Methods for bargain-hunting madness

Staff writerAugust 1, 2010 

I don't have kids yet, but that doesn't prevent me from taking advantage of the deals on the state's tax-free weekend.

I no longer need a wedding dress (on the tax-exempt list as long as you can find one for $100 or less) or backpack, but I can use clothes, shoes, printing supplies, pens and the like - and I prefer to get them cheap.

With a little planning and preparation, you can score even better deals than the ones you find advertised in the store fliers.

Here are my tips to the best savings this tax-free weekend.

Pre-order: Many stores, including Apple, will allow you to reserve an item before the weekend begins. The store either takes your order and your credit card information but doesn't actually process the transaction until the tax-free weekend, or it will require you to come pick up your item and pay for it during the weekend. For Apple, you can begin reserving items online on Wednesday.

Buy online: Most stores have websites where you can buy online so if you want to avoid crowds, check out the merchandise this week and then buy online during the tax-free period. To get the break, you must send your order to an address in North Carolina. Most of the time, you will still be charged tax when you initially place your order, and the retailer will adjust the final price as the order is processed.

Use coupons: You can use store coupons and discounts to make the price of an item qualify for the tax break. For instance, if you have a dress that is $105, that price exceeds the $100 per item limit on clothing. But if you have a store coupon or offer that would bring the price under $100, then it would qualify for the tax break. This works only for coupons and offers from the store, not manufacturer's coupons.

Map out a route: Avoid excess driving and hassle. If you want to hit the mall plus two other stores, plan to make one big circle before returning home. Start at the store you think will be the busiest, as early in the day as you can. You can also try to find less-busy stores, which will likely have smaller crowds and more in stock.

Go prepared: Wear comfortable shoes. Bring a large bag so that you can put all your small bags in it. Bring a fully charged cell phone, hand sanitizer and a snack.

The standard rules apply: You should approach this weekend just like any big sale. Check out what's on sale. Visit sites like wow-coupons.com or the retailers' websites to see if additional coupons are available. If shopping online, try retailmenot.com for coupon codes.

Be on the lookout: Stores selling furniture and appliances have been known to jump on the tax-free bandwagon, offering a discount equivalent to the sales-tax rate to help entice customers. Other retailers will extend the tax-free weekend for an entire week. If you shop at New Balance or Mobley's Shoes in Raleigh, for instance, you can get the same amount as the tax break deducted from your bill all week long.

Layaway: This one takes planning, so stash it for next year. If you are paying for an item over time via a layaway program, the items are eligible for the tax break if you make the final payment and take delivery during the tax-free weekend.

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