and graphing calculators, if they are priced under the $100 limit. Also on the list are more than 80 clothing items.

Typical school clothing such as shirts, pants, dresses, uniforms and shoes are included, as well as some items parents may not realize are tax-free such as Scout uniforms, baby clothes, raincoats and sleepwear. Parents can even buy costumes and masks tax-free over the weekend if they want to shop for Halloween early.

But clothes exemptions are not just for back-to-school children. Adults can also buy for themselves or for children not yet in school.

There are some unusual exemptions for adult clothing, including bowling shirts, ties, clerical vestments, adult diapers and veils. Also exempt from sales tax are work uniforms for waitresses, the military, postal carriers, police, firefighters and others.

After Christmas, back-to-school is the second-biggest spending event of the year, according to the National Retail Federation.

And this year, consumers are opening up their wallets a bit more after a few years of cautious spending. The federation predicts the average person with children in grade school or high school will spend $688.62, up from just over $600 last year. Total spending is expected to reach more than $30 billion.

Retailers are responding with back-to-school campaigns, including an 88-cent section of school supplies and "secret sales" at Wal-Mart, binder buybacks at Staples and exclusive e-mail sales on college items at Target.

Several websites are trying to gather all the sales, including RetailMeNot, a retail website based in Austin.

"Our back-to-school page is new every day," said Trae Bodge, senior editor of the RetailMeNot Insider, an online publication of shopping tips and trends for the website. "We have coupons available for both online and in stores."

A big comparison shopper, I used everything from my Sunday newspaper to my daughter's iPhone this week to price compare my back-to-school shopping.

Sunday newspaper ads were helpful. It was easy to compare prices for a graphing calculator, which varied in price from $90 (Target) to $109.99 (Office Depot). I also found filler paper for 25 cents (Office Depot), 17-cent spirals (Big Lots) and a packet of 10 pencils for 10 cents (OfficeMax).

Be sure to bring your Sunday ads with you. If you see an item cheaper elsewhere many retailers will match the price.But the ad usually has to be on paper; asking them to look at an ad on a smartphone seldom works.

My experience price-shopping with an iPhone was mixed. It was great to have an app that would read a bar code on an item and then show prices at other stores. There are several apps for this, but we used ShopSavvy.

When my daughter found a Nike backpack for $30 at Academy, we checked the bar code and found that it was selling between $40 and $50 at places like Amazon, East Bay and Dick's Sporting Goods. So we happily snatched the backpack at Academy.

But when we checked for prices on Nike shorts, we were misled. Academy had the shorts on sale for $24.99, but our app showed that Sports Authority had the same shorts for $19.97. We drove a mile to Sports Authority, only to find they had just a few at that price, and they were all the wrong size and color.

Some other tips for back-to-school shopping:

Start at home. Almost half of consumers said they look through drawers and closets for school supplies before shopping, according to a PriceGrabber survey. Ask your kids whether they really need a new backpack. Some school items last more than one year.

Make a list. A third of shoppers plan to make a list before they go shopping, PriceGrabber says. In my experience, will either forget what they need or start asking for things they don't need once they see them in the store.

Check out resale stores. One of my teenage daughter's favorite stores is Plato's Closet, which offers good name-brand jeans, shoes, shirts and other used clothes for females and males at up to 70 percent off original price. Start by trading in items your kid no longer wants for cash.

Teresa McUsic's column appears Saturdays.

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