South Carolina's annual sales tax holiday weekend starts Friday, offering a small discount on everything from fishing boots to computers.



For more details on the state's annual sales tax holiday, go to and look under “what's new.”

Normally, it's hard to get excited about a discount of less than 10 percent, but the tax break can be valuable if you're planning to buy something expensive that rarely goes on sale, such as an Apple computer or a wedding dress.

Also, I checked some of the sale circulars from 2012, and it was clear that the stores I was able to review offered prices during the tax-free weekend that were at least as good as their prices the following weekend. In other words, the sales tax break is typically in addition to the sales stores are already offering.

For example, in 2012, Office Depot offered a Lenovo laptop and tablet computer bundle for $479.98 during the tax-free weekend and on the following weekend. In Charleston County, where state and local sales taxes add up to 8.5 percent, making that purchase during the tax-free weekend would have saved the buyer $40.80.

Likewise, Rack Room shoes last year advertised the same prices the weekends before, during and after the tax-free holiday. Buying during the tax-free holiday would have saved about $5 on a $60 pair of sneakers in Charleston County.

I also noticed that some circulars in the newspaper last year contained coupons good for additional savings, so don't forget to check for those.

The tax holiday is a little strange, because it's ostensibly meant to save parents money on back-to-school supplies. It's strange because lots of things that are unlikely school-related will be tax-free, such as lingerie and wetsuits, and some things that would be handy for school students, like alarm clocks and glasses, are not tax-exempt.

Here are some tips for making the most of the tax-free weekend.

First, there's a long list of things that are and are not tax-free, but the things that won't be taxed fall into just a few categories.

Clothing: If you can wear it, it's probably tax-free. That includes clothes, hats, hosiery, footwear, and even handbags. That's why wedding dresses, fishing waders, soccer cleats, lingerie, capes and wetsuits will be tax-free, along with back-to-school clothes. Diapers are also tax-free.

School supplies: The tax-free list may not include everything on your back-to-school list, but most of the basics are covered, such as pens, pencils, paper, binders, notebooks, books, bookbags, lunchboxes and calculators.

Computers: This category gets a little odd, because computers, printers, printer supplies and computer software are tax-free, but monitors, keyboards and scanners are not, unless they are part of a package deal with the computer. Cellphones, digital cameras and music players are not tax-free, and neither are e-readers, unless they “allow users to access the Internet and have a multitude of software applications” in which case they are tax-free.

Bed and bath products: Not sure what this has to do with back-to-school shopping, but most things you would put on a bed are tax-free — sheets, pillows, comforters — as are bath towels, shower curtains and bathmats. However, the rods and hooks you need to hang that tax-free shower curtain are not tax-free, and neither are towel holders.

If you own a business, you might be thinking, “Cool, I'll go out and stock up on tax-free paper and printer ink and other supplies.” No such luck. Anything that's “for use in a trade or business” will be taxed, even if it's otherwise on the tax-free list.

The tax break applies whether you make a purchase in a store or online, but it doesn't apply to items that were held on layaway or a deferred payment plan. Rented clothing doesn't get a break, either.The tax holiday starts at 12:01 a.m. Friday and goes until midnight Sunday, Aug. 4. State and local sales and use taxes are included in the tax holiday.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.