I’ve been noticing quite a lot of advertising for back-to-school sales lately. What advice do you have any tips for finding the best back-to-school deals?  —  Ken, Chicago, IL

The start of a new school year is an exciting (and sometimes terrifying) time for kids, but for parents it means shopping, organizing and all the stress you can shake a stick at.  This year, according to the National Retail federation’s 2012 Back-To-School spending survey, the average person with children in grades K through 12 will spend $688.62 getting them ready for school; this figure is up almost exactly $85 from last year’s average of $603.63. The same survey estimates the total spending for Back-to-school shopping is expected to reach an amazing $30.3 billion. The reason that this number is so large is that the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau showed there were 77 million children and adults enrolled in school–from nursery school all the way up through college–that’s nearly 25% of the country’s entire population.

One great website that I’ve brought up before is offers.com. This is an outstanding site featuring coupons and deals from top retailers like children’s retailer Oshkosh B’gosh, electronics retailer Best Buy and dozens of others.  The website’s Back-to-School Savings Center is easily navigable and makes shopping for school supplies and clothing a relatively painless process.  The coupons, coupon codes and promotions on the website are verified by the editorial team to ensure quality. This site is a huge win for parents with limited time.

Will there be sales tax holiday for school supplies like we’ve seen in the past?

This year, 17 states offer sales-tax-free shopping days.  In most of these states, the sales tax holiday run for anywhere between 3 to 7 days.  Fourteen of these states have already concluded their back-to-school tax holidays, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the deals are over for you. Maryland is in the midst of a 6% tax holiday as we speak with a $100 cap per item on clothing and Connecticut and Texas will begin their versions of the tax holiday shortly. So take advantage of not have to pay your sales tax during if you can. For residents living in states bordering those I listed a moment ago, back-to-school deals will only require packing your kids in the family car and heading out for a shopping road trip. The sales tax exemption can extends beyond traditional school supplies to items such as computers, calculators, clothing, shoes and backpacks.  Your state’s Department of Revenue will have specific details relevant to you including whether a tax holiday is offered, what dates the offer is available, and what items qualify.  Keep in mind that the tax holiday applies to the state sales tax; city and/or county sales taxes might still apply.  Also, pay attention to the important details and limitations which vary by state.  For example, in Texas the sales tax exemption doesn’t apply to clothing purchases that exceed $100.  If your state is not offering a sales tax holiday and you don’t live near one of these states you may still have yet another option for tax-free deals at brick and mortar stores, consider crossing the border to of the five states that have no sales tax all year around-Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire or Oregon.  These states will be more than happy to help you keep some money in your wallet while putting a bit into theirs.

What’s the best way to stay on budget?

Whether you’re shopping for school supplies, groceries or other staples, don’t leave your house without making a list!  And if you don’t absolutely need to bring the kids leave them with a sitter so you won’t be tempted to get extras when or if they have a tantrum. Many schools will provide a list of necessary school supplies, but you might have you ask.  If your school does not, check the Back-to-School 2012 Checklists on offers.com. Do not feel obligated though to buy everything on the list, use it as a starting point for getting what you’ll need. Ready-made lists for grade school, high school and college are categorized into school supplies, backpacks and accessories, clothing and shoes.  

For big ticket items, such as calculators and computers for your older kids, sites like newegg.com are can save you a bundle and their tech savy customers often leave great reviews. The daily deals section can save you even more if you happen to get lucky. But before you make these purchases, head over to reviews.cnet.com; this is the tech media behemoth CNET’s review section where you’ll find reviews for bona fide tech experts who have put the products through their paces and give clear ranking and product details.


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