Parents and kids in Harford County got ready to head back to school with plenty of shopping over the weekend, as the state-sponsored week of tax-free shopping also encouraged residents to make their purchases by Saturday.
There's not much time left to prepare, either. Harford's 38,000 public school students head back to class Monday, Aug. 27. Teachers are due back this week, on Wednesday.
At Harford Mall in Bel Air Friday, two booths had been set up at empty kiosks promoting the tax-free week, and a number of shoppers cited the 6 percent saving as an incentive.
Darlene Davis, from Cecil County, was strolling through the mall Friday and said the tax-free week came in handy when buying clothes for her niece, Caitlin Phillips.
"It was an incentive for me, not for her," Davis said.
Getting items for school was a matter of money, she noted.
"It's here, you just have to pay for it," Davis said.
Caitlin, 14, of Fallston, said she needed new clothes.
"I need some new tops and jeans," she said, adding the shopping was not too stressful for her. "I think it's pretty easy."
Davis said it was hard to find time to shop, as her young relatives are going to sports practice. Caitlin said she is in field hockey, winter track and softball.
Like most school-age kids, Caitlin said she has mixed feelings about going back to school.
"I guess I want to go. I want to go back for the friends and the fun," she said.
At Target in Bel Air, meanwhile, the school supplies aisles were staying busy, as parents packed shopping carts with notebooks, pens and other basics, advising employees when supplies like folders started to run low.
Most shoppers did not seem especially stressed by their trips.
"We have a lot of stuff from last year. We just kind of need notebooks and stuff like that," Donna Haas, of Bel Air, said. She was shopping for two children, in middle and high school.
"I don't make a huge deal about it," Haas said of the shopping. "As they get older, I don't think you have to buy as much."
Haas said school supplies have gotten "probably more expensive," but the number she has to buy has stayed about the same.
Her advice to parents is to not focus too much on getting the exact items on the list sent from school.
"People are always stressed out about getting the right thing," she said. "Teachers really don't care."
Karen Crone, of Abingdon, was shopping for her special education students at Harford Technical High School.
Crone said she typically buys supplies for the classroom, since most of her students do not bring them.
"A lot of kids just don't bring anything, so I usually have something that they can use, and [I] usually don't get it back," Crone said.
Crone said she spends a couple hours on shopping each year and tries to stay under $100.
"It's gotten more expensive and my pay has gone down," she said, adding she planned to hit the Abingdon Target later in the day as well.
"I have actually been on vacation, so I am behind," Crone said with a laugh.
Joslyn Hatcher, 8, was shopping with her father, Ron Hatcher, of Fallston, and said she was eager to pick out her supplies.
"I like getting new backpacks and new designs," Joslyn said eagerly, adding that she was a bit uncertain about going back to school.
"I get nervous and excited about the same, fifty-fifty," she said.
Ron Hatcher said one thing he dislikes is having two supply lists with different items on them. He said the store also ran out of some items.
His advice for back-to-school shoppers?
"Get it done early and always get extra."
It was much the same Saturday afternoon in downtown Havre de Grace, where Jenna Carter was walking down Washington Street with a bag full of books from Washington Street Books.
Visiting from Elkton, Carter said she was picking up a few things before classes start back up at Harford Community College on Sept. 4.
"It's easier to read all the material for classes when you have a couple of books to read just for fun," Carter, 19, said. Among her pile of new reads were the new Christopher Moore novel "Sacre Bleu" and a collection of Shakespeare comedies.
Starting her second year at HCC as an English major, Carter said she doesn't have to buy many school supplies other than pens, notebooks and, of course, textbooks.
"All the money my mom used to spend on fun things for school, like colorful folders or magic markers, now goes to textbooks," she joked. "And now I pay for most of them anyway."
In the parking lot of the Aberdeen Target, Richard Harris and his 8-year-old daughter, Noelle, were walking back to the car after a successful shopping trip Saturday.
"I love kittens," Noelle said, holding up a binder showcasing her favorite animal.
Harris, who lives in Aberdeen, commented that most of the school supplies he bought for his daughter — pencils, erasers and stickers — have cats on them.
The father didn't know it was tax-free week in Maryland until he entered the store and saw all the advertisements.
"I was going to wait to get some clothes for her, but I decided to do it today since you don't have to pay the 6 percent sales tax on clothes and shoes," Harris said. "It definitely helps when you have kids that grow like weeds."