Last summer, I recognized some occasional signs that my computer was headed for trouble. It was six years old, well behind the times, and even though I performed regular software maintenance -- antivirus scanning, registry cleaning, hard drive scanning and occasional defragmenting -- the computer gave me occasional hiccups that I knew were harbingers of hardware trouble. I knew it was time to look at getting a new computer.
Even though I have no kids, I took advantage of last year's August back-to-school sales tax holiday to order a new computer. The holiday allows desktop computers, laptop computers and tablets up to $1,500 to be purchased tax-free; for a $500 computer system, that's a savings of nearly $50, nothing to sneeze at.
This year's sales tax holiday will take place this weekend, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Even though the tax-free weekend is intended to benefit young families in their back-to-school shopping, the tax break is available to everyone, student or not. And some computer retailers or manufacturers will have special sales as they compete for your tax-holiday or back-to-school business.
Please note that a tablet computer (like an Apple iPad or Samsung Galaxy) is eligible for the tax-free weekend, but a dedicated e-reader (like an Amazon Kindle or a Barnes & Noble Nook) is not.
The discount includes the software that comes pre-loaded on your computer. But it does not include separately-purchased computer software. A computer monitor, keyboard, speakers or scanner would be eligible for the tax-free holiday as long as they are bought as part of a new computer. But they aren't eligible if bought separately, as replacements or upgrades.
Printers and other accessories are not eligible, period. Neither are supplies such as paper, ink, CDs or DVDs.
If you order a computer online, from a vendor that would normally charge sales tax (because it has brick-and-mortar locations within Tennessee), be sure that the vendor properly handles the exemption. Last year, the first cost estimate I got when filling out my order online seemed to include the sales tax, and so I stopped short of clicking the "confirm" button, cancelled the order by saving the item to a wish list, and checked with a customer service representative.
I was assured that the final invoice would reflect the exemption, and so I went back and completed the order online. Happily, when I was able to track the purchase on the vendor's in-house financing web site a few days later, it was tax-free, just as I'd been promised. But you should be careful, ask questions, and double-check the paperwork.
The sales tax holiday begins at 12:01 a.m. Friday and ends at 11:59 p.m. Sunday. For more information, go to www.tntaxholiday.com or www.TN.gov/Revenue; email firstname.lastname@example.org; or call (800) 342-1003 during normal business hours.
* If a new computer isn't in the cards right now, consider adding memory to the computer you already own. It's easier than you think, much less expensive than buying a new machine, and will give you a noticeable bump in performance. Crucial (crucial.com) has a utility at its web site that will scan your computer and determine exactly what type of memory is needed and how much your system can accommodate. Or you can consult the web site for your computer's manufacturer.
Unfortunately, you won't be able to take advantage of the sales tax holiday when purchasing memory by itself. But it's still a good value.
--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government. He is also the author of the self-published novel "Soapstone." His personal web site is lakeneuron.com.