What's my secret for saving more this back-to-school season? I shop on sales-tax holidays! Some states will eliminate sales tax on school-related items for just a few days a year. Even though the stores are pretty crowded on these tax holidays, I find that I save a bundle on everything that my children need for school—which makes the crowd totally worth it.

States that participate

Unfortunately, not all states in the U.S. participate in this money-saving holiday. Check here to see if your state does! The specific rules will vary state by state, but in general, stores will lift the sales tax on a variety of items on certain days during the year. For example, in Alabama the tax holiday starts at 12:01 AM on the first Friday in August and ends the following Sunday at midnight. No matter the state, you can typically expect the holiday to fall sometime in August for school-related items. All stores in the state are usually required by law to participate in the tax-free holiday.

What items are tax-free

The items that are tax-free vary by state, but you can expect to pay zero tax on items like clothing, computers, books, school supplies (such as binders, lunch boxes, markers and crayons), footwear, computer equipment and backpacks. Besides school-related items, Energy Star products, hunting supplies and generators are also sometimes included in these tax-free events. There’s usually a maximum amount that is tax-free. For example, in Tennessee your school supplies are tax-free up to $100. Not all states have spending limitations though—check here to see what your state's particular rules are.

Research before you shop

Be sure to read the fine print before you head out to the stores this tax holiday. Some states have exemptions and restrictions. For example, in Virginia goggles and safety glasses (which are sometimes required for school labs) are not included in the sales tax holiday. But don't worry–it's easy to check which items are exempt. Most state websites will provide a detailed list of all exempt items. Just click on the information link for your state here to learn the rules of your state.

Get the most out of the holiday

To maximize your savings, pay attention to store sales during the tax-free holidays. I've found that my local stores don't tend to advertise their sales during the tax-free holiday, so you might have to do a little in-store (or online) investigating before you head out. Don't forget to use your loyalty program card (if your store offers one), coupons, and price matching to really score an amazing deal during this budget-friendly holiday.

Save on Back-to-School Expenses by Ditching the Sales Tax