If you are buying school supplies for an elementary school student, you can expect to spend around $650 for everything on the list, based on data from 2017. A middle school-aged child may need $1,000 in supplies. If you have a high school student, the total comes close to $1,500.
The back-to-school shopping season is the second-largest during the year. Across 29 million households, the total spent will likely reach approximately $27.6 billion.
However, some families may be able to reduce their costs. In many cities, free school supplies are available, particularly to low-income households. Which programs are available depends on where you live. With that in mind, here are some free school supplies programs and the locations they serve.
Operation Homefront’s Back-to-School Brigade
The Operation Homefront Back-to-School Brigade provides backpacks filled to the brim with free school supplies to military children. The organization hosts 60 events across the country, largely at military bases.
Some of the events have already occurred, but many are still accepting applicants, as the program runs through August 9 in 2018. You do need to register in advance if you want to guarantee that your child will receive a backpack at an event.
If there isn’t an event near you, contact your local Family Readiness Group (FRG) as free school supplies may be available there instead.
Another national organization that provides free school supplies to children in need is the Salvation Army. Some locations host events while others distribute the supplies on a less structured basis.
Typically, income restrictions do apply, though they can vary between locations. Contact your local Salvation Army to see if they are providing free school supplies and to determine if you qualify.
Kids in Need Foundation
With 40 resource centers across the country, the Kids in Need Foundation provides free school supplies to children in need. In 2017, they gave support to 6.2 million kids as well as 180,000 teachers, ensuring children had the items they needed to succeed.
Many of the resource centers only provide free school supplies to teachers, though this can allow educators to help kids in need who are learning in their classrooms.
Operation School Bell
A Phoenix, Arizona, program, Operation School Bell provides school uniforms to children from low-income families. To be considered eligible, your child must qualify for the free or reduced lunch program and selected by a social worker or another employee at the school.
The program also provides emergency to clothing to children who’ve experienced a qualifying tragedy, such as a fire or homeless.
Back 2 School Illinois
The Back 2 School Illinois initiative provides free school supplies to families in need who live in the state. In 2017, the program gave out over one million items to more than 34,000 children, mostly in the form of Back 2 School kits, each of which has about 30 pieces.
In August, the “BIG” Distribution Day Event gives out a stunning amount of supplies. However, assistance is also available all year through their numerous partners, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago and the YMCA.
It Takes a Village Back-to-School Event, Atlanta
The annual It Takes a Village Back-to-School Event provides free school supplies to families in need. They use a first-come, first-serve model and you need tickets to attend, though the event is free.
In 2018, the event is on September 7 at the Wolf Creek Library. Along with free schools supplies, there will also be food, drinks, and access to a range of resources.
Jefferson County School Supplies Distribution
Students in Jefferson County, Colorado, can attend a free event at Stevens Elementary School to receive free school supplies. The distribution of the items occurs over the course of a week in early August, though the day you can attend depends on the child’s last name.
Other Possible Resources
There are a lot of charitable organizations that may have free school supplies available. If you aren’t sure what is available in your area, there are a few places worth contacting.
For example, you can begin with your local United Way chapter. While they may not provide supplies directly, they can give you information on helpful charities in your area.
Local churches can also be an excellent resource, and you don’t always have to be a member to get help. You can also contact your local Love Inc. or similar groups to see if assistance is available nearby.
Another great resource is your child’s school. Often, school administrators, social workers, and guidance counselors are well informed regarding places that are providing free school supplies. They can likely provide you with contact information for a range of organizations, giving you the best opportunity to find free school supplies for your child.
Low-Cost School Supplies
If you aren’t eligible for free school supplies or still have some items on your list, certain stores tend to have lower prices on school supplies than others.
Michaels and Jo-Ann Fabrics, the craft stores, can be a great place to shop if you get your hands on good coupons. Both stores allow you to use multiple coupons on one transaction, making coupons that only apply to a single item easier to use. They offer print, mobile, app, and email coupons, so consider signing up for additional discounts.
Walmart is often a leader when it comes to low-cost school supplies, and they usually have supply lists available near the front door, making it easy to make sure you get everything you need. If you buy name brand school supplies, make sure to use the Walmart Savings Catcher on the app. That way, if another store sold it for less, you’ll get the difference back as a Walmart gift card.
Staples is another great option, particularly because of its price matching program. If you find the same product for less somewhere else (including on Amazon), they won’t just match the price; they’ll beat it by 10 percent. This means a little bit of research can help you save a bundle, making it worth the effort.
Do you have a great resource for free school supplies? Tell us about it in the comments below.
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