Tax-free holiday: Back-to-school shopping break starts Friday

Get ready to put shopping — and saving — at the top of this weekend’s to-do list.

The back-to-school sales tax holiday begins Friday and runs through Sunday, offering the chance to buy clothing, accessories, school supplies and electronics tax-free.

This year, the rules are even more generous than in past years. The limit for clothing and accessories has been raised to $100 per item, from $75. And the first $750 of the purchase price of a computer is now tax exempt; in past years, only electronics priced under $750 qualified. With a 6 percent sales tax rate in Broward, 7 percent in Miami-Dade and 7.5 percent in Monroe, shoppers can save as much as $56.25 on the first $750 of a pricey purchase.

“It lets you shop for the higher end stuff,” said John Fleming, spokesman for the Florida Retail Federation, which is estimating that stores will see a 30 percent increase in traffic over the weekend.

Many malls and stores in South Florida are celebrating the tax break with events, sales and giveaways.

Miami International Mall in Doral will hold a fashion show at 3 p.m. on Saturday, showcasing the latest fall fashion trends for the new school year. And shoppers who approach the Guest Services counter can receive a treat like candy or a water bottle, said Sara Valega, director of marketing and business development for the mall.

Also at Miami International, Kipling will provide free monogramming on such purchases as backpacks and pencil cases on Saturday and Sunday, said store manager Donna Arredondo.

Retailers — including Target and Walmart — are preparing for the shopping onslaught, with large displays of school supplies and uniform apparel.

“A lot of items that are part of tax-free are on sale,” said Joana Luzcando, executive of human resources at Target’s Dadeland Station store, as she toured the already bustling area this week.

Macy’s stores throughout South Florida are also bracing for shoppers. Big sellers are expected to be wardrobe staples — including denim, sneakers and backpacks — as well the fashionable apparel hot with kids, said Melissa Goff, spokeswoman for Macy’s.

Those categories will be on the list for Grace Gasset and two 16-year-olds, daughter Amanda Gasset and friend Nicole Franco, who started checking out sneakers at Macy’s at Miami International Mall earlier this week. Their weekend plans include some serious shopping for shoes, purses, pants and backpacks.

“That’s when we try to buy the school supplies,” said Grace Gasset, a teacher who lives in Southwest Miami-Dade.

The Florida Retail Federation had wanted the sales tax holiday to run for nine days, to include two weekends, but the legislature only approved three days. Still, the organization estimates that Florida residents might save at least $40 million over the three-day holiday. Overall, spending for back to school and college is expected to reach about $5 billion in Florida, and tax-exempt sales will account for an estimated $600 million of that spending.

Fleming’s advice to shoppers: “Have fun, be smart, shop for deals. Usually there are some great sales and markdowns because retailers know you will be out and want you to shop in their stores and not in their competitors’ stores,” he said. “So take advantage of that.”

Shoppers who prefer perusing the Web can also make purchases anywhere online and save tax over the three-day holiday, although the items will be delivered later to a Florida address.

And, shhh, even if you’re an adult and not headed back to school, you can still take advantage of the tax exemption.

Just think: you can buy clothes, shoes, electronics for yourself and never do an ounce of homework.