5 things you need to know about Florida's back-to-school sales tax holiday

Holiday begins Aug. 3

ORLANDO, Fla. – Many Orlando-area students return to school within the next few weeks, which means parents across the state will participate in Florida’s annual back-to-school tax-free holiday, which begins Friday.

During the shopping event, state law directs that no sales or local tax be collected on the purchases of certain items, which can help lead to a lot of savings ahead of the school year.

Josh Elledge, from SavingsAngel.com, joined News 6 at Nine Thursday to break down the best ways shoppers can maximize their savings. Basically, there’s a lot you need to know before you hit the stores.

Here’s a list of five things he said shoppers need to know before the holiday begins:

1. Look everywhere

Elledge recommends that consumers use the time as an opportunity to do some competitive shopping.

He suggested shoppers look online, at office stores and at major retailers, since they’ll likely need to visit multiple stores to fulfill their child’s school wish list -- unless a store puts literally everything they could possibly ever need on sale, which probably won’t be the case.

He also recommends looking in places you wouldn’t normally think of, like drug stores.
Elledge referred to CVS and Walgreens as “loss leaders.”

[MORE: Florida's back-to-school tax-free holiday begins FridayWhat you need to know before Orlando-area students head back to school]

“Loss leaders really are what you’re looking for,” Elledge said. “These things that you can just go in, cherry pick, just take the best deals, and then go to the next retailer who’s giving away stuff just to get you in the door.”

Places online where you normally pay sales tax are also exempt, which means Amazon should be another option for those looking to do some easy shopping.

2. Know the deals ahead of time

Browse through promotions for stores you visit and stores you don’t even before it’s time to do the actual shopping. You never know what other deals they may be running to match the promotion, and a stop at a store that’s taking advantage of the event could help you cross a few items of your student’s list at little cost.

If you start looking early enough, you can take the time to compare deals and hit the best spots in the little time you have to shop tax-free.

3. It’s not just classroom supplies

Elledge encouraged shoppers to remember that some shoes and clothing are also exempt. 

Many articles of clothing that you wouldn’t expect, such as youth bicycle helmets, lab coats, martial arts attire and leotards, are on the list of exempt items during the back-to-school shopping event.

A full list of exempt and taxable items from the Florida Department of Revenue is available for download. Keeping it handy while doing your shopping will save you time and headaches –- and maybe some embarrassment at the register, too.

4. Changes this year

Computer supplies and accessories are not included this year, according to Elledge. 

In fact, Elledge said no electronic devices are exempt.

“Last year, you could spend up to $750 per item tax free. Now, at 6.5 percent, we’re talking some legitimate savings for consumers –- not included this year,” he said. "It’s unfortunate because more and more as parents, we’re seeing more and more digital items on that list."

They also reduced the limit per item for clothing from $100 last year to $60, Elledge said.

“If there are any specialty clothing items that you wanted to get and they exceed $60 … you’re going to pay tax on that,” Elledge said. “So shop smart. Make sure you’re getting everything under $60.”

The holiday only lasts Friday through Sunday, which means consumers have a much shorter time to shop than the 10-day span they’ve seen in previous years, according to Elledge.

5. Sites can save you money 

Swagbucks is a free browser extension that you can install, Elledge said in his on-set interview Thursday.

“Depending on the retailer that you shop at, like if you shop at like J.C Penney … you could save an additional like 8 percent on top of that,” Elledge said. “So it’s savings on top of savings on top of savings. That kind of stuff … like, that’s what really gets me excited.” 

Ebates and other websites that offer cash back rebates can also help to increase savings by getting money back for any that you spend.

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Elledge also recommends you browse any coupons you could potentially stack with the promotion that’s already underway as a way to save even more money.

Those tips should not only help you survive the dreaded back-to-school shopping, but should also help maximize your savings. 

Be sure to take a closer look at the rules of the tax-free holiday and browse Elledge’s website for more money-saving tips.

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