Tax-free holidays are here…what’s your back-to-school shopping strategy?

Theresa had some things to take care of before her family goes on vacation. Keith Still will be filling in for her this week.

Georgia’s back-to-school sales tax holiday is upon us. For the next four days, you can save big by shopping tax-free for clothes, school supplies and computers — if you can handle the madness that will be the crowds at Target, Wal-Mart and the mall.

Some moms LOVE the thrill of finding a good deal, or shopping ‘til they drop. I have nightmares about shopping even in an empty store, so I can’t imagine intentionally diving into a sea of shoppers on a “big bargain” day.  With everyone nervous about the economy, however, the tax-free sirens’ call is difficult to resist.

This year, I am trying to approach back-to-school in a way that will maximize my family’s savings and minimize my need for a shopping-induced straightjacket. (I’m not sure straightjackets qualify for the tax-free weekend anyway. Click here to see what does qualify.)

Step #1 – What I really dislike about tax-free school shopping is scrambling with everyone else in the county for that last 50-cent glue stick. (It has to be the Elmer’s that starts out white and dries clear; the school doesn’t want the purple sticks, of which there are always plenty!) Because supplies for three young students are still the cheapest part of back-to-school shopping, I will NOT be wrestling for Crayola markers or red poly folders this weekend. Instead, I shopped early for supplies that were already on sale, paid the tax and still saved nearly $20. Also, if I don’t take the kids with me, I don’t come home with items we don’t need — and I leave with my sanity intact.

Step #2 – I figure it will be worth the stress to save on school clothes and shoes. Given the growth spurts my children have gone through, I will definitely need to take them shopping with me. The younger girls will wear whatever I select, as long as it fits. My oldest daughter, however, realizes her peers are watching what everyone wears. Right or wrong, that seems to be the way middle-schoolers roll.  Fortunately, she understands that the sun can’t rise and fall on the Aeropostale. I will let her buy a couple of “cool” items, but I’m also on the look-out for shops with stylish clothes at budget-friendly prices to fill out her wardrobe.

Step #3 – Electronics. This is where you can get the biggest savings. The problem is, I’m not sure at this point – i.e. before my daughter has stepped into her first middle-school class – how necessary a new computer or other electronic device might be. We have a home computer to which everyone has access. I use it throughout the day. My husband will often bring work home and use it in the evening. If our daughter’s class workload is going to be so heavy that she spends considerable time writing or researching on the computer, it might be wise to buy second, very basic model. Now is not a good time to make a purchase that we don’t need, but we won’t know if we will need it until after the sales tax holiday.  Sometimes, I wish the tax-free days could be split into two separate two-day events, instead of one four-day holiday. You could shop for your basics before school started, and then round out your shopping a few weeks later.

How do you feel about the back-to-school sales tax holiday?  Do you wait for the tax-free holiday each year or do you prefer to shop earlier? Would you consider driving to neighboring states with later tax-free holidays to round out your shopping?

What’s your back-to-school shopping strategy? Do you take the children with you, or leave them at home? If you have older kids, are you limiting their back-to-school budgets this year? Where do you go to get the most bang for your back-to-school buck (for clothes, electronics, or supplies)? Are you letting the kids follow the trends or making them stick to basics as you shop for clothes, electronics this year?


39 comments Add your comment


July 30th, 2009
7:43 am

We have been purchasing dorm supplies all summer. Waiting until tax free holiday would have killed me. And I don’t think it would be worth it, to fight the rude, massive crowds, to save $10.00…….

But there are those who live for the thrill of shopping. I personally HATE to shop, and cannot stand the Malls. I will stay far away from the Mall of Georgia this weekend. IF I need anything, I’ll run over to Cumming early Saturday a.m., beat the traffic, and enjoy the scenery as I drive over Buford Dam in the glistening morning.


July 30th, 2009
7:52 am

Heading to the Locust Grove Tanger Outlets off of 75 South for kid’s clothes today! Carter’s and OshKosh are having HUGE sales and I have an extra 25% off coupon for both stores. That combined with tax free has equaled amazing savings for me in the past. I still have it easy -a baby and a 3 year old -so I can go and pick out a bunch of stuff and not have any griping or whining about what I’ve chosen! Maybe I’ll save enough to squeeze in some new shoes for myself!

***I am not affiliated with that outlet mall in any way, but FYI- if you need great kid’s clothes from OshKosh, Carters, Old Navy, Baby/Kid GAP, The Children’s Place or Salsburg Children -they have all of those as well as Ralph Lauren. I hit a number of outlet malls on occasion, and they hands down have always had the best selection of children’s clothing, and the prices are great! Only takes me about 30 min to get down there from downtown.


July 30th, 2009
8:01 am

JJ: I’m with you — I’d rather pay the extra $10 or $30 than have put up with a summer of “WHEN are we going to start getting dorm stuff?!?!?” Plus, the pickings are getting a little slim for the XL twin bed stuff at this point — and it’s not as though we get discounts for all the other household-type stuff, such as towels,etc. Basically, we’re done. She checks in on August 10th, and she is NOT a last-minute shopper — she likes to compare prices, etc., and she’s done an excellent job this summer.

My daughter and I MIGHT head up to the North Georgia outlets Sunday afternoon, if she gets back from staying with a friend this weekend — but if not, no biggie. We’re headed up to NYC on Monday, and I suspect the extra sales tax we might be paying up there will be worth the sheer enjoyment she’ll get out of bopping in and out of a zillion NYC shops!


July 30th, 2009
8:14 am

DB Where is your child going? Move in day for my daughter is August 16, and classes start the 18th…..

My daughter’s been itching to buy dorm stuff since high school graduation. She has done an excellent job, and has purchased just about everything with her own babysitting money. She knows I don’t like to shop, so I just tag along on the Target runs. The comforter set she has been eyeing all summer is on sale this weekend, and tax free (I think), so she is going to go get it Saturday. I may spring for a mini fridge for her. I know one is on sale at Target too…..gotta love Target for Dorm supplies.


July 30th, 2009
8:52 am

I don’t see how tax-free can save that much money in clothes. What is that, like 7% at most? If you wait a couple of weeks until a time when stores aren’t expecting the big crowds that tax-free brings, then you can probably find a lot of items marked down by 25% or more. Tax-free probably helps more on school supplies that don’t go on sale, but really, is it worth the crowds to save the 7% tax on the .50 glue stick? Is Georgia one of the handful of states that required sales tax for shipped purchases? If not, shop around online for a computer to find the best deal and not pay sales tax (but stick with companies you know, buying direct from the manufacturer, like Dell, or choosing a store like Staples or Best Buy).

JJ, on the minifridge, another good option is renting if that’s available. If you think she’ll use it 4 years, definitely buy it. But if there’s a strong possibility that she’ll be moving into an apartment with a big fridge (available sometimes even on-campus for upperclassmen), then renting can be a great option. It will cost a little less, and they usually deliver it to the room, saving you the hassle of finding room in the car, lugging it in, etc.


July 30th, 2009
9:09 am

We actually bought most of our school supplies over the last couple of weeks. My little guy is only in the 1st grade, so shopping was pretty easy. We usually take him shopping for clothes quarterly because he is growing so fast! He definitely has his own style and knows what kinds of clothes he likes!

We actually bought a GREAT laptop for the oldest (step-son) at graduation! They were on sale so we jumped on it! It will be interesting to see if it is any cheaper during the tax free period!

I am like a few of the others, I hate shopping. My husband loves it though! He could shop ALL day! He is definitely the bargain shopper too! He will compare prices and options at SEVERAL places before deciding on a final purchase. It drives me crazy!

Sorry, JJ...

July 30th, 2009
9:26 am

…that comforter set she has her eye on is not tax exempt – but, as others have said, that 6% or 7% is really not a lot of savings. Go to the article on the AJC home page on the sales tax event and then click on the items eligible to go to the state’s website that shows what is NOT eligible.

And, does anyone know whether it is just the STATE portion of the sales tax that is exempt, or the whole amount in counties where SPLOSTs and MARTA taxes are in addition to the state tax? So your savings may only be 3 or 4% (I don’t even know what the state sales tax is these days since I have paid either SPLOST or MARTA taxes – or both – for over 30 years now!)


July 30th, 2009
9:29 am

Good idea HB, thanks….I’ll check into renting..however, there’s a little 1.7 cf fridge at Target for $59.00.

$59 to buy...

July 30th, 2009
9:43 am

…a fridge is a great deal – it will probably cost more than that to rent!


July 30th, 2009
10:27 am

I love reading everyone’s talk about their kids going off to college…I had SO much fun buying things for my dorm room (FYI: I’m not sure if they still sell them, but I bought Martha Stewart towels from K-Mart to bring to college (that was in 2001) and they were the best towels I’ve ever had; I just got rid of them last year when I received new towels as a gift). :)

Are any of you doing any dorm shopping at Bed, Bath & Beyond? If so, you may not know this, but the coupons that they send out in the mail can be used even if expired. I have a rather large collection of them. Just a tip…hope it helps!


July 30th, 2009
10:50 am

The article says that the tax exemption is for state (4%) and local (2-4% depending on where you shop).


July 30th, 2009
10:57 am

My boy is in elementary school. The school has registration next week. At the registration, they sell packages that have been put together by the teacher with everything they will need. They mark it up I am sure, but I will gladly pay for the convenience.


July 30th, 2009
11:24 am

I don’t wait until the tax free holiday to purchase items. Saving the $7 – $10 is not worth the headache of shopping with everyone else.

For the 9 y.o. – I went to Target and JCPenny for a few items. Just a few… In a few weeks or so (around Oct), everything will be on sale as the stores have to make room for Christmas items. I will buy school supplies next week some time. No need to rush. Everyone will have glue, etc. We still have paper , pencils and and composition books from last year. Someone had a sale and I racked up.

For the 16 y.o., – I will give her money and she can spend it how she likes. However, once it is gone, that is it. As with school supplies for her, she will let me know what she needs after school begins.

Remember this is GA and the kids can wear shorts until at least October. I just try to “spruce up” what we currently have and wait until winter.


July 30th, 2009
11:26 am

No shopping for me…I am out west.

DB…great post yesterday. To me, the joy of seeing my 2 children grow up to be wonderful adults is worth the sleepless nights and worn out carpet.

JJ…I am amazed…we do have something in common LOL. I HATE the mall and shopping.
I have my few select stores I hit and avoid the malls like the plague. You may want to check out Craigslist for a dorm fridge. We own two now ( also 2 extra microwaves) and will hang on to them until everyone is finished with college…when exactly will that be LOL?


July 30th, 2009
11:31 am

Hold on to the dorm fridge. My mom held on to my sisters for a while. Then, she had surgery and decided to put the fridge in her bedroom. It worked! We were able to put sandwiches, yogart, drinks, etc. in the fridge and she didn’t have to walk up and down the stairs as no one would be there with her. After she recovered, the fridge stayed and she would stash her favorite items in it so she didn’t have to go far.


July 30th, 2009
11:34 am

JJ, for that size fridge, you probably are better off buying. My roomate owned a bigger one, maybe a little over 3cf, and then my senior year after she graduated, I rented one for my single room that was that size and had a separate little freezer (with its own door, not just a flap) and a little microwave on top. As I recall, renting the fancy one cost about the same as buying a little tiny one, and I knew I was in my last year in the dorm and wouldn’t have any use for a minifridge after that. I don’t think a bigger fridge would have mattered freshman year when we had huge meal plans for campus food and just wanted to keep sodas and maybe an occasional leftover slice of pizza in the room. We had the option of smaller meal plans after freshman year, though, and really liked having extra space for a few fresh veggies for salad, some deli cuts, and a carton or two of milk/juice.


July 30th, 2009
12:07 pm

@lwa….if more parents would do what you and I have done: give a set amount of money for clothes for BTS to our teens, they might have a clue about budgets.

My daughter is 17 and I give her $100 ( for clothes) and also buy her a new pair of shoes. That is not much at ALL. She has worked all summer and besides putting money in the bank, she buys her own things and knows the value of a dollar. I will buy any school supplies she needs.

She is learning quickly who spends Mama’s money and does not have a clue. She has her own checking, savings and debit card and is pretty good with her money. I have projects around the house, all the time and she can earn $10-$20 by doing them. Even 10 year olds can wipe down all the baseboards and earn $10 or vaccuum 3 rooms and earn $5. Oh yeah, that’s what the housekeeper does while the kids watch TV or go to day camp….LOL…

I saw my son ( who is also responsible) enter college with peers who HAD NO CLUE and just swiped their parent’s card. Some parents are creating their own problems and do not realize it.


July 30th, 2009
12:19 pm

Bought everything within the last two weeks…..Planned to avoid the shopping thing all together…..


Came home yesterday to find the house had been broken into….they took my good tv!!!!!! Single Mom that had several months of no child support… took me 3 years to save for the TV (maybe $700)…..and 4 to save for the furniture……and some punk kids (we think) come in and take it!

So I am debating getting one since the blank wall with wires hanging is not what I want in my life….one thing to choose to ignore the tv another to have someone else decide I can no longer have it.

Anyway if y’all have ideas on how to help the children into feeling safe to fall asleep at night let me know. They are not concerned with going to school etc….just about coming home and things being gone.

Yeah, I know I am hijacking off topic here, but I plead understanding and compassion. :)




July 30th, 2009
12:48 pm

OH FCM – I’m so sorry. What a horrible feeling, and I understand your kids’ feelings too.

How old are your kids? Maybe let them in your bed for a couple of nights???? Or “family Camp Out” on the den/living room, somewhere where they are close to you.

I am so sorry some punk a$$ kids came and got your stuff. Is it worth reporting on your insurance?


July 30th, 2009
1:06 pm

FCM,sorry to hear about your breakin..I’m with JJ on how to help the kids feel better…Just hug them and let them know that your there for them..Maybe they’ll catch whoever did this to you..I have 2 nephews in jail right now for stealing flat screens from people, so I really hope that they catch them..

dixie pixie

July 30th, 2009
1:23 pm

Dorm fridge tip*** Check with Salvation Army, Goodwill, etc. in the area where your kid is going to school. Lots of them get donated b/c the students can’t take it with them. I went to GT and bought one for $20. Lasted all 5 years and then I gave it to an entering freshman when I graduated.

YARD SALES–great clothes & school supplies. Just bought a box of 200 pencils for my sister’s classroom for 10 cents!

Share with a friend–If glue is BOGOF, then give her one of the glues in exchange for scissors or a ruler.

Also check the bulletin board at the college campus for peple who are selling sheets, fridges, etc. b/c you know they will fit!


July 30th, 2009
1:28 pm

FCM…that really stinks!! I’m going to guess someone either saw you bring it home, or saw the box out for the trashman. I’d be looking close by. Maybe you could have the local PD patrol a little more often and show the kids they are watching for intruders. Did anyone see anything?

pd…I love the idea of the teacher have pre-packaged supplies of what they want! I would SO buy that instead of going out!!

JJ…I’d just buy the small dorm fridge! You will almost always be able to use it. If not, you can have your daugther advertise it for sale during her last semester!


July 30th, 2009
1:32 pm

For all you college moms :

This may be a little late to be useful, but SAVE those Bed, Bath and Beyond coupons!! They don’t expire even though they have expiration dates printed on them and they will let you use one per item even though they say limit one. Sometimes they will only let you use 5 (for 5 items), but I’ve gone before and purchased a dozen items with a dozen coupons. They’re perfect for stocking up on all the sheets and dishes and such a new college freshman needs!


July 30th, 2009
1:49 pm

I never really find that the school supplies are a good deal on the tax-free days but the electronics are a good buy. Am purchasing that TI graphing calculator as it saves some $$. Also, I have found that clothes at certain stores are usually a good deal, like Target, WalMart and Kohls. My oldest is already moved in (off campus housing this year) and all we really had to buy was a bed (July 4 sales). Took some old furniture from us that we have been saving for this eventuality. My younger one is starting high school so supplies are not that big of a deal. I do miss the smell of new caryons though! I am making one clothes run tonight, underwear, socks and belts. I am only going to buy if it is a really good deal.


July 30th, 2009
3:01 pm

FCM…that really stinks!! I’m going to guess someone either saw you bring it home, or saw the box out for the trashman…..Been there with the TV for more than a year and the box was tossed nowhere near my home… fact it was tossed before I moved in….One of the first things the Police asked me was that.

Thank you to the suggestions and well wishes though!


July 30th, 2009
3:13 pm

Do we have two FCM’s on board today?


July 30th, 2009
4:32 pm

JJ: She’s brushing up on her Bulldog chants. :-)

She got her comforter from Target, too — on sale a couple of days ago. She was excited! We saw some jersey sheets at BB&B, and with the coupon, they would have been about $16, but then we went to Kohls and saw two sets for $13.00 each, including pillowcases, which the BB&B set didn’t have. TJMaxx had some wonderful towels on clearance — again, cheaper than BB&B. Drapes for $6 at Ikea. A great 3-drawer small TV stand/chest for $39 at Ikea. Microwave at Wal-Mart for $38 last June. And a great deal on a small TV at Best Buy, even better than at Wal-Mart or Costco.

JJ, you might want to consider the slightly larger fridges, other than the 1.7 cf ones. The small ones looks so compact, but you can hardly get anything in them. My son and his roommate liked to keep fruit, drinks and their water bottles in theirs, and he kept a couple of Lean Cuisines in the freezer for cheap late-night dinners. And even between them, he commented that there was “never any room in it.” because the drinks took up so much space.


July 30th, 2009
4:40 pm

I also came across a site that has listed similar tax-free holidays for all available states. (They also have an interesting Amazon discount table). Thought other people might find it useful.

It’s at

Have fun with the new school year. :)


July 30th, 2009
4:49 pm

no JJ just one ….I was quoting Michelle’s guess….which would be good. But is incorrect. I bought the TV in 2007 and moved from that house in 2008…leaving the box in the trash there. So neither a box at the curb, nor a recent move clued the theives in.


July 30th, 2009
5:40 pm

I will answer the “how do you feel about it?” question. I don’t believe the small savings to individual families makes up for the large loss in revenue. I wish they would discontinue it. I’ll hide and dodge the tomatoes now.


July 30th, 2009
5:48 pm

So sorry about the break-in, FCM — that’s terrible!

Another tip on the fridge along the lines of what DB said about compactness — the small ones can take up more usable space than the taller ones, as odd as that sounds. The best place to put them is on a counter/shelf, under a high bed where drawers, etc can be stored, or simply on the floor in the way. Our taller one actually became extra storage space as we kept things like bowls/plates/cups and cereal/packaged snack foods on top of it. The fridge was our whole kitchen! We probably would have not used that space like that if the fridge were on the floor but only a foot or so high.


July 30th, 2009
5:53 pm

We bought my son the larger 4.52 cf fridge for his dorm room. His roommate is not from GA, so there is enough space for both of them. Easier and it’s done. Good luck everyone. Hope it’s a smooth transition for all.

Sorry, FCM. It’s an awful feeling when your personal space has been violated. Searching for that silver lining, be thankful no one was home. I know the feeling of security is being tested, but no one was hurt.


July 30th, 2009
6:35 pm

FCM…I am so sorry for you. It stinks when you are robbed and this is what I was trying to say when the topic ( last week) was putting information out on Facebook, Twitter or even this blog about being on vacation. I know you were home but the reality of what can happen and happen quickly sets in when it happens to you. Some folks are Pollyannas…not me.

54 degrees here this morning and I was the only one with a jacket on…
folks here are actually wearing shorts and t shirts….like I have said before…there are many different people all around and stepping outside of GA ( or the perimeter LOL) is always interesting.


July 30th, 2009
7:12 pm

FCM, I am sorry to hear about your troubles.

Keith, do you have an update on Teresa’s brother’s condition?


August 1st, 2009
12:18 am

This won’t be very useful for this time of year, but for those who have “upcoming” seniors in HS going to college Fall 2010, I’ve heard of colleges who have to go in and clear out the seniors’ dorm rooms when they depart/graduate in the spring. They leave all sorts of stuff because it’s not worth it to them to drag the items home, or they are moving back home or into an apartment where they will have a large fridge or whatever. I’ve heard the school cleans out the dorm rooms and then holds sales. Not sure what they do with the money – perhaps repaint the dorm rooms or something? But, it may be worth checking out to see if the college your kid will be going to has something like that going on in the spring.


August 1st, 2009
12:47 am

Kat, I can only imagine the shape that some of this stuff must be in (or degree of cleanliness!) that someone couldn’t be bothered to sell or take with them! But yeah, most college towns have some sort of re-sale businesses.


August 1st, 2009
9:11 am

Get the bigger dorm room fridge – more room for Beer!!!!


August 1st, 2009
10:05 am

Be sure to take a firearm with you when going to an Atlanta-area mall this weekend, so you can probably respond to any of Atlanta’s infamous THUGZ and blow them to Hell when they “axe” you for all your valuables.

Since you asked, that is MY shopping strategy.

Everyone have a great & safe weekend.


May 23rd, 2010
9:29 pm

Great article. Very interesting and informative. This is very useful for moms planning to do the back to school shopping for their kids. I’ll be back soon to check out new posts of yours.