Summer is drawing to a close, which can mean only one thing: It's time to schlep your kids to the nearest shopping center to stock up on school supplies.
This may be an exciting time for your kids (because they'll see their friends) and for you (because they'll be occupied all day), but there is a major drawback: School clothing, books and backpacks can get expensive, and you'll probably end up paying more than you bargained for to obtain school necessities.
But you may be in luck: Some state governments have decided to host a "tax holiday," meaning that school shoppers won't have to pay sales tax on their purchases during certain periods in August. If you play the system right, you can save a good chunk of change and still get every protractor and scientific calculator you need.
Then again, the tax holiday can be a little hard to figure out, so here are ways to lessen your levy:
1. Check if your state is participating
This summer, 16 states will provide some sort of shopping incentive this August: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. (Remember that five states have no statewide sales tax: New Hampshire, Alaska, Oregon, Montana and Delaware.) So you have about a 40 percent chance of paying little or no taxes on your purchases.
Tip within a tip: Have a student that's headed to college? Don't miss Apple's special promotion that's going on right now. If you buy a Macbook for your college-bound kid, Apple will throw in a free set of Beats headphones! Click here for details.
2. Find out when the tax holiday is happening
Think of this tax holiday as exactly that – a holiday, which lasts only a few days. To add to the confusion, the chosen days vary by state, so Virginia will forgive sales taxes on school supplies Aug. 4-6, while Texas will do the same Aug. 11-13.
3. Learn the rules for each state
As usual, the devil is in the details: In Ohio, instructional materials like books have no sales tax for purchases up to $20, so if you want to save and require $55 worth of materials, you'll probably have to take three different trips to the store. But some deals are pretty amazing: If you buy a computer in New Mexico sometime between Aug. 4-6, you won't have to pay the state's usual 5 percent sales tax, as long as the computer costs less than $1,000. So for a $950 desktop, this means saving a whopping $47.
Tip within a tip: Buying school supplies on Amazon is another way you can save. You won't even need a tax break if you click here to find money-saving coupons from the world's top online retailer.
4. Consult your state's IRS website
How do you know the exact rules? If you live in one of the states listed above, just Google your local IRS website and you should find information about it. For example, you can click here for Florida's tax holiday webpage.
5. The deal works best for in-person retail
Online shoppers may struggle to pinpoint this tax break because it's often hard to tell where your purchases are coming from. That's why you'll probably need to do your shopping in person in order to reap the benefits. Your local Target cashiers should know exactly how to calculate your savings because they live in the state and have been informed of the tax holiday. But just because you live in Maryland and order $99 worth of clothes on Amazon doesn't mean you will land the 6 percent tax break.