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Shop and save on tax-free holidays

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Ryan Moore/Hattiesburg American/AP

(Read caption) Mary Williams, left, sizes her son Rhoderick Williams for a shirt during Tax Free Weekend shopping at JC Penney in Turtle Creek Mall in Hattiesburg Miss., in this May 2011 file photo. Sock away a few dollars each month so that you have a healthy budget of cash to spend when the tax free holiday comes around, Hamm writes.

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On the first Friday and Saturday of August each year, Iowa has a sales tax holiday on “select clothing and footwear,” which actually translates into “virtually all clothing and footwear.”

It’s at a great time of the year. A lot of parents are ready to start shopping for back-to-school clothes for their growing children and may be looking for new fall and winter items for themselves, as the weather starts to cool off starting in September here in Iowa.

Thus, the savvier shoppers in Iowa tend to do much of their clothes shopping on that weekend. 

Of course, smart retailers recognize that there will be a lot of clothes shoppers out and about that weekend, so they advertise hard for their business. They usually run pretty strong sales to get those savvy shoppers into their stores. 

Add those two together and you end up with some pretty steep discounts on clothing. In fact, the only time each year that I buy clothes (other than emergencies) is that weekend.

Thes sales tax holidays happen in many other states at various points throughout the year, and they include many different items, including computers, school supplies, firearms, energy efficient products, and hurricane preparedness materials (though clothes are the most common item). Most of the time, these holidays are on consistent dates from year to year – check your local state for more details.

My experience with other state sales tax holidays has been much like my experience in Iowa: savvy shoppers waiting until the holiday and retailers fighting for customers with big sales.

So, what can you do to maximize this?

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If your state or an adjoining state has a sales tax holiday, be patient. Keep track of the things you need that match your state tax holiday and wait for that holiday to come around again before buying.

Plan ahead a little. If you know you’re going to need new winter clothes for your little one, buy them early during the holiday and stick them in storage until you need them.

Save up. Buying a wardrobe refresh for everyone in the family at once can be pricy. Don’t go into credit card debt for it. Sock away a few dollars each month so that you have a healthy budget of cash to spend when the tax free holiday comes around.

Planning ahead can save you a lot of money.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere.

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