August 31, 2009

Being Reflective

Being reflective. It is a trait that we all have, but it only seems to come to us at milestone events. A birthday, wedding, birth, anniversary, diagnosis, reunion, or death suddenly floods us with memories and emotions.

With major events, the media help stir up these feelings. This week the death of Senator Ted Kennedy once again brought forward those memories of both his life and that of his brothers and family. The past year has been a rather reflective one for the American people with the economic crisis, the election and inauguration of President Obama, and the recent deaths of Michael Jackson and now Senator Kennedy. Every event means something different to each of us.

In reading the many posts for this blog, you have seen some of that same reflective tone because in essence many times we must look back to move forward. In my line of work, I see some of the trials and tribulations of others and try to learn from them. I know as educators, you also catch those glimpses of your students' lives, and try to educate, help, and support them in the time they are with you.

Finally, I have been asked on occasion about the somewhat reflective nature of some of my posts, and I am reminded of a quote a high school educator once recited to my class as to why we study history:

"There are three methods to gaining wisdom. The first is reflection, which is the highest. The second is limitation, which is the easiest. The third is experience, which is the bitterest." - Confucius

August 30, 2009

Reviewing Your Diversification

Reviewing your account and its holdings is important to insure that you continue to be well diversified. The market has been strong overall in 2009, and especially since March 10 (market low) with the S&P 500 rising essentially 50%. If you are always waiting for the market to improve before making your investments, you run the risks of missing the big advances but being around for the pullbacks.

As I have discussed in previous posts, while the entire market may be moving forward, some parts parts may be lagging or growing faster than others. Since it is impossible to know which will be moving where, you place certain percentages (based on your age, circumstances, and risk tolerances) in various areas to spread your risk.

Some people believe that you simply look at last year's returns and pick the winners... bad move. If you remember, in January I wrote a post titled 2009 Investment Options for Your 403(b). In that post I said, "..., do not look at last year's return to just make your choices. Last year was a great year for government bonds, but this year could end up being a bad one for government bonds because they already are so highly priced which is only compounded by a very low yield. If you just feel like you have to buy them, do very little or just hold cash instead." Well, interestingly enough... I have been right. Through Friday, August 28, the US government bonds have a -2.8% return and the US government long term bonds have a -7.7% return. Cash would have been better.

Thinking about the same post from January, I also said, "After the credit markets were essentially beaten down in 2008, bonds of very high quality companies (usually called investment grade bonds) were sold down quite heavily and are still selling at a discount. If we are to believe that the U.S. economy will recover, and it will, then these bonds could enjoy some price recovery back to par along with the yield." I went on to add that if you really wanted to buy bonds in your account, please look at investment grade corporate bonds - I also gave one example of a fund available in AIG VALIC accounts. The return on the Vanguard Investment Grade Bond Fund I mentioned through Friday was +13.7%. Additionally, I discussed investing a TIPS (inflation protected bonds) as another fixed income investment, and it's return was +6.9% YTD.

What does the above mean? Really, I just want to point out that following last year's winners or even just being "safe" could in the end limit or even hurt your performance. Also, having some knowledge in the area is important. A math teacher does not teach history and vice versa. Knowledge matters.

We will all make good and bad decisions (including those knowledgeable), and the benefit of diversification is that a bad decision in one area could be countered by a good decision in another area.

Another important aspect is "rebalancing" your accounts. This means essentially getting your diversification back in line with your original allocations. Most sites allow their participants to "rebalance" their portfolio, and doing so once a year is a great idea. Don't pile everything into one category because it has done well. Instead, continue your allocations and your account (and possibly mind) will thank you.

Looking at the index returns for 2009 (this is a link to Morningstar's Index Returns site), Mid Cap and Small Cap have outpaced Large Cap. Growth has been better than value in large caps. Corporate bonds have beaten government bonds. International markets (especially emerging markets) have outpaced domestic markets (this is partly due to a weak dollar). No one could have predicted all of the above, so being invested across all of these areas should have helped your account.

Remember, broad diversification is important, and understanding that you may need help can be just as important. Don't be afraid to ask questions... I think I heard one or two teachers say that in class.

August 29, 2009

Can Social Security Be Fixed? Can Windfall Elimination Be Included?

As the old saying goes, there are few things in life that are guaranteed... death and taxes. Since 1935 though, Social Security (SSA) could have been added to this short list, but will it remain?

Over the years I have had numerous discussions with colleagues and clients on the impending problem of SSA. Every election year we hear that the politicians are going to address it, but political pressure always pushes it back for another time. No one wants to be the bad guy because it will interfere with their plans for their political future.

There are strong senior groups that say you cannot change the current system or benefits, yet if we are to insure that SSA will survive, we must stop waiting to address the problem and actually confront it. Remember, the baby boomers are coming...

So What Is The Problem?

Essentially, the system is running out of money, and there is no "trust fund" or "lock box" that has money waiting to fund it. All of the excess money over the years has been used to fund the retirees and for other government programs. The only thing in the "trust fund" are a bunch of IOU's from the government.

All of the deficits that the government has had would have higher had the SSA tax dollars not been included. Simple accounting... move money from the left pocket that is supposed to be saved to the right pocket that is spent.

The SSA 2009 annual report shows more contributions into the system ($590 billion) than distributions ($513 billion), BUT since the "trust fund" of $2.2 trillion is just IOU's from the government, the plan quite literally has zero money other than the government debt.

Now, let's look at a "real" pension plan. For example, the Georgia TRS (that we have discussed previously) had a current plan balance of $50.06 billion (FY 2008 ended June 30, 2008 - latest report available). In FY 2008, the plan took in $1.54 billion in contributions from employees and employers while it paid out $2.76 billion in benefits. Since the distributions only accounted for 5.5% of the total, it was a down year, and TRS raised contribution amounts for 2009-2010, the plan looks to be in extremely good shape (all figures from the FY 2008 Annual Report).

If the Georgia TRS plan funds were suddenly being used by the state to pay current expenditures (not allowed by the way), TRS would be in the same boat as SSA... but they are not. The TRS plan has an actual balance with actual investments - not just IOU's.

How To Solve the Problem?

First, there is no easy solution. The problem can be solved quickly, but the solution itself is not easy to come to grips with, so let's look at some possible solutions and decide what looks good.

  • Just raise the SSA taxes from $106,800 (2009 level) to a reasonable amount and index it to inflation.
    • This is good in theory as long as the raise is not too much. First, even Obama just pledged not to raise taxes on anyone making less than $250k, yet here we will be asking those making under $250k to be hit with the most regressive tax we have, and the small businesses (heart of the economy) will also bear the brunt of the tax (remember employers match the contribution).
    • This is part of the same group that will also be hit with tax increases to pay for whatever health care reform comes down. You can only squeeze so much before you hurt the consumer, the businesses, the economy, etc. Raising the limit will create more revenue, but do not take it too high or it will be a burden.
  • Just raise the full retirement age.
    • Another good option that should be included, and it should be raised to 70. People are living longer, this needs to be a consideration (not for those within 20 years of full retirement right now, but a simple phase up like before).
  • Best Solution - Combine Above
    • The best solution is to tweak items all the way around including benefits to lessen the blow on employees, employers, and retirees. This is a shared benefit that should be a shared burden.
How Do We Solve the Windfall Elimination Provision?

It seems as if my blog titled "Windfall Elimination Repeal - The Congressional PR Two Step" on July 26 struck a nerve. In my post I discussed H.R.235 - Social Security Fairness Act of 2009 and S.484 - Social Security Fairness Act of 2009, and how even with overwhelming bipartisan support, neither bill has a chance due to the price tag.

If Congress were to work on the WEP issue, how could they fix it? For most educators, it seems the issue is receiving the spousal benefits. This is definitely an issue. It does trim the price tag some, but if we are fixing the whole system, we should definitely lump this in as well.

By the way, there is always the "loophole" solution (work your last five years before retiring in education in a system that pays into SSA), but this means changing jobs just when you are in the final stages of your career. I see this as a "final option" because of the strain it obviously puts on the educator. This is especially tough if you have been in the same system for 25 years.

I do believe that it is wrong that my wife would not receive very much (if any) benefit from my contributions (and my employer's) to SSA because of her income from her pension. If we were both deceased, then they can keep the money, but at least let my wife enjoy some of the fruits of my labor if she survives me. Realistically though, I see Congress continuing to do little.

One solution that some colleagues and I have tossed around though is allowing the equivalent of one full SSA payout between married couples with one non-educator and one educator (that did not pay into SSA for 15+ years). The spousal benefit to the educator at the non-educator's death would be a continuation of the non-educator's benefit.

This scenario limits the spousal and SSA covered employee benefit while both are alive, then allows the educator the SSA income that they are used to if the SSA covered employee dies first. Having a spouse die is tough enough and having that death adversely affect your income should not become a burden.

Final Thoughts

This is a tough topic to cover in one post, but I tried to give some of the basic issues surrounding SSA and WEP repeal. The main issue on both fronts really is cost. We have a limited number of workers with limited incomes to tax, so we cannot just tax our way out of the issue. There really does need to be some changes to the system to continue to make it viable especially if it is to survive the Baby Boomer generation.

Additionally, I highly recommend reading the article by Allan Sloan called "The Next Great Bailout: Social Security." It is a very good read and covers many of the same issues with SSA from a bit of a different angle.

My view has always been that the contributions of one spouse takes away from the other as well, so why penalize the spouse? The system is designed to be a support system to those that paid into the system, and an educator's spouse did pay in. Why limit the income to the surviving spouse?

August 24, 2009

Are You an Educator With a Student Loan?

Any time you have a debt that can just go away or be reduced, it is important to take advantage of it. For some educators, that could be a possibility with their school loans.

The office of Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education, "plays a central and essential role in America's postsecondary education community." This office is also in charge of the Cancellation and Deferment Options for Teachers. Depending on several factors, an educator could conceivably be able to have their student loan(s) completely wiped out after five years.

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to know if you qualified without doing a bit of legwork, but the payoff would easily be worth the time and effort. The main items you need to know are what kind of loan you have, if you are considered a "teacher," and if your school is considered low-income school. This website - Cancellation/Deferment Options for Teachers - will start spelling it all out for you, but the equally important Teacher Cancellation Low Income Directory is a good place to start. If your school does not make the list, there is not much sense in going much further at this time. Check to make sure though it has not been listed at all during your five years.

Good luck to everyone in your hunt for information and reducing your debt. It's the first step in being able to get control of your finances and putting away even more money for your retirement.

Have I Been Avoiding Health Care?

It seems that Congress is spending day upon day upon day on the health care issue and little has been resolved. I have been asked why I have not commented on the plans. Essentially, I have tried to stay out of the discussion in this blog because educators generally have fairly good insurance since they are usually grouped with other public employees in their respective state plans. Additionally, there are numerous plans floating about, so to comment on just one is tough when both the House and Senate are so different on what should happen.

I hope before Labor Day (when Congress returns) to have something of some value to add to the discussion. Nothing earth shattering, but just something to stoke the flames. If you have some ideas, I would be happy to hear them -

August 20, 2009

What Is a "Flight to Quality?"

It seems that every industry has a jargon that they use in every day language. Writing across the curriculum, content specific, NCLB, AYP, detention (I believe I heard this once... may be twice), etc. In the financial world, we have numerous terms too, so today I will give you a couple to listen for in the future.

If you ever watch CNBC, Bloomberg, or Fox Business, you may have heard them say that "there has been a flight to quality occurring" or something similar. This may sound like some code, and it is for the financial world.

Simply put, a "flight to quality" is a the selling of risky investments and moving into safer investments. This can mean from international markets (which tend to be more volatile) to domestic markets or from stocks to bonds or in the case of 2008, from anything into government bonds.

Another term that sometimes coincides with "flight to quality" is "capitulation." This is a term that is used during a down cycle in the market. As the market starts to turn lower, you will have some people "capitulate" and sell out. When there is a mass of sellers, it is called "capitulation." The interesting thing about capitulation is that it usually signifies a bottom to the market. With everyone "out," the market theoretically can stabilize and start to rebuild to move higher...

Hope this helps make some sense of the jargon you hear from the media regarding the financial markets.

August 18, 2009

Gaining Some Perspective

We are all busy. Day in, day out. The grind, the rush, the pressure, the traffic, etc., etc. Out of the blue though, life sometimes throws us that curve ball that forces us to reflect... if sometimes only for just a minute. This past weekend was the start of one of those times for me.

Twenty-one years ago this week, my little brother was diagnosed with T-cell Lymphoma. It was a shock to everyone that this strong, vibrant, outgoing boy could be hit with something as serious as this as he turned 10. It was tough for my family, and it was hard for me as a 15 year old to see my little brother struggle while he smiled the whole time.

Those times and years changed me. I saw not just my brother but the other kids and their siblings and parents go through some difficult times. Birthdays and Christmases at the hospital. Sneaking in barbecue. Pool, video games, and cards while receiving medication. The list could go on, but you get the drift.

In a strange twist of fate, the executive director of an organization started by one of my brother's doctors lives right across the street from me. Almost 20 years after my little brother finished with treatment, I am still reminded of it every now and then, and that is a good thing. It levels me.

I know I usually focus on your own finances, but when possible, do not forget to give back a bit. There is no set amount or percentage that is necessary, but the feeling you receive for helping a worthy cause just warms the heart.

Oh, and best of all... my little brother turns 31 this week... Happy Birthday Brad.

August 14, 2009

Patience & History

"Teachers teach because they care. Teaching young people is what they do best. It requires long hours, patience, and care." - Horace Mann

As a child, I remember hearing this quote, and for whatever reason, it has always stuck with me. Being married to an educator, I have seen firsthand how educators must be patient and caring while spending their time and usually money on students. It is obviously a very honorable thing to be part of and see, and when the student succeeds, it makes it all worth it.

Thinking about patience, how patient are you with your investments?

When the market moves lower, I can see and hear people rushing for safety. The problem I have always had with that approach for educators is that as educators with pensions, most of you already have a very sizable safety net. This is not the same for "business people," so any advice to them may be somewhat different.

Over the past few weeks, I have received a few e-mails asking me about getting back into the market now since things have stabilized. Most of these individuals had been completely in cash because they were worried about losing money even though all of them were fairly young educators. The issue here is long term, long term, long term and diversify, diversify, diversify!

The stock market has moved up roughly 50% from its March lows, and the S&P index is up 13.95% for 2009. Most investors (whether old or young) should have had at least something invested during 2009.

Going back to previous posts of mine from January (2009 Investment Options for Your 403(b)), March (Current Investment Options), and April (Is History Repeating Itself? - Looking Forward on the Market) regarding the market and investments, the emphasis has always been on looking forward by looking back through history.

We teach our students by explaining to them what has been learned throughout history. Whether the subject is math, science, English, or history, the knowledge that we have gained to teach our students has been through a progression of time. For example, Archimedes and Pythagoras for math, Newton and Einstein for science, Shakespeare and Dickens for English, and well, everything for history.

The stock market and the economy are somewhat the same way. The market looks forward, unemployment lags, etc., etc.

One of the best minds we currently have working for us is Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. As an academic scholar in the 1980's Bernanke studied The Great Depression from causes to effects and how the system could have behaved better. In fact, back in 2007, there was a blog from The Wall Street Journal, Real Time Economics, that discussed how Bernanke's past experience may help us in the future - Why Bernanke’s Great Depression Research Matters Today.

I mention all of these things not to discuss what you should have done earlier this year, but to explain how all of us can learn from this past market for future markets. My job requires me to learn from past successes and mistakes, so that I can do better in the future for my clients. I know as educators each of you also learn through the years about various ways to teach. Please use that same approach in other areas.

Remember the lessons of the past year for the future years. The market can be a great teacher in its own right.

August 7, 2009

Back to School & Points of View - August 7

It is the last "pre-school" weekend for my wife. Basically, she is in organization mode to get ready for the planned invasion on Monday morning. I always wonder if she is going to make it through the onslaught of battle on Day 1. As I heard one of colleagues say to a new teacher, there are only 30 "first days" in your career, but they set the tone for the entire year.

Yes, Monday morning the kids go back to school in most systems here in Georgia, so the tension, excitement, new clothes, and all will explode on Monday in what has become a global phenomenon... the back-to-school traffic jam.

If you don't work in education or have kids, either leave to get to work early or go in at least an hour late... either way, unless you like reading bumper stickers over and over and over again, you'll thank me. I admit it. I have made the mistake numerous times myself, but I have finally had it drilled into my brain. Atlanta traffic is bad DAILY, but add in the first day of school, and it looks like the rush to get the latest, greatest kid's toy for Christmas at the one store in town that has it.

The main point I want to make though - Good luck this year to students, parents, and educators!

Points of View

I heard from a number of people about how much they enjoyed reading the various editorials on education "all in one place" versus trying to sift through everything themselves. Since this seemed to be something that many of you liked, I will try to do this every month or so as the number of articles warrants.

Since everyone is probably busy with back to school issues, I have put numerous articles here for you to print, read, and enjoy when you have some time. Whether you agree or disagree (tried to get some varying opinions), hopefully the articles give you something to think about and discuss with your colleagues as everyone heads back to school.

Washington Steps Up on Schools - The New York Times - "The federal government talks tough about requiring the states to improve schools in exchange for education aid. Then it caves in to political pressure and rewards mediocrity when it’s time to enforce the bargain. As a result, the country has yet to achieve many of the desperately needed reforms laid out in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 and other laws dating back to the 1990’s."

Obama’s ‘Race to the Top’ - The Wall Street Journal - "The Obama Administration unveiled its new “Race to the Top” initiative late last week, in which it will use the lure of $4.35 billion in federal cash to induce states to improve their K-12 schools. This is going to be interesting to watch, because if nothing else the public school establishment is no longer going to be able to say that lack of money is its big problem."

Letters to the Editor: Tennessee Is a School Reform Leader - By Bill Frist - The Wall Street Journal - "Your July 31 editorial, “Obama’s ‘Race to the Top,’  ” highlights the ongoing struggle to reform our nation’s schools and some of the hurdles President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan may encounter from established education advocates, particularly teacher unions. Systemic and meaningful reform cannot occur without all stakeholders working together."

Administration Takes Aim at State Laws on Teachers - By Sam Dillon - The New York Times - "The Obama administration took aim on Thursday at state laws — adopted after heavy teachers’ union lobbying — barring the use of student achievement data to evaluate teacher performance."

Pay Your Teachers Well - The Wall Street Journal - "The conflicting interests of teachers unions and students is an underreported education story, so we thought we’d highlight two recent stories in Baltimore and New York City that illustrate the problem."

Racial Gap in Testing Sees Shift by Region - By Sam Dillon - The New York Times - "... black students have made important gains in several Southern states over two decades, while in some Northern states, black achievement has improved more slowly than white achievement, or has even declined, according to a study of the black-white achievement gap released Tuesday by the Department of Education."

As Charter Schools Unionize, Many Debate Effect - By Sam Dillon - The New York Times - "Labor organizing that began two years ago at seven charter schools in Florida has proliferated over the last year to at least a dozen more charters from Massachusetts and New York to California and Oregon."

Opportunity for Politicians’ Children - By John Fund - The Wall Street Journal - "My vote for the worst scandal in America right now is the education monopoly that keeps poor, inner-city kids trapped in failing public schools. Special mention here goes to the politicians who oppose giving these children the choice to escape even as they send their own kids to private or elite public schools."

August 5, 2009

Market Update - August 2009

My firm, Rollins Financial, has a daily blog that deals more with general market news and information, but at times, we also focus on the past month, quarter, etc. Since we have been talking about a variety of topics outside the market (it has been doing very well), I wanted to pass along our most recent take. This is essentially just a summary of items, but it points out some very good things to think about...

August 2009

The U.S. economy has posted negative growth over four consecutive quarters now, which is the first time in over 60 years that such a string has occurred. However, the second quarter 2009 GDP was only negative by 1%, beating most analysts’ expectations. And most are forecasting positive economic growth in the 3rd and 4th quarter, some even predicting rather robust growth of 3% on an annualized basis for the third quarter. Housing prices also showed some stabilization, as the index showed a slight rise in housing prices from April to May. This was the first positive monthly change for the index since the housing crisis began.

Equity markets have been the most glaring beacon, pointing to encouraging economic trends in the near future. Stocks continued their five month advance during the month of July, even in the face of some ominous news. Unemployment closes in on the 10% mark and the aforementioned persistent negative economic growth has consistently been in the headlines. Stock markets typically start to rebound long before there is any evidence of an economic turnaround. This market action sometimes puzzles analysts and investors who are focused on the current economic numbers, although the same pattern has emerged time after time. The recent market surge has added nearly 50% from the March lows. This compares favorably to the average 24% gain that has historically followed recession lows in the stock market.

The Dow Industrial Average reached the 9000 level for the first time since last October. While the recent turn in the markets feels good compared to where we were in March, we are sure that investors are well aware equity levels are still roughly one-third of the record highs of October 2007. In essence, we will need to see considerable economic progress before we get back to those lofty levels.

Almost all asset classes marked gains for the month of July except for oil and gold, which are off their highest levels of the year. But most categories of stocks, bonds and other commodities all posted varying degrees of gains for the month. The standouts for the month were developed international stocks and emerging market stocks, which gained 10%, and 11%, respectively, for the month of July. Emerging market stocks have outperformed nearly every other class, posting a gain of 44.4% for all of 2009.

China, Brazil and India have weathered the financial crisis better than some might have expected and have also benefited from rebounding commodity prices. China, for instance, is sitting on $2 trillion in reserves, with which they can use to invest and stimulate their economy. It’s nearly unimaginable for Americans to consider the envious Chinese position, holding all of those savings just as assets across the globe are on sale.

The broadest U.S. stock market index measured by the S&P 500 gained 7.6% for the month of July and is now positive by 11% for the year, through July 31st. The technology focused NASDAQ advanced 7.9% for the month and an impressive 26.2% since December 31, 2008. Technology companies’ strong balance sheets and relative earning resilience has transformed the once speculative sector into a safe haven for investors. The Dow Industrial Average managed to make it into positive territory for the year, posting gains of 8.8% for the month and 6.6% for the year.

High yielding corporate bonds as well as high grade corporate issues have also rebounded well throughout 2009. High yield bonds posted gains of 7% just during the month of July and have advanced by 18.1% for the year. Investment grade corporate bonds achieved a gain of 4.6% for the month of July and 9.3% from the start of the year. Corporate bonds of all stripes were all sold down last year as the threat of economic distress and massive defaults seemed imminent. U.S. treasury bonds, last year’s safety trade, are one of the lone losers this year. Long-term treasuries are down 19.1% for the year, medium-term treasuries have lost 5.9% for 2009, and even shorter-term government bonds have posted small losses year to date.

There is much debate about what the U.S. treasury markets price action means this year. We saw investors flood into the safest investments (U.S. treasuries) denominated in the safest currency (U.S. dollar) on earth as the financial crisis was unfolding. This was evidenced by the historic rally in treasury prices in 2008, accompanied by a surging U.S. dollar.

As the crisis abates, we are seeing those same investors move capital into riskier assets denominated in riskier currencies. These other investments are priced to offer higher potential returns than good old U.S. treasury bonds. This, in our opinion, is the most significant influence – treasury prices and the U.S. dollar. The enormous supply of new treasuries will undoubtedly send yields somewhat higher, all else equal. But we take recent market action as evidence that investors’ appetites for risk, and inflation expectations, continue to be the most significant drivers of interest rates required on U.S. government debt.

As we have said, we are encouraged by the recent rally in the stock markets. In our view, the rally since March has largely been a product of simply avoiding a Depression scenario. A Depression was never a likely outcome considering the unprecedented, while controversial, actions of the Federal Reserve and the Department of Treasury. In addition, there was constant chatter about a collapsing banking system or the only apparent alternative, a nationalized banking system.

There are consequences to these extraordinary measures and bailouts, which most likely saved the economy from even higher unemployment and even slower economic activity. There will be the endless hearings and concern over who benefited more or less in addition to some new regulations and reinstatement of some old regulations. Some additional financial institutions deserved to die, some Wall Street bankers continue to receive grotesque bonuses, and the government influence during this period can make us all uncomfortable.

This environment of bailouts and unprecedented government intervention is not the norm, however, and isn’t likely to be standard practice in the future. Capitalism will survive and thrive, just as it has post the Great Depression when new regulation and many of the government programs we take for granted were created. American style capitalism has been proven as the best economic system in the world, and is likely to remain the model of economic success in the years to come.

August 3, 2009

Tax-Free Holidays - Don't Miss Them!!

How do you know the summer is over? Check the stores and if they are packed... it must be a tax-free holiday for back to school items. It happened this past weekend in Georgia and Mississippi, and it is important to try to make the most of it.

Some counties in Georgia actually start school TODAY. My wife's county, Gwinnett, has pre-planning this week, then school starts next Monday. Yes, as she always says, "The party's over..."

For those educators around the country, plan your supply shopping around the tax-free weekends if possible because even though you only save on the sales tax, many retailers are also using it as a way to promote sales of other various items.

Below is a list of the states with tax-free weekends, the dates, and a link to each state website giving details on how you can save. Good luck!