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Tax holiday set for this weekend

Massachusetts shoppers will get their annual opportunity to skip paying sales tax and save 6.25 percent on purchases this weekend.

Governor Deval Patrick signed a bill Wednesday that approved a sales tax holiday for the fifth year in a row. The tax reprieve applies to purchases of individual items priced up to $2,500 and excludes gas, utilities, cars, motorized boats, meals, and tobacco products.

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The Department of Revenue estimates that the state lost about $25 million in tax revenue during the two-day event last year. And while that might seem like a sizable savings for shoppers, a $12.50 discount on a $200 computer tablet isn’t a spectacular deal in itself.

The biggest savings might be with clearance sales on garden supplies, patio furniture, grills, and other seasonal summer products, said Edgar Dworsky, founder of the Consumer World guide. Most retailers are slashing prices now to clear out summer inventory and begin stocking stores for the holiday season.

“You should be buying at a good sale price,” Dworsky said. “Then if you can save another 6.25 percent on it, you’re doing well.”

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The tax-free weekend is one week later than usual, and it’s also closer to the start of the school year. Parents might want to take advantage of the tax exemption to save on back-to-school essentials and use school discounts to maximize savings on big-ticket computer purchases, Dworsky said.

High-price clothing is another smart buy. Massachusetts regularly taxes the sale of clothing priced over $175.

Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said the sales tax holiday is a great opportunity to purchase bicycles, kayaks, and other outdoor equipment at discounts.

Hurst, a long-time advocate of the tax-free weekend, said nearly all retailers will drop prices to compete for customers.

“You know people are going to be shopping and buying higher-ticket items,” Hurst said. “The question is, are they going to buy from you? It isn’t enough to offer the sales tax reduction. You have to offer far more than that now.”

The association estimates that consumers spend about $500 million on retail goods during the tax-free event, which Hurst compares to a December weekend when sales spike before the holidays.

“We’re thankful for it,” Hurst said. “A whole lot of stores are going to get sales that otherwise would have gone to the Internet or tax-free New Hampshire.”

This weekend also marks the first time Massachusetts residents can shop at Amazon.com without paying a state sales tax since the company began collecting it in November. State sales tax is exempt on all Internet orders paid for on Saturday or Sunday.

Taryn Luna can be reached at taryn.luna@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @TarynLuna.
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