10 Ways You Can Get Free School Supplies

Never purchase another No. 2 pencil again.

10 Ways You Can Get Free School Supplies
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Bring on the backpacks, lunch boxes, and pencils—it’s back-to-school season, folks! While gearing up for the start of the year can be an exciting time, it also comes with a requisite not-so-joyful experience: receiving a mile-long list of school supplies. Who needs Elmer’s glue and a glue stick? What kid is going to go through 50 pencils in a year? And she needs how many spiral notebooks for the fifth grade?

We know trying to cross all those items off the school supply list can be daunting—not to mention result in a significant ding to your bank account. With that in mind, we rounded up some surefire ways to stock up on all the Crayons and notebook paper your school-aged child could ever need, free of charge. These tried-and-true tricks will help you secure school supplies without breaking the bank!

Check with your local charitable organizations.

donations bin of school supplies Shutterstock

For a number of charitable organizations, a primary focus during the back-to-school season is ensuring that no student walks into the classroom unprepared. Those organizations can vary based on region, of course, but some good options to look into include the Salvation Army, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and United Way back-to-school programs.

Scout the website (or phone the office) of your local division of these organizations to find out exactly what school supply events are in store for your area. While you’re at it, contact your local shelter to ask if it’s planning to hold any school supply drives.

Look into a backpack program.

back to school backpack filled with supplies

Some organizations support backpack programs, which not only give your student an armful of supplies, but also a backpack to tote everything around in. Such programs can also vary depending on your area, though one to keep in mind is the Volunteers of America’s Operation Backpack, which equips children with grade-specific supplies and is available in nearly a dozen highly populated communities, including New York City, the San Francisco Bay Area, and the states of Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Ohio.

Scour online marketplaces for deals.

Facebook friend request, reach a customer service rep Shutterstock

Hey, you never know—some kind soul on Facebook Marketplace could be looking to give those extra packages of Crayolas (at no charge) to some child who can use them. Other online options include Craiglsist (specifically search under the “For Sale” category, and then click on “free”); OfferUp, a website for buying and selling items in your local area; and Freecycle.org, a website devoted to exchanging items (for free) with other people in your community.

Check with your school or school district.

school empty classroom Shutterstock

At the Reynolds School District, in Fairview, Oregon, school administrators will happily accept school supply donations from generous parents. Then, families who might need a helping hand can take what they need. Before you drop serious cash on rulers, binders, paper, and other supplies, give your school district a ring (or check their website) and see if they have a similar program.

Organize a school supply swap.

office supplies, get rid of kids stuff Shutterstock/yalana

Granted, this idea only works if you have some extra supplies on hand. Still, getting a group of parents and their scores of school supplies into one room can be an easy way to distribute the wealth and put extra glue sticks into the hands of someone who can use them.

At some point, you might have stockpiled more pencils than your child could go through. Chances are, there’s another parent in a similar predicament, but with, say, a surplus of notebook paper. If that’s the case, a simple supply swap can be the perfect way for you to get notebook paper and the other parent to get pencils, without either of you even having to spend a dime!

Encourage your child’s teacher to register with Adopt a Classroom.

teacher reading to students, working mom Shutterstock/weedezign

This is a bit of a roundabout option, since Adopt a Classroom’s mission is geared more toward teachers, but the premise of the org’s mission could still help lighten the load on your end. After all, if teachers are able to get more of their classroom supplies from donors, that will logically lessen the number of supplies they’ll require from you, the parents!

Over 21 years of operation, Adopt a Classroom has helped raise $36 million for teachers to get the supplies they need to teach effectively. There’s nothing to lose (and so much to gain) by encouraging your child’s teacher to register their classroom to connect with grants or corporate sponsors. Organizations with similar missions include Donors Choose and Pledge Cents.

Keep an eye out for the Back-to-School Brigades.

military army mom and daughter Shutterstock

Military families should definitely be on the lookout for the Back-to-School Brigades. A partnership between Operation Homefront and Dollar Tree, this program has one mission: provide free backpacks and school supplies to the children of those serving in our nation’s armed services. Be sure to check out Operation Homefront’s event page to find out if a Back-to-School Brigade is happening near you—if so, you’ll need to register for the event in advance.

Clip coupons.

Pile of Coupons {Target Black Friday}

Scan Coupons.com and RetailMeNot for killer deals on school supplies. Also, take the time to pore over the print coupons in your local papers, which could be peppered with steals on school supplies in the months of July and August.

Take advantage of rebate deals.

Outside of a Staples Store {Discounts For Old Items} Shutterstock

Watch carefully for rebate deals at stores like Office Supply, Office Depot, and Staples through the months of July and August. With rebates, you’ll technically have to put down some bucks to purchase the supplies in-store, but as long as you remember to seal the rebate in an envelope and stick a stamp on it before tossing it in the mailbox, you’ll get that money back, making those scissors or colored pencils 100-percent free. You should also be sure to take a look at Ebates.com, which, while not guaranteed to land you an entirely free deal, can definitely help you bring the price down significantly.

Contact your local media outlets for the scoop on school supply giveaways.

a stack of newspapers Shutterstock

Go one step further than perusing the coupon section of your local paper and actually dial up (or, more realistically, tweet at) a local journalist. Reporters, especially those who cover education, are sure to know if any nearby organizations are planning to host a school supply giveaway event. It never hurts to connect with them and find out if they know about any upcoming events where you could score some free school supplies. Even if your local outlet doesn’t know of any giveaways or drives when you first contact them, you can always ask to be kept in the loop if a promising event pops up on their radar. And for more small ways to save big, check out these 33 Tiny Shopping Habits That Will Save You Loads of Money in the Long Run.

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