If you're a parent or a teacher, you know just how much all those pencils and books can add up, cost-wise. Let's do a little breakdown, shall we?
The contents of an elementary school student's supply list cost a whopping average of $662 last year according to the 2017 Huntington Bank Backpack Index — whereas in 2006, the cost was around $375. What about a middle school student's loot? $1,001 — a little less than double what it used to be ($525). And sending a high schooler off to their first day of classes can cost nearly $1,500 — compared to $800 10 years ago. This all makes for an average school-supply payment of about $1,000, which is about the same as the average U.S. monthly mortgage payment. Two words: Oy vey.
So, when it comes time to finally stock up on school supplies, getting them for cheap or — even better — free sounds pretty fantastic, right? The good news is that it's totally possible; you just need to know where to look (and keep your eyes peeled for giveaways).
Once you've scanned Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, OfferUp and all those other item-selling apps for free supplies, check out the ones below.
Operation Homefront's Back-to-School Brigade
This annual nationwide event distributes backpacks filled with school supplies specifically to military kids. Through Aug. 9, school supplies purchased by Dollar Tree customers can be donated to Operation Homefront to fill packs. You can pick up free school supplies at one of 60 Back-to-School Brigade events hosted across the U.S.
The Salvation Army
The Salvation Army holds donation drives locally to collect back-to-school supplies, which will eventually be distributed to local children in need. Look up the Salvation Army in your area for dates.
Plenty of companies and programs in your area likely host school-supply giveaways.
For example, in Tempe, Arizona, craft brewery Four Peaks hosts its annual Four Peaks 4 Teachers where teachers in Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff pick up school supplies free of charge. The program has been running since 2011.
In Illinois, organization Back 2 School Illinois distributes back-to-school kits. Last year, the program provided over 1 million school supplies to over 34,000 children in need.
Philanthropic program Operation School Bell runs out of Phoenix, Arizona, and over the past 25 years has provided new school clothing to local kids in poverty. Schools select up to 100 children who qualify for the program, which includes students on the free or reduced lunch program.
Boys & Girls Clubs of America
The Boys & Girls Clubs of America's Back2School program raises money specifically to benefit students. This year, they've partnered up with Toyota, which will send three 2018 Toyota Sienna minivans across the country this summer collecting school supplies for local Boys & Girls Clubs. At the end of the summer, vans will be donated to three deserving clubs. Keep an eye out to find out if one of them is in your area.
Contact the school
That's right — contact your child's school and/or district. Sometimes the school will purchase extra supplies for families who aren't able to purchase them, and sometimes teachers will use part of their classroom budget to buy extra supplies. Teachers also have many programs and events available to them (which we'll get to below) where they can score free school supplies; those extras are typically for kids in need.
Kids in Need Foundation
Kids in Need Foundation has a School Ready Supplies program that delivers school supplies directly to students. Through the program, companies must apply for a sponsorship to receive preassembled backpacks or bulk supplies.
KINF also supplies supply boxes directly to teachers who work in a school where the rate of free and reduced lunch is 70 percent or higher. Those who apply and are chosen will receive two large boxes filled with essential school supplies, including pencils, scissors, paper and notebooks. If you're a teacher and qualify, apply quickly — the deadline is July 18.
According to KINF's website, the organization helped 200,000 teachers and 6.2 million students last year. To date, they've distributed more than $900 million supplies to kids in need.
Feed the Children
Feed the Children's Homeless Education and Literacy Program, or H.E.L.P., has distributed more than 1 million backpacks to homeless and at-risk kids in the U.S. Each backpack not only includes school supplies and books, but also personal care items and snacks.
Teachers can stop into one of Feed the Children's Teacher Stores in Oklahoma, Indiana, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and California, where they can pick up free classroom and school supplies. You can find the locations here.