Back-to-school shopping isn’t cheap, especially if you have several children who need pencils, binders, backpacks and glue sticks, not to mention new clothes and shoes, plus whatever else before heading back to the classroom next month.
The National Retail Federation estimated nearly $83 billion will be spent nationwide by parents and students on back-to-school shopping from K-12 schools and college. The average family with children in kindergarten through high school is expected to spend nearly $685. Most of that will be on clothing (almost $237) and shoes (nearly $138), according to the NRF survey.
One way to save a little bit of cash is to shop Maryland’s Tax Free Week, which begins today, Aug. 12, and runs through Saturday, Aug. 18. All purchases of qualifying apparel or footwear items of $100 or less will be exempt from the state’s 6 percent sales tax during this period, regardless of how many items you buy.
Shirts, jeans, slacks, sweaters, dresses, coats, jackets, underwear and shoes all qualify so long as they cost $100 or less each. Have a coupon? Good news. If it knocks the price of an item below $100, that item also qualifies as tax-free.
Unfortunately, school supplies like pencils, notebooks and glue sticks don’t qualify; neither do watches, jewelry or other accessory items. However, the state is again offering tax-free breaks on backpacks and book bags up to the first $40 for just the second time. A complete list of exempt and nonexempt items can be found on the Maryland comptroller's website at comptroller.marylandtaxes.com.
Six percent may not seem like a lot, but it’ll add up quick. Especially if you have several children to buy new clothes for as they get ready to go back to school next month. The tax-free incentive was devised to encourage people, in part, to shop at local brick-and-mortar retailers — although many websites that now charge sales tax may also offer a tax exemption for Maryland residents during tax-free week. But the main goal is to keep the money circulating in Maryland’s economy.
While it may sometimes be more convenient — and, in some cases, unavoidable — to shop for certain things online, we would encourage you to support small locally owned businesses and even larger chain retailers in your own community during the tax-free period. Spending your money locally, even in those chain stores, means that a large percentage is reinvested in your own community. American Express estimates that more than 40 percent of purchases made at large retailers like Walmart, Target or Kohl’s goes into the local economy.
The tax-free incentive seems to work. According to Alan Brody, a spokesman for the Comptroller’s Office, Maryland loses approximately $7 million in revenue each year during the tax-free week, but that is offset by the benefit to businesses, which see additional foot traffic during the promotion.
And as long as you’re saving money, college students should consider trying to win some too. The Comptroller’s Office, as part of Tax-Free Week, is having a scholarship competition for up to $2,500. All students have to do is take a Maryland-themed photo or video while shopping during the tax-free period, then post it on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #shopMDtaxfree. And let’s be honest — they were going to post a picture or 200 on social media anyway, might as well try to earn a few bucks for college.
Everyone likes to save money, so even if you don’t have kids and don’t need to do any back-to-school shopping, take advantage of and treat yourself to a new shirt or new pair of shoes tax free and support Maryland’s retailers.