Would You Shop Locally at 10+ Percent Tax?
Today the sales tax in Chicago went up to 10.25 percent after a 1 percent hike in the Cook county rate.
The change has me thinking seriously about how much I can afford to pay to maintain the ideal of shopping locally.
I can't say I'm a paragon of local shopping, but if I have the opportunity to get into the stores in my suburb, Oak Park, or a few blocks away in Chicago, I do it. I certainly see the value in helping local stores stay afloat so they're around when I need them. In the past few years we purchased such big-ticket items as a replacement wedding band and a dining room set at local shops.
But when you're talking about TEN PERCENT of your purchase price going to the tax man, online shopping suddenly looks even more attractive. It's not like you're saving a few pennies by going online to a site that doesn't charge any tax. (And yeah, I know you're supposed to keep track of all those tax-free transactions and report them to the IRS, but I also know that most people don't.) Buy a $20 book tax-free and you save $2. Order a $500 bookshelf with free shipping, as we recently did, and you save a whopping $50.
I have to admit that this change will change my shopping habits. Most groceries are not taxed, of course, but alcohol is, and this will probably push me to stock up on wine and beer at Woodman's when we're up in Wisconsin visiting family. What other changes will we make? Eating out just got that much more prohibitive. And yes, when I'm Christmas shopping this year, I will probably make most of the purchases online.
It would be one thing if I felt that my sales tax money was going to support important local services and infrastructure. Like if I thought my extra dollars would make the El run safely and smoothly. Those of you from the Chicago area can take a moment to laugh. Cook county's waste and corruption are well known, and I heard citizens of the county's suburbs on the radio today say they feel that what "good works" county taxes do fund are concentrated on the city.
It's clear that most of my neighbors aren't going to feel any guilt about depriving the county -- and, incidentally, our individual towns -- of revenue by shopping elsewhere. I won't waste any guilt on the government hangers-on whose salaries won't be paid with my money either.
I do feel bad about those local merchants, though. It's a dilemma.