She’s going armed with coupons and sales fliers, and a list of every item she needs, double-checked for the best price at all of her stops. She knows she won’t be able to completely avoid long lines, but the experienced back-to-school shopper and mother of two Faith Christian School students said she hopes she can get it all done in one day — and in just a few hours.
“I think everybody expects it to be a little crazy,” Abernathy said. “It always is.”
It might sound like behavior more familiar to Black Friday and the Christmas shopping season, but Abernathy will actually take advantage of Alabama’s back-to-school tax-free weekend. Starting Friday and running through Sunday, retailers in Alabama will waive the 4 percent statewide sales tax on most clothes, books, computer supplies and other school items.
“It’s always really busy for all three days,” said Kita Graham, a manager at Martin’s clothing store on McClellan Boulevard. “We always expect to do a lot of business that weekend.”
The Alabama Retail Association pushed for a back-to-school tax-free weekend in 2006 after noticing the trend picking up in other states, said Nancy King Dennis, the association’s director of public relations.
“We advocated for it because it saves people money, but we also found that it doesn’t really have an effect on state sales tax collection,” Dennis said. “People are still buying taxed items along with non-taxed items on those three days, so it’s really a win-win.”
According to the National Retail Federation, back-to-school shopping is the second biggest boost annually for retail businesses after the Christmas season and is expected to bring in more than $26 billion throughout the country this year. Because the Alabama Retail Association collects data through tax sales, Dennis said it’s hard to tell how many people are taking advantage of the tax breaks. But since starting the annual statewide tax-free weekend in 2006, sales tax collected in the month of August has gone up every year except in 2009.
And the amount of local support for the weekend has risen over the years too, Dennis said. As of Wednesday, the association had received confirmation that 289 municipalities and counties would also waive their local sales taxes, including Anniston, Jacksonville, Oxford and Calhoun County.
“The average family with school-aged children is spending $600 on back-to-school shopping,” Dennis said. “So if they go this weekend, and in places where local sales taxes are waived, that’s saving about $60. That’s pretty good sum of money.”
Not that it’s just families with kids who benefit from the tax break, Dennis said. Anybody can buy clothes or computer equipment. But in a lot of cases, the bulk buyers who use the weekend to their advantage are teachers looking to stock up their own classrooms, said Amber Ray, the vice-principal of Weaver Elementary School.
“Teachers are known to spend a lot of money out of their own pocket for classroom supplies,” Ray said. “Kids are always losing so many pencils throughout the year.”
Or just simply not having them, she said. Modest tax breaks can put certain items within reach for some families, but a low-income family still won’t have the resources available for technology needs, Ray said.
“I always like to have extra flash drives for the students,” Ray said. “Something so they can transport their work from the computer lab to the classroom a little easier.”
Kim Davis, a special education teacher’s aide at Alexandria Elementary School, who also has two sons who attend Pleasant Valley High School, said she plans to spend around $500 this weekend. And a lot of what she’s looking at for her students aren’t just notebooks and erasers.
“Because I work with special needs students, I always try to think outside the box,” Davis said. “I like to get eraser board from Lowe’s that they cut in unique patterns. Counting materials that are colorful or unique, all that stuff really helps.”
Abernathy said she doesn’t plan to spend anywhere near the average $600 this weekend. She hopes she can check everything off her list for around $200, or a total savings of about $20.
“It doesn’t sound like a whole lot,” Abernathy said. “But every penny counts.”
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.