Save a few bucks during back-to-school shopping this year. And the state of Texas plans to help — at least a little. Mark Hoffer mhoffer@star-telegram.com
Save a few bucks during back-to-school shopping this year. And the state of Texas plans to help — at least a little. Mark Hoffer mhoffer@star-telegram.com

State Politics

Planning on tax-free shopping this weekend? Here’s how to survive and thrive

By Anna M. Tinsley

atinsley@star-telegram.com

August 09, 2017 4:23 PM

Those shoppers willing to go toe-to-toe for their favorite pair of shoes or must-have jeans can save some serious money during the annual statewide sales tax holiday this weekend.

And if you do a little homework, stock up on coupons and keep an eye out for special deals, the savings will only grow.

Tens of thousands of shoppers will open their laptops or invade shopping malls and retail centers for the three-day sales tax holiday, which begins Friday and runs through Sunday.

Over those three days, many clothes, shoes, school supplies and others items ranging from diapers to hunting vests that cost less than $100 will be tax-free — whether bought in person, online, or even ordered over the phone.

The savings come out to about $8 per every $100 spent, and since the sales tax holiday started in 1999, Texans have saved more than $1 billion.

“It’s never too early to take advantage of the opportunity to save money on everything from ball caps to ballpoint pens,” Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar said. “As the father of three young children, I know how these expenses can add up.”

Retail experts say the best deal for Texas shoppers comes when stores match up their own sales to coincide with this annual shopping event.

“When they do that, this is worth it for shoppers,” said Deborah Fowler, professor of retail management at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. “If you are on a tight budget, any discount is helpful. And you’re never going to get another discount on pencils. That’s the best discount people will ever get on pencils, markers, paper.”

Here are some tips on how to save and survive the shopping weekend:

1. Get organized

Check your school’s website for any uniform requirements and print out the school supply list.

Check any extra supplies you had left over from last year and figure out what you’ll need to buy before heading out the door. Just know that many teachers likely will ask for additional school supplies once school actually starts.

Feel free to shop online or on the phone if you don’t want to face the shopping crowds.

And remember that the holiday isn’t just for students. Everybody can benefit from the savings.

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“The holiday has become known as back to school tax free holiday because it coincides with the beginning of the school year,” said Chris Bryan, a spokesman for the comptroller’s office. “But it was designed just to be a tax free holiday for anybody in Texas.

“Anyone can take advantage of it, as long as they’re buying a qualifying item.”

2. Check the price

Many items are on the sales-tax free list, far beyond the shirts, shorts and shoes that many Texas students wear to school.

Key school supplies such as backpacks are tax-free, as are binders, calculators, compasses, composition books, pens, pencils, protractors, legal pads and more.

But other tax-free items include scarves, scout uniforms, golf shirts, golf jackets, hats, jackets, dresses, athletic socks, shoes, ties, pants, pajamas, skirts, slips, bras, suits, suspenders, robes, undershirts and gloves.

Cashing in on Texas Sales Tax Holiday

Mom2MomDFW.com's Maricar Estrella helps you navigate the dos and don'ts of one of North Texas' biggest shopping weekends.

Maricar Estrella and Clif Bosler maricar@star-telegram.com

Just make sure the price for one item doesn’t go above $100.

If a shirt, for instance, costs $110, the buyer pays all the sales tax for that purchase.

However, if a shopper buys two pair of shoes for $90 each, for a total of $180, no sales tax would be due. That’s a savings of nearly $15 in taxes in Fort Worth, for instance, where the combined sales tax rate is 8.25 percent.

Using the 8.25 percent sales tax figure, Texans could save $4.95 in taxes on a $60 shirt; $6.18 on a $75 pair of tennis shoes; and $2.88 on a $35 pair of shorts.

3. Have a plan and write it down

“Make a list,” Fowler advises. “Figure out exactly what you need to purchase for your children, for your family, for back to school. Then start checking prices.”

Check for special sales and promotions stores offer during the tax free holiday weekend.

But never stop trying to save money.

“Even when you’re shopping, check prices online and see if you can get a better deal online than you can in the store,” Fowler said.

4. Watch for extra bargains

Don’t forget about layaways.

Any qualifying items put on layaway — or paid off — between Aug. 11-13 are tax-free.

And did you know that any qualifying item bought with a rain check during the holiday, no matter when the rain check was issued, is tax free as well? But if a rain check is issued during the holiday, the item won’t be tax free if bought after Aug. 13.

Don’t forget coupons.

Many stores offer coupons — easily found through Google searches and catalogs that are stuffed in your mailbox — that can be used during the tax-free holiday. Use those, plus any other store bonuses, to save even more money.

5. Keep your eye on the prize

Statistics show parents likely will spend an average of $687.72 per child on back-to-school clothes and supplies, according to the National Retail Federation.

That’s why it’s more important than ever for Texas shoppers not to get distracted.

Extra signs and displays likely will be put out, trying to draw the attention of shoppers, Fowler said.

“Watch out for displays,” she said. “The whole point of displays is to make you buy the things that you don’t necessarily want.

“That’s why you have the magazines and the gum at the checkout area.”

And know that not everyone thinks these holidays are the right move.

“Sales tax holidays do not promote economic growth or significantly increase consumer purchases; the evidence ... shows that they simply shift the timing of purchases,” according to a new report by the Washington, D.C.-based Tax Foundation. “Some retailers raise prices during the holiday, reducing consumer savings.”

6. This isn’t worth shopping rage

If shopping online isn’t your thing and you’re determined to hit the malls and retail centers, here’s some advice for staying cool and calm.

▪ Large crowds will be the norm so understand that there will be long lines. Dress comfortably, especially with shoes.

▪ To avoid excess frustration, know going in that not everything will be available in your size and that person next to you wants to be done just as much as you do.

▪ Be courteous, especially to those working.

▪ Be extra careful when driving through crowded parking lots and watch for children.

▪ Parking spaces will be at a premium so follow the whoever-gets-there-first rule.

▪ Weather-wise, there’s a chance it might rain so bring an umbrella. The heat will be down, but the humidity will be up. Drink plenty of water.

▪ Keep your receipts and add up your savings when you get home. Got enough for a spa day?

Cashing in on Texas Sales Tax Holiday

Mom2MomDFW.com's Maricar Estrella helps you navigate the dos and don'ts of one of North Texas' biggest shopping weekends.

Maricar Estrella and Clif Bosler maricar@star-telegram.com

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

TAX-FREE SHOPPING IN TEXAS

Texas has several sales-tax-free holidays. Three of the sales tax holidays have already been held this year — one remains.

Emergency Preparation Supplies Sales Tax Holiday, April 22-24. This holiday lets shoppers in Texas shop tax free for items such as portable generators, storm protection devices, first-aid kits and other related items.

Energy Star Sales Tax Holiday, May 27-29. This weekend lets Texans buy energy efficient items such as air conditioners, clothes washers, ceiling fans, dishwashers and certain types of light bulbs tax free.

Water-Efficient Products Sales Tax Holiday, May 27-29. Texans may buy water conservation or water efficient products — such as a drip-irrigation hose, plants, mulch, even rain barrels — tax free on this weekend.

“Back to School” Sales Tax Holiday, Aug. 11-13. Parents, students and other shoppers may head to the stores to shop tax free for certain back to school clothes, shoes, school backpacks and other supplies. A full list of items that qualify as being tax-free can be found on the Texas Comptroller’s website at comptroller.texas.gov/taxes/publications/98-490.

Source: Texas Comptroller’s Office

Money saved

Here’s a look at the amount of money — in the millions — that Texans have saved during August sales tax holiday.

Year

State

Local

Combined

1999

25.6

7

32.6

2000

29.2

7.8

37

2001

30.5

8.1

38.6

2002

33.2

8.8

42

2003

34.2

9.1

43.3

2004

36.1

10

46.1

2005

37.2

10.2

47.4

2006

38.5

10.5

49

2007

40.6

11.5

52.1

2008

42.1

11.9

54

2009

49.7

13.7

63.4

2010

46.5

12.8

59.3

2011

49.2

14

63.2

2012

56.4

16.1

72.5

2013

61.4

17.5

78.9

2014

64.4

18.3

82.7

2015

68.1

19.1

87.2

2016

71.7

20.2

91.9

Total

$814.6

$226.6

$1,041.2

Source: Office of the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts

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