Back-to-school shopping tips for upcoming sales tax free holiday weekend
It’s time for the kids to go back to school. That means it’s also time for the annual tradition of dumping out your purse and wallet and trading all your savings for crayons, binders, backpacks, and clothes.
Better Business Bureau Serving Western Virginia offers back to shopping tips for the anticipated record-breaking back-to-school shopping season.
This year, Virginia Sales Tax Holiday begins at 12:01 am on Friday, Aug. 6, and runs through Sunday, Aug. 8. During these three days, purchases of qualifying school supplies selling for $20 or less per item, and purchases of qualifying clothing and footwear selling for $100 or less per item will be exempt from sales tax.
Retailers may also choose to absorb the tax on other items during the holiday period. Still, they are responsible for paying the tax on those items to the Department of Taxation.
According to the annual survey released in July by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics, consumers plan to spend record amounts for both school and college supplies as families and students prepare to return to in-person classrooms this fall.
The NRF survey found that families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average of $850 on school items, which is $59 more than last year. The total back-to-school spending is expected to reach a record $37.1 billion, up from $33.9 billion last year, and an all-time high in the survey’s history.
College students and their families plan to spend an average of $1,200 on college or university items, increasing $141 over last year. Over half ($80) of this increase is due to spending on electronics and dorm furnishings. The total back-to-college spending is expected to reach a record $71 billion, up from $67.7 billion in 2020.
As families prepare for the upcoming school year, NRF expects electronics and clothing to be the most significant increases in spending for families with K-12 students. Back-to-school shoppers plan to spend $21 more on average on electronics this year compared with 2020 and $19 more on clothes. Of those planning to purchase electronics, half (49 percent) plan to buy a laptop, followed by a calculator (32 percent) and a tablet (31 percent).
“Planning as much as possible over the sales tax-exempt holiday week will help keep expenses to a minimum and help everyone involved stay on task,” says Julie Wheeler, president and CEO of BBB Serving Western Virginia. “Before determining what students may need for the year, be prepared for a shift from one teaching format to another and set a budget,” says Wheeler.
BBB recommends the following tips when looking for school-related items, either in person or online:
Retailers are eager for shoppers to come back but with restrictions. Mask mandates, social distancing, hand sanitizer, and other precautions may still be in place for some locations, as well as rules for those who have not been vaccinated. When trying on the latest fall fashions, contact the retailer ahead of time for their requirements. Also, consider following CDC guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting items upon arriving home.
Make a list
You can either wait for the school supplies list to come out or start shopping without it. Even if you don’t have the exact list, you should know what to purchase regarding school clothes and basic supplies. Create a list and stick to it! Impulse buying can jack up your overall total in a hurry.
Shop your home
You may already have some of the items needed for this year hidden in your home. So why purchase the same thing twice?
Research big-ticket items
Check with your child’s school to find out their technology requirements and determine any changes necessary to the home’s high-speed internet. According to NRF, 63 percent of consumers expect at least some school and college classes to take place online this year, up from 55 percent when the original survey was conducted in July 2020.
Before purchasing that expensive laptop, tablet, or dorm refrigerator, be sure to do your research. Research the brands, warranty, customer reviews, and prices at various stores to ensure you’re getting the best deal. Also, check out the retailer on BBB.org.
Shop smart with Virginia Sales Tax Holiday Weekend
Take advantage of the tax-free weekend held August 6-8. You can save some money on everything on your list. Virginia’s back-to-school-tax-exempt items include clothing and shoes (less than $100 per item), school supplies (less than $20 per item), and instructional materials (less than $20 per item).
Look for the sales
Compare prices between different retail stores, use coupons, sign up for email alerts, and redeem any cash-back or rebate offers. Comparing prices will help you get the best deals and stay within budget. Ask stores if they price match.
Ask for student discounts & price matching
Many stores and software companies offer discounts to students with either a .edu email address or a student ID. Even if you don’t see a discount advertised at the store, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Support local stores you know and trust.
Consider buying in bulk
If classes will be in person, some teachers may ask parents to buy bulk items (paper towels, tissues, wipes, hand sanitizer) for the entire classroom to use throughout the year. Compare lists with other parents and see if costs can be shared.
Know the return policies and save your receipts
Kids can be fickle. They can love a new shirt yesterday but hate it today. Ask about return policies before making your purchase. Be sure to save your receipts just in case you need to return the item later.
Shop wisely, safely online
- Make sure the URL starts with “HTTPS” and includes a lock symbol.
- Be wary of social media or online “clickbait” ads.
- Do your research.
- Use a credit card for additional protection and to dispute a fraudulent charge.
- Don’t over-share personal information to access special deals.
- Don’t wire money to someone you’ve not met. Use PayPal if possible.
Protect your child from identity theft
Another thing to think about while getting your kids ready for going back to school is identity theft. Believe it or not, children are excellent targets because they have zero credit history and no questionable banking transactions in their history. A child can have their ID stolen through their social security number (SSN) or social insurance number (SSI). Parents may not find out about it until years later.
For more shopping advice, visit BBB.org or call 800-342-3455 or 800-553-5301. The Better Business Bureau provides a list of BBB Accredited Businesses in specific industries and Business Profiles on ones you’re considering.