The Fourth of July holiday marks the unofficial start of the back-to-school shopping season, as big box retailers mark down summer items like patio sets and backyard supplies to make room for pencils, paper and other school-related items.
Workers at the Target on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard spent part of the Fourth of July clearing out a corner of the store to make way for school supplies. Patio items were marked down as much as 70 percent to make room for the back-to-school rush.
The annual tax break this year includes clothing, footwear and certain accessories selling for $60 or less; certain school supplies selling for $15 or less per item; and personal computers and certain computer-related accessories, selling for $750 or less per item, when purchased for noncommercial home or personal use.
Roughly 40 percent of shoppers begin their holiday shopping before Halloween each year, according a report released last year by National Retail Federation.
About 16 percent of women and 9 percent of men start looking for holiday gifts before Sept. 1, the report found.
Although autumn doesn’t officially begin until next month, retailers are already stocking up on holiday gifts and merchandise.
August is expected to be the busiest month of the year for import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports, the federation said.
“August is the peak month of the annual shipping season that builds up to the winter holidays, and a lot of the merchandise consumers will be buying this fall is already showing up at the docks,” said Jonathan Gold, the national federation’s Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy.
James Miller, a spokesman for the Florida Retail Federation said shoppers can expect to start seeing holiday decorations in stores across the state over the next month or two.
“Retailers are going to listen to their consumers, and consumers what they have said to retailers over the years is, we want to do our shopping earlier, but we want to still have that feeling that it is the holiday season,” Miller said. “People may complain and say, ‘Christmas starts earlier and earlier.’ That is just what shoppers want.”
West Palm Beach ranks 8th on Hopper’s list of “Destinations to Watch” in August. Fares to the PBIA could fall by as much as 19 percent from their current level of $255, according to Hopper, which has an app alerting travelers of price drops for particular destinations.
Other domestic cities on Hopper’s list: Dallas, Austin, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Miami and Orlando.
Airports in Grenada, Grenada, Liberia, Coasta Rica and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic are among the top international destinations for savings, Hopper said.
According to DealNews, a discount and shopping website, the best airfare deals right now include:
Wondering when to get your child their first cell phone? For most Americans, the answer is age 10.
A recent study released by the research firm Influence Central found the average age that children receive their first cell phone now stands at 10 years and three months. Roughly 50 percent of children have social media accounts by age 12, the study found.
The study also found that many children use their phone to text their parents — even when they are in the same house.
The number of parents who use GPS capabilities to keep tabs on their children is also on the rise, doubling from 7 percent in 2012 to 15 percent in 2016, the study found.
As children return to school across Palm Beach County, wireless experts say there are a number of options to consider when trying to determine which device might be best for your child.
Options include: smartphones, basic cell phones, prepaid phones, wearables like smart watches with GPS tracking, and tablets.
Brandon Poe, Verizon Wireless District Manager for Palm Beach, said wearable devices like the LG GizmoPal 2 and GizmoGadget are good alternatives for younger children. The phones allow parents to track their children using GPS technology and can be programmed with up to four phone numbers. Models also include an auto-answer feature, he said.
“Unfortunately we don’t have the luxury as parents to be close to our children as much as we like to,” Poe said. “I think it is great for parents to really invest in peace of mind.”
For older children, technology is becoming more important in the classroom and for homework assignments.
Roughly, 75 percent of teachers say that they regularly use technology in the classroom, Poe said.
There are a variety of smartphones available to meet the needs of every student, including one model that doubles as a projector, allowing students to share and display information quickly, Poe said.
AT&T recommends parents consider the following when trying to find the right wireless device:
* Do a “cell assessment” to determine the plan and device that best meets your child’s AND family’s needs. For example, how is your child going to be using the device? Will she be making voice calls only? Be using it for texting… surfing the Internet… or staying connected with her social networks? If you’re okay with your child texting or using data, you’ll want to make sure you have the appropriate texting or data plan.
* If you want to get your child a device strictly for security, then you may want to consider an option like:
The SpareOne Emergency Phone features a flashlight, glow-in-the-dark keypad, a panic siren and a SOS signal built into the phone. It also has a Locate & Alert service included with the plan so that you can alert up to five people you want to notify in an emergency who will receive your location.
The FiLIP 2 is a smart locator with voice for kids ages 4 – 11. It’s a colorful wearable that looks like a watch and uses a blend of GPS, GSM, and Wi-Fi to help parents locate their child both indoors and out. You can set up to five SafeZones and receive a notification when your child enters or leaves the SafeZone. The FiLIP 2 can also make 2-way voice calls using a built-in speakerphone.
* If you don’t want to sign a contract or are on a tight budget, then consider a prepaid or no money down option. With a prepaid option you pay as you go. With plans like AT&T Next, you can purchase a smartphone with $0 down and pay low monthly installment payments.
* Don’t forget to take advantage of tools that help you keep track of your children and set limits on their use. Check with your provider to see what type of location-based services they have. For example, FamilyMap lets you track the location of your child’s phone from a PC or mobile device. Also, ask your provider what types of parental controls are available to you. With Smart Limits parental controls you can limit phone use during certain times of the day or night, check in on daily phone activity, block numbers and cellular data, set text and purchase limits, get customized alerts and weekly reports, and download the Smart Limits app to your iOS or Android phone.
* If everyone in your household is with the same provider, consider a plan that lets users on the account share data.
* Learn how to keep track of minutes/data to help you better manage your child’s wireless plan. Check with the provider to see what tools they offer to help you track and manager your child’s wireless use. For example, AT&T customers can monitor usage through the myAT&T app. You can also dial *MIN# to see how many minutes have been used or *DATA# to check on data usage. AT&T also offers an online data calculator so you can calculate daily or monthly data use.
This year, the annual tax break this year is limited to include clothing, footwear and certain accessories selling for $60 or less. Last year’s limit was $100.
Also excluded this year: Computers and computer-related items. Last year, shoppers who purchased a computer during the holiday received a tax break on the first $750 of the sales price.
School supplies up to $15 are exempt.
Expect big crowds
Although Gov. Rick Scott had sought a 10-day tax-free shopping period this year, lawmakers scaled back the holiday to a three-day weekend. Last year’s holiday was 10 days, but historically the tax-break has run for a three-day period.
“Last year, the 10 days gave people a lot of time to spread out their shopping,” said James Miller, a spokesman for the Florida Retail Federation. “This year, is going to be much more compacted.”
Miller said shoppers should plan for larger crowds and longer lines. His advice to those hitting the stores: “Shop smart and do research ahead of time.”
Be prepared to spend more than last year
Back-to-school spending is expected to reach $75.8 billion this year, up from $68 billion in 2015, according to the National Retail Federation.
Families of elementary, middle and high school age children plan to spend an average of $673.57 on apparel and accessories, electronics, shoes and school supplies, up 6.8 percent from last year’s $630.36, the federation said.
College students and their families plan to spend an average of $888.71. That’s down slightly from $899.18 last year, the federation said.
Make a list and set a budget to prevent overspending
The bargain-hunting website DealNews.com says parents should make their shopping lists as detailed as possible to help prevent overspending. For example, the site’s experts say avoid including basic terms like “pencils” or “clothing.” Instead, be specific about the quantity, size and styles that you need.
“Having a very clear budget and shopping list will keep you from overspending,” said Benjamin Glaser, an editor with DealNews.
To make sure you are getting the best deal, research prices before heading to the stores, Glaser said.
The tax-break isn’t just for parents and college students
Miller also stresses that the holiday isn’t just for those with school-aged children. The tax break applies to a number of items for adults and employees, including purses, employee uniforms, suits, ties, and safety shoes.
Diapers, diaper bags, and baby clothes are also tax-free during the holiday.
“This is a weekend for everyone, not just people going to school,” Miller said. “I think people will be surprised at the range of items that are available.”
Parents who do their shopping online can save as much as 10 percent at select stores by using cash-back websites, such as Splender or Ebates, deal experts say. Look for online coupon codes and discounts to sweeten the savings.
Erin Warren, Splender’s senior vice president of marketing, said the tax break, combined with the site’s cash-back savings and other online coupons can add up quickly. She also recommends paying with a credit card that offers rewards and other cash-back incentives.
“It really allows parents to stack up their savings,” Warren said.
Online shopping sites, particularly those that sell apparel, often offer a variety of sizes and color options that may not be available in stores, Warren said.
“I find not only is the savings great but it allows you to have access to more inventory than is otherwise available,” Warren said. “You can get the sizes and colors that you really need.”
Diapers, diaper bags and baby clothes are also tax-free during the holiday.
“This is a weekend for everyone, not just people going to school,”said James Miller, a spokesman for the Florida Retail Federation. “I think people will be surprised at the range of items that are available.”
If you are hunting for back-to-school bargains, deal experts say you’ll find the best prices this season at big box stores.
Brent Shelton, a spokesman for FatWallet.com, an online deal and coupon website, said larger retailers and websites like Office Depot, Kohl’s and Amazon have traditionally offered the best savings on back-to-school supplies and clothing.
If you are on the hunt for back-to-school bargains, consider these money-saving tips from KyleJames, founder of the coupon website Rather-Be-Shopping.com. The site offers shopping tips, promotion codes, and alerts when new online coupons are available at stores you frequently visit.
Shop at home first.
“The first thing I always recommend is to pull out your child’s backpack and shop the backpack first,” James said.
Your child may still be able to use some of last year’s supplies, and that will save you money when you shop for this year’s items, James said.
“In many cases, a lot of the stuff is still in pretty decent shape,” he said.
Don’t do all your shopping at one store.
“Never walk in to one store and buy everything,” James warns. “You are going to get some things on sale, but inevitability you are going to pay full price on some stuff.”
James recommends parents look through the sale advertisements before hitting the stores. Pay close attention to office supply ads, he says, because those stores often have rock-bottom prices on a few items every week.
Look for stores that price match.
Gather up sale ads for big box chains and office supply retailers before you head out to do your shopping. If you see an item advertised for less at another store, ask the manager to match the sale price, James said.
“That is really the best way to save,” James said.
Stay away from backpacks with characters on them.
Backpacks with cartoon characters on them typically cost about 20 to 30 percent more than non-character ones.
Instead, James recommends buying a plain backpack and letting your child decorate it.
“A lot of times, kids want the characters,” James said. “I always recommend buying stickers and letting your kids decorate them.”
Leave your children at home when you shop.
Many times, kids will ask for more expensive items, or items that may not be needed until later in the school year, James said.
“You end up spending more than you would have,” James said.
As a result, James Miller, a spokesman for the Florida Retail Federation, said shoppers can expect larger crowds and longer lines.
“Last year, the 10 days gave people a lot of time to spread out their shopping,” Miller said. “This year is going to be much more compacted.”
Local malls are also bracing for larger crowds and will be holding special events and promotions.
“We are definitely expecting the mall to be busier than usual,” said Rachelle J. Crain, a spokeswoman for the Mall at Wellington Green. “Our stores are well-stocked with great back-to-school essentials.”
At Palm Beach Outlets, general manager Greg Farrington said many stores are working on promotions that coincide with the three-day sales-tax break. Customers looking for additional savings can stop by the customer service desk in the food pavilion for a coupon book, he added.
At the Boynton Beach Mall, a special back-to-school event will be held from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, officials said. The event will include a fashion show, school supply giveaways, health screenings and entertainment.
During the tax-free weekend, shoppers who spend more than $150 at selected stores at The Gardens Mall in Palm Beach Gardens, will receive a $10 gift card. To receive the free gift card, shoppers must present their same-day receipts at the mall’s information desk.