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Saving during tax-free weekend still requires smart consumer strategies

Paul Robinson

North Carolina’s 10th annual tax-free shopping weekend is almost here. 

Beginning just after midnight tonight and running through Sunday, the weekend historically draws big crowds.  But as WHQR’s Rachel Lewis Hilburn reports, there are a handful of strategies that can help consumers navigate the crowds – and the complexities. 

The most important thing to remember about tax-free weekend: there’s no reason to get caught up in Black Friday syndrome.   So says Brian Reitter, Vice President of the North Carolina Consumers Council. 

“Tax-free weekend is not the end-all, be-all of back-to-school shopping.  People get excited about it.  A lot of people will rush out.  They’ll get overwhelmed with the crowds, overwhelmed with thinking they have to get everything they need for back-to-school on tax-free weekend.  And they’ll end up buying things that they weren’t originally planning to buy and spending money that they don’t have or didn’t plan to spend.” 

Online sales both before and after the weekend will sometimes offer 10-15% off -- which can trump the tax-free savings, says Reitter.  

To combat the temptation to spend on unnecessary purchases, make a plan before heading out the door. 

Reitter also says it’s easier than many people think to get caught at the cash register – suddenly surprised that some items don’t qualify as tax-free.  For example, clothing and school supplies under $100 per item are tax-free, as well as computers with a price tag of $3500 or less.  But e-readers are not computers, so they’re taxable. 

“As silly as it might sound, that’s honestly what I would recommend – just printing out the list or writing it down and taking it with you.”

Other consumer strategies:

  • Shop early Friday or late on Sunday.
  • Combine tax-free deals with coupons.
  • Use a smart phone to check for the lowest price. 
  • Ask retailers to match a lower price.

For a complete list of tax-free items, click here.

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 4 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.