No matter how you calculate it, back-to-school shopping is expensive.
Families with children in grades K-12 planned to spend an average of $235.39 on clothing, $204.06 on electronics, $126.35 on shoes and $107.76 on school supplies for back-to-school in 2016, according to the National Retail Federation.
The high cost of school-related items makes finding ways to save even more important.
This year, states across the country are again easing the burden of stocking up on such purchases by eliminating sales tax for a few days. We have everything you need to know to take advantage of these sales tax holidays.
What are sales tax holidays?
Sales tax holidays, also known as tax-free weekends, are periods of time during which some states remove sales tax on certain types of items, such as apparel and computers. A handful of states hold their no-tax holidays in and around August, just in time for back-to-school shopping.
Sales tax holidays are limited to a couple of days in most states — hence the name tax-free weekends — and typically restrict eligible purchases by criteria such as product and price. For example, you might be able to purchase computer models that cost up to $1,000 tax-free, but not models that cost more.
When are they?
Sales tax holidays vary by location — not every state has one. Here’s a look at the states that will be participating in summer 2017 and the items that will be tax-free, according to the Federation of Tax Administrators. In some cases, state sales tax is eliminated, but stores still charge local sales tax.
Keep in mind that Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon don’t collect a state sales tax. Local governments can still levy tax in those states, though.
How to use sales tax holidays for back-to-school shopping
These are our top three tips for leveraging sales tax holidays to save on back-to-school shopping:
- Reserve major purchases for late July or August. Wait to make major purchases, like laptops, until the tax-free period. If you can’t afford to make all of your school-related purchases at once, buy less expensive items, like pens and paper, at another time.
- Use a credit card. Make your tax-free purchases with a credit card to potentially qualify for rewards — such as cash back — on your spending. NerdWallet handpicked a selection of credit cards that are especially well suited to school-related purchases.
- Shop around. Eliminating sales tax shouldn’t be your only means of saving. Before you go shopping on a sales tax holiday, do your homework. Use websites like Google Shopping to search for products by name and compare their prices at multiple merchants.
This post was updated on July 27, 2017.