How to Get Free or Cheap Back-to-School Supplies

This information is current as of March 16, 2022.

According to a 2021 National Retail Foundation (NRF) annual back-to-school shopping survey, American families can spend an average of $849 on back-to-school and $1200 on back-to-college supplies. Regardless of your income, that can be painful to your pocket.

School supplies, notebooks, pencils, scissors

Shopping for back-to-school supplies can quickly add up. If you’re already on a tight budget, finding extra money for backpacks, lunch boxes, laptops, tablets, and more can be super stressful. This blog post focuses on how to get free or cheap back-to-school supplies, such as:

  • Talking With Teachers
  • Kids in Need Foundation
  • Boys & Girls Club of America
  • Operation Homefront’s Back-to-School Brigade
  • Family and friends
  • Dollar Stores
  • Freecycle
  • Next Door

How to Get Free School Supplies

Several nonprofit organizations may be able to provide you with free school supplies. But, of course, it never hurts to let family and friends know you’re on the hunt. Today’s kids can need everything from headphones and device chargers to tissues and scissors.

A simple post on your social media account may surprise you. People you haven’t seen or chatted with in years can insist on sending you items their kids no longer need. Read on for additional tips and tricks.

Talking With Teachers

As with anything related to school, communicating with teachers, aids, or anyone associated with your child’s school is critical. Schools often have extra supplies on hand for students who need them. If the school itself doesn’t, they can point you in the right direction.

Educators are aware of resources and programs such as A Day Made Better/Adopt-a-Classroom, Kids In Need, and Arizona’s Treasures for Teachers, to name a few. Let your child’s teacher be one of your first routes for help. They most likely can provide your kids with the school supplies and tools they need.

Kids In Need Foundation

Presented by Dixon Ticonderoga Company, Kids In Need Foundation National Network of Resource Centers consists of over 40 organizations nationwide. Teachers can pick up free school supplies donated through KINF.

From school supplies like pens and paper to classroom enhancing decor, Kids In Need Foundation members can find much-need items at area resource centers. In addition, the organization supports educators in schools with some of the highest percentages of National School Lunch Program (NSLP) student recipients from California to Connecticut.

Click here to view Resource Center locations and learn more.

Boys & Girls Clubs of America

Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) offer a safe place for kids and teens to learn and grow. The organization’s mission is “To enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.”

BGCA has been helping millions of young people for more than 160 years and serves more than 4.6 million young people through Club membership and community outreach. Last year, the organization teamed up with 25 of America’s most popular retailers Back2School promotion.

Locate one of the 4,700 Boys & Girls Clubs of America near you.

Operation Homefront’s Back-to-School Brigade

If you happen to be a military family, you may want to check out Operation Homefront’s Back-to-School Brigade®. Operation Homefront’s mission is to “Build strong, stable, and secure military families so they can thrive – not simply struggle to get by – in the communities that they’ve worked so hard to protect.” Back-to-School Brigade is the organization’s yearly nationwide school supply collection and distribution program.

Operation Homefront has given out more than 465,000 backpacks to military children saving military families close to $50M on school-related expenses. For 13 years, Operation Homefront has teamed up with Dollar Tree Inc. to collect and distribute school supplies for military children.

Assistance League’s Operation School Bell

Operation School Bell is Assistance League’s program designed to help children succeed in school by providing them with new school clothing, books, school supplies, healthcare, including vision, hearing, and/or dental care. Chapters start by researching the particular needs within their local communities. Then, they develop, fund, and implement programs to support children in need. Operation School Bell provided 331,000 children with clothing and school supplies last year.

Free and Cheap Textbooks

College textbooks are notoriously pricey. The average book can cost between $80 and $150, with hardcopy textbooks priced as high as $400! However, there are a variety of websites, nonprofits, and shared databases for those seeking free college textbooks, including:

  • – A nonprofit that offers access to millions of free textbooks. Read textbooks online and download them free, on-demand.
  • Bookboon Free Textbooks – Founded by the University of Notre Dame alumni in 2002, Bookboon offers affordably-priced used textbooks.
  • Library Genesis – Online access to free textbooks and e-Books at no cost.
  • OpenStax – Openly licensed free textbooks for college students offered through Rice University, a nonprofit.
  • Scholarworks Free Textbooks – A shared institutional repository that collects, preserves, and offers access to free textbooks and research material from California State University.  

Additional Resources for Free School Supplies

Some additional apps, websites, and community pages you can check for posts or ask around for help include:

Where and How to Get Cheap School Supplies

If you’re looking to save money on back-to-school supplies, there are stores with reasonable prices, coupon apps, and other ways of scoring good deals. In case you haven’t already thought of the following, here are a few ideas:

  • Church Stores
  • Dollar Stores
  • for sales and discounts
  • Sam’s Club
  • Thrift Shops
  • Walmart

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Save Even More Money with Recommended Resources and Amazon Deals

Finally, check out our Recommended Resources page if you’re looking for more ways to save. For example, you can learn how to save 50% on Amazon Prime membership and use your EBT card on Amazon.