The dog days of summer have been around the Central Texas area for several weeks now, and that means the new school year is less than a month away for many students here in Texas.

Back-to-school commercials are in full swing, newspapers are overflowing with inserts for latest styles and parents are gearing up to shop for the new school year.

In addition, this weekend is the annual tax free holiday in Texas. From today through Sunday, the law exempts most clothing, footwear, school supplies and backpacks priced less than $100 from sales tax, which could save shoppers about $8 on every $100 they spend.

This includes items sold online, or by telephone or mail. Shoppers can even use layaway plans to take advantage of the sales tax holiday. (For a complete list of exempt items, go to comptroller.texas.gov)

According to the National Retail Federation, consumers will be purchasing school supplies such as notebooks, folders, pencils, backpacks and lunchboxes. Last year, total spending for K-12 and college was nearly $68 billion.

Parents are expected to spend about the same as last year, but are planning to be a bit savvier and use more coupons, the NRF said.

To make the most out of your back-to-school shopping, Better Business Bureau recommends families:

  • Sign up for email alerts at your favorite stores. Monitoring pricing early on is key to finding good deals on quality products. Many sites will have an informed community of savvy shoppers on its blog or in forums sharing, exclusive coupons, rebates and insider information on where and when to find the best prices and products. These alerts will assure you don’t miss out on the hottest items and/or limited opportunities.
  • Make a shopping list. Even if you don’t have a school supply list yet, you can still purchase other items early, like school clothing and in-class school essentials like pens, notebooks and backpacks. Make a list for each child, and go back through old supplies you may still have left over from last year.
  • Create a budget. Do a quick price search online for the items on your list and add them all up. Be sure to clip coupons, and make note of discount codes and any cash-back or rebate programs. If your goal is to reduce spending, now is the time to decide how much you want to cut. Consumers may want to consider spending a bit more on high quality products that will last longer and save money in the long run.
  • Take advantage of discounts. Many stores offer student and teacher discounts on hot items like laptops and uniforms. Retailers will also try to make room for fall fashion and the newest models, so there are savings to be had if you do a little research.
  • Check the refund and exchange policies. Keep your receipts and find out the exchange or return policy for items purchased during this time period. Keep in mind, some items may be non-refundable or have restocking fees associated with them.

Adam Price is regional director for Better Business Bureau serving the GreaterCentral Texas area. He can be reached at aprice@centraltx.bbb.org.

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