Fewer than 20 days after the last bell rang for the 2012-2013 school year, big box retailers launched their annual back-to-school promotions.
Advertisements for 25-cent boxes of crayons and brightly colored displays of glue sticks and notebooks dominated the first weeks of July.
In Hampton Roads, the unofficial launch of back-to-school shopping generally takes place during Virginia's sales tax holiday, which begins Friday, Aug. 2.
During the three-day tax holiday, shoppers can purchase most common school supplies free of state and locality retail sales tax.
On July 1, the retail tax in Hampton Roads increased from 5 percent to 6 percent as part of a commonwealth transportation package passed by the General Assembly earlier this year.
To be eligible for the tax exemption, school supplies must cost $20 or less, and clothing items must cost $100 or less.
Eligible school supplies include binders, backpacks, crayons, lunch boxes, notebooks, paint, paper, pencils and textbooks.
It's a time to stock up for many shoppers.
"I start looking at the ads right now, buying and stocking up early," says Kasey Steele, of Newport News. "I have two drawers that I use (for extra supplies) as the year goes by. You can also find great deals on things you might use day-to-day or you can use for gift-giving throughout the year. Crayons put with some coloring books go so good for birthday presents when you aren't trying to spend an arm-and-a-leg."
What it will cost
Shoppers will be more frugal with their back-to-school purchases this year, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation.
According to the report, families with school-age children will spend an average $634.78 on apparel, shoes, supplies and electronics, down from $688.62 last year — about an 8 percent decrease.
Clothing and electronics will make up the bulk of that $634 figure, with 55 percent of parents spending about $200 on electronics. This year, there is a heavy emphasis on tablets and smart phones in anticipation of the new school year.
To match retailers' urge to get shoppers in stores early, more parents are hitting the stores now.
"We continue to see a shift in shopping patterns during big spending 'events,' where consumers typically head out early to take advantage of fresh inventory options and initial markdowns, then see a lull only to rev back up again when final sales appear," Pam Goodfellow, consumer insights director for the retail federation, said in a written statement.
As for college students, they also will spend less this year. But at an average $836.83 that's a hefty August bill.
"Millennials are extremely different from previous generations when it comes to personal style and décor," Goodfellow said.
Retailers like Bed Bath & Beyond have promoted special advertising sections geared toward college students. The focus: Luxurious bedding and essentials that also serve a decorative purpose.
There's a technology element, too. Even desk lamps serve the dual purpose of charging mobile and tablet devices.
Shopping the tax holiday
Not all common schools supplies are included on the tax-exemption list, so it may not pay to buy them during the heavily promoted shopping weekend.
School computer supplies are not included on the tax-free list during the sales tax holiday, for example. Printer supplies, such as printer paper and ink, and computer storage media are not tax-exempt. If you need these items, it may pay to wait.
Calculators are eligible for a tax break during the three-day holiday, but only if they cost $20 or less. Many middle school and high school students are required to purchase graphing calculators, priced near $100, and they are not free from sales tax. There are very few sales on these items, particularly in August, so holding off on your purchase isn't likely to help.
Donna Lorence, of Hampton, encourages parents to think about supplies for at-home projects, as well. The Norfolk Public Schools teacher says she uses the back-to-school shopping season as a way to stock up for her classroom.
"I suggest when you are shopping for supplies that are used up quickly, to stock up," she says. "I know some teachers send home another list in January or February because all of the back-to-school supplies have been used up. It is so much easier to deal with children forgetting they have a home project due the next day if you have markers, poster board and glue at home and you don't have to pay $4 for markers you could have paid $1 or less for in August."
As for clothing, accessory items such as handbags, jewelry, wallets and briefcases are not included in the tax-exemption. Protective equipment like helmets and tool belts also are not included. And sports and recreational equipment including cleats, mouth guards and gloves are not tax-free.
However, gym suits and uniforms, athletic uniforms, golf apparel, jerseys and swim suits are tax-free.
There are some items on the list that fall outside of the traditional back-to-school realm.
Costumes, diapers, baby clothes, choir and altar clothing, and wedding apparel, including veils, are eligible for tax-free purchase.
Wrangling your student
The hit to your wallet isn't the only thing that could potentially raise a shopper's blood pressure. Shopping for school supplies with your student in tow is likely to add conflict.
According to a survey conducted by the bargain website ebates.com, disagreeing with children on shopping for trendy items or items not specifically on a back-to-school list adds to a parent's shopping stress.
One way to curb the in-store arguing is to discuss the budget beforehand, says Delores Price, program manager for Bon Secours' Family Focus.
"This allows them to shoulder some of the responsibility of creative shopping, and when the money is gone so is the shopping," she said.
Negotiating clothing standards before you head out is another way to avoid conflict that could last the entire school year if not addressed head on, said Aditi Dutt, a family educator for Family Focus.
"Involve your children in the decision making process," she says. Talk to them first. Look online. Tell them 'there's no way I'm going to let you show this much, but I understand you're not going to wear a skirt to your knees. Once they are a part of that discussion, then they sneak around less."
You have to be flexible within limits, Dutt says. Compromising somewhere in the middle can open up a good line of communication with your children and show them good parenting skills for the future. It also shows them that if they want compromise, they have to be a part of the compromise, as well.
"But in the end, you're the boss," she adds. "You're the one they are learning from. If you're too permissive, as long as they push, push, push, they know they're going to get their way."
The same goes for budgeting. Back-to-school time is the perfect opportunity to impart some budgeting wisdom.
Don't drop off your child at the mall and let them shop for their clothes, go with them, Dutt said. Tell them that you have a certain budget for clothes, shoes and supplies. Help them make those choices in the store.
If they want more, give them ideas on how to earn the money. And let them know that their extra purchases still have to conform to your standards.
"You become part of the shopping process. Go together," she says. "Then, they can see what you want and don't want and you can see what they want and don't want."
Paitsel can be reached at 757-247-4737 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Stores will not charge sales tax on eligible school supplies that cost $20 or less Aug. 2-4. Here is the all-inclusive list of eligible supplies:
Clay and glazes
Dictionaries and thesauruses
Erasers (including dry erase marker erasers and dry erase marker cleaning solution)
Folders: expandable, pocket, plastic and manila
Glue, paste and paste sticks
Index card boxes
Markers (including dry erase markers and dry erase marker kits)
Musical instruments, musical instrument accessories, and replacement items for musical instruments
Paintbrushes for artwork
Paints (acrylic, tempera and oil)
Paper: loose leaf ruled notebook paper, copy paper, graph paper, tracing paper, manila paper, colored paper, poster board and construction paper
Pencil boxes and other school supply boxes
Reference maps and globes
Sketch and drawing pads
Clothing items that cost $100 or less are eligible for tax-free purchase. Here is a list of items that are eligible. The list is not all-inclusive.
Aprons, household and shop
Baby bibs and clothes
Baby receiving blankets
Bathing suits, swim trunks, cover-ups and bathing caps
Beach capes and coats
Belts and suspenders
Choir and altar clothing
Coats, jackets and windbreakers
Corsets and corset laces
Costumes (sold, not rented)
Diapers, children and adult, including disposable diapers
Formal wear for men and woman (sold, not rented)
Fur coats and stoles, shawls and wraps
Garters and garter belts
Gloves and mittens for general use
Golf clothing, caps, dresses, shirts, skirts and pants
Gym suits and uniforms
Hats and caps
Insoles, inserts for shoes
Jerseys (both athletic and non-athletic)
Leotards and tights
Neckwear, including bow ties, neckties and scarves
Overshoes and rubber shoes
Raincoats, rain hats and ponchos
Rubber thong / flip flops
Shirts and blouses
Shoes and shoe laces
Socks and stockings, including athletic socks
Uniforms, athletic and non-athletic
Wedding apparel, including veils (sold, not rented)
Source: Virginia Department of TaxationCopyright © 2015, CT Now