110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
Learning a cool lesson in Brokeville, USA
Coping with the loss of the sales-tax holiday
By Jen Horton
posted Jul 28, 2008 - 3:02:08pm
Let me tell you something: I'm broke.
Things cost a lot. Most of my money goes toward bills. The rest buys food and gas. And, well, our household's pay hasn't kept up with the cost of a gallon of milk, let alone a gallon of gas.
So the back-to-school sales-tax holiday meant something to us.
It meant $32.50 to be exact. That's the sales tax on $500.
The few weeks before school are a frantic mess. Both of my children need their physicals, eye exams, teeth-cleanings and X-rays at the dentist.
That costs money.
With insurance premiums rising, and our copayments doubling, it costs a bunch of money.
I can't change that. There isn't a sale at the pediatrician's office, or a tax break on eyeglasses.
What I can change is the way I shop for school supplies and clothes.
I shop buy-one, get-one-half-off for shoes. I buy large packs of socks and undies — generic, no name brands.
I stock up on notebooks, crayons and pencils when they're marked down to the lowest possible price.
I wait until I see coupons and doorbuster sales before I hit a retail shop.
And, I do it all during the tax-free holiday. Or, at least, I did before Florida canceled the holiday this year.
My family, buying the least-expensive items possible, spends more than $500 on back-to-school: $150 per child for clothes, uniforms and shoes, per child, and more than $50 per child for school supplies, lunch boxes and backpacks.
That sounds exorbitant, and it's embarrassing for me to put the amount out there. But, understand, a backpack costs around $15. The cool lunch boxes cost $10. A Trapper Keeper for the high-school student costs $10. There's $35 right there.
A pair of shoes for a teenager costs close to $30. Jeans cost $15. A T-shirt is $8. That's more than $50 for one outfit (and not a single name brand).
It all adds up to a horrifying amount of money.
It gets worse. I spend another $40 to $50 during back-to-school shopping, because I stock up for the entire year. We don't buy pens when they aren't 49 cents a pack. We don't buy $10 science-fair boards when we can get them at the beginning of the year for $3.99. We just don't.
Anyhow, we spent around $500 last year.
This year, we have fewer available dollars to spend, and things cost more.
The tax savings on $500 is about $32.50.
I was seriously mourning the loss of the saved $32.50.
Doesn't sound like a lot of money, does it?
Well, let me tell you how much money it is to me:
• It's a co-payment for a physical or for an eye exam.
• It's a new pair of shoes for one of the kids.
• It's two pairs of jeans.
• It's two packs of socks at $6 each, a $6 pack of girls' undies, and two $6 packs of boxers.
• It's eight gallons of gas, enough to last me one week, or eight gallons of milk, enough to last four weeks.
• It's two backpacks.
Or, it's enough money to fill one backpack with the supplies one of the children needs.
That lousy $32.50 means something to me.
The loss of the holiday freaked me out; I had to get a new game on.
It forced me to find another way.
We decided we were going to save that money, anyway.
And, because things cost more, and we have less money, we wanted to save even more.
(OK, "wanted to" is a lie. We had to. We have no credit cards, so we can spend only what we actually have. We had no choice but to spend less.)
The biggest challenge? Making my children understand that Mommy's magic ATM card can't make all their dreams come true.
They just don't get it.
So, this year, I put them in charge.
I gave each a set amount for school supplies.
They had to purchase everything they needed for that amount of money.
I gave them calculators, and off to the store we went.
They had to add up every penny they spent. They had to make sure they got what they needed, without going over their budget.
I should have done it years ago.
My children chose plain lunch bags; no cartoon characters. They chose plain backpacks from the $10 rack. They elected to not get the name-brand pens, because they could get twice as many if they bought the off-brand. My son picked up a $2 binder instead of a Trapper Keeper.
They added $10, plus $4, plus .22 cents, and knew they only had X number of dollars remaining.
And, believe it or not, they thrived on the challenge. They loved getting more for their money.
They also thrived on the competition: Who could spend less?
I set the same budget for myself, for "mom's school stash." That forced me take a good look at what I was purchasing.
These budgets were nonnegotiable.
I noticed I blow some dollars purchasing things because they are cheap, not because we can't make it through the school year without them.
Before we checked out, I looked at every item in my cart. If it was something that was just really, really cheap, and not something my family couldn't live without, I put it back.
All total, we saved a little more than $50 on supplies. That was 30 percent of last year's school supply-budget, and way more than the tax-holiday discount.
We have everything we need.
Sure, my children won't have cool gel-pens, snazzy lunch boxes, or Trapper Keepers, but they do have functional, practical items.
They learned a really cool lesson: What you can afford is good enough.
And they learned what "afford" really means.
They're proud of their inexpensive backpacks and lunch boxes.
I am, too.
We intend to do the same thing for shoes and clothes.
At the end of the day, I'm miffed I didn't save the $32.50. I really am. It's a lot of money to me.
But, without having to re-evaluate the way we spend money during this season, without the loss of the sales-tax holiday, I might have lost the opportunity to show my children there isn't anything wrong with what we do have the money for.
(But I'm still miffed.)
I'd love to know how you, as a fellow shopper and parent, offset the loss of the tax-free week.
Drop me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, and tell me how you cut costs to make ends meet.
— Horton is a reporter for The DeLand-Deltona Beacon.
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