Heads up, Virginia: This weekend is a sales tax holiday

(AP photo/Marta Lavandier)

By Carolyn Fiddler, Amie Knowles

October 19, 2023

Thanks in part to budget amendments championed by Democrats in the General Assembly, Virginians can shop for certain items sale tax-free this weekend (Oct. 20-22).

Virginians are used to seeing this sales tax holiday in August of each year, but a forgetful legislature and six extra months of negotiations over the state budget resulted in a lapse of these three days of sales tax-free shopping earlier this year.

This special savings opportunity will give buyers a chance to save on everything from school supplies to emergency preparedness equipment when purchased this Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, Oct. 20-22.

The savings extend beyond in-store purchases to also include select purchases made online, by mail order, and by telephone.

Qualifying Virginia sales tax holiday items include:

  • School supplies, clothing, and footwear
  • Hurricane and emergency preparedness products
  • Energy Star™ and WaterSense™ products

For a more detailed list of eligible school and emergency supplies, click here.

What’s Up for Grabs?

While the list of qualifying items is substantial, there are a few restrictions.

For school supplies, qualifying items must cost less than $20 per item. That means you can stock up on binders, notebooks, pencils, crayons, and other often-used classroom supplies. However, the laptop you’ve been eyeing won’t be on the tax-free list (which you can find here).

As far as clothing goes, there’s a per-item price limit of $100. Winter coats, a warm pair of boots, some new socks, and seasonal wear generally falls within that price range. But you might want to put up those Yeezy Boosts back on the shelf if you’re hoping to score a tax-free deal.

Some covered hurricane and emergency preparedness items include portable generators that cost $1,000 or less, gas-powered chain saws that cost $350 or less, or other items including batteries, flashlights, two-way radios, bottled water, and first aid kits that cost $60 or less.

Breaking Down the Numbers

The Commonwealth Institute’s tax policy analyst, Megan Davis, helped break down the savings. She noted that sales tax can range anywhere from 5.3% to 7% on a product, depending on locality.

Given the per-item price limits on certain products, Virginians could save between $1.06 and $1.40 on a school supply item or between $5.30 and $7 for a piece of clothing or footwear. While it might not seem like much per item, the savings add up quickly. For a family spending $600 per child (the approximate national average amount spent at back-to-school time) on qualifying items, that’s between $31.80 and $42 in savings per student.

“This could be an important weekend for families with low incomes to save some money, yet research shows that wealthier families have more spending flexibility and are better able to time their spending to take advantage of sales tax holidays, as well as have more disposable income to use when sales tax holidays arrive,” Davis said. “In the end, this is a temporary and untargeted measure. The sales tax holiday lasts just three days, and families have to make ends meet the other 362 just the same. Other tax policy options, like expanding and improving the state Earned Income Tax Credit and establishing a Commonwealth Kids Credit, would provide families who need it with more meaningful support.”

Wait, Isn’t This Usually in August?

In past years, Virginia’s sales tax holiday happened around the same time school started. This year differed, leaving parents and lawmakers scrambling for solutions. The October result? Well, it’s better late than never.

“While October is mid-hurricane season and seasonal changes may mean families need new warm clothing, a lot of the timing of this is due to the budget compromise that was recently passed. The holiday lapsed this summer, and the compromise was not passed until September, past when the holiday usually is,” Davis said. “While the weekend provides a few days of savings for families, more targeted tax policies can help get families the support they need.”

  • Carolyn Fiddler

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    Carolyn Fiddler is Dogwood's chief political correspondent. She is also the nation’s foremost expert in state politics with almost two decades of experience in statehouse machinations, and her comic book collection is probably bigger than yours.

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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