Back-to-school season comes with mixed emotions — you may be relieved to have your kids on a set schedule again, yet sad another summer has come to its end and a new season of early wake-ups is beginning. One unpleasant thing you may have suppressed? How expensive getting ready for a school year can be. Last year, average back-to-school spending per child was $272, or $360 for the whole family, according to findings from Savings.com. Haircuts, new clothes and shoes, new backpacks, calculators, and other supplies all add up (and that’s before you factor in bigger ticket items like laptops). Fortunately, if you know where to look, there are ways to get free and inexpensive back-to-school supplies for families and teachers.
Most things are more expensive this year thanks to inflation, and findings from the National Retail Federation show that more people are planning to shop sales, do comparative shopping online, buy generics or store brands, and use coupons this year compared with years past. Whether you’re looking for ways to outfit your classroom without breaking the bank or you could use a little assistance for your child, read on for more details about how you can get free or cheap back-to-school supplies for 2022.
How to find free & inexpensive back-to-school supplies for families
1. Military families, check out Back-to-School Brigade® by Operation Homefront.
For the past 13 years, Operation Homefront (with help from Dollar Tree Inc.) has distributed backpacks and other school supplies to military families. This year, it’ll be giving away its 500,000th backpack.
Note that only military-dependent children enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) who will be in kindergarten through 12th grade for the 2022-2023 school year are eligible to benefit from this program. It’s easy to register for Operation Homefront events (which is necessary to receive the free school supplies) by making a My Operation Homefront profile, then registering for an event near you.
2. Check in with a Salvation Army near you.
The Salvation Army teams up with local businesses (including Great Clips, Walmart, and many more) to solicit back-to-school donations for kids in need. Known as “Stuff the Bus,” the initiative has drop-off points around the country where people can donate supplies. Contact your local Salvation Army or fill out this back-to-school assistance application (available in English and Spanish) to learn more about receiving supplies.
3. Tell your child’s school about the Kids in Need Foundation.
Kids in Need Foundation (KINF) works directly with under-resourced schools to provide free school supplies to teachers and students. Supplies are delivered to teachers who can then distribute to students. (There’s also an option for teachers to receive supplies they need, but more on that later.) While parents or students can’t directly access the service, you can learn more about how to get your school involved with the Kind in Need Foundation.
4. Visit your local dollar store (or shop one online).
When shopping for back-to-school supplies, you may plan a trip to Target or Staples, but don’t forget about the dollar store, where you can score some serious deals. Online, you often have to buy in bulk, but check out your local Dollar Tree store for in-store deals, too.
5. Check in with your local Boys & Girls Club.
The Boys & Girls Club of America (BGCA) has many retail partners, including Ross, Kohl’s, and FedEx; typically these stores will ask customers if they want to round up their purchase with the additional funds going to back-to-school drives for BGCA. The way to access these supplies varies by location — contact your local Boys & Girls Club for information on how to access free school supplies for 2022.
6. Join your local Buy Nothing group.
If you aren’t familiar with Buy Nothing, it’s an amazing platform where people in your neighborhood can post items they’re looking to get rid of, cost-free. You can also post items you’re in search of. Buy Nothing has both its own app and a robust network of Facebook groups, broken down by neighborhoods worldwide. You may find people giving away school supplies, or you can make an ISO (in search of) post, and there’s a big chance neighbors will step up to help you.
How to find free & inexpensive back-to-school supplies for teachers
1. Check out DollarDays.
DollarDays offers wholesale prices on back-to-school supplies teachers need to stock up on (scissors, dry erase supplies, paper, pencils, and even fidget toys). You can also reach out about buying pre-filled backpacks if that’s of interest. To use the site, you’ll first need to create a free DollarDays account. Once you do that, you can start shopping or create a wish list.
2. Submit an Amazon wish list to Get Your Teach On: Clear the List.
It’s super easy to share your classroom’s Amazon wish list with Get Your Teach On (make sure your list is public before submitting). Then, people in your personal network, strangers wanting to donate, and companies can donate to your list.
3. Sign up on DonorsChoose.
Teachers and full-time educators can sign up on DonorsChoose to be matched with donors who want to help out (plus, the website matches donations on teachers’ first projects); you can also share with friends, family, and people in your personal network. In addition to basic school supplies, teachers can also register for fun classroom items, like Legos, snacks, or things like 3D printers and other tech items. It takes care of ordering and shipping.
4. Check out a teacher resource center near you.
Kids in Need Foundation (KINF) partners with more than 40 resource centers across the country to help distribute school supplies to educators. This map shows KINF partners nationwide. KINF programs also “support teachers who have 50% or more of their students participating in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP),” per its website. If this is you, check out this link for various ways you can be connected with free supplies.
5. Sign up for Staples Classroom Rewards.
Anyone can download the Staples Classroom Rewards app (it’s free to join). Teachers, parents, and supporters will earn rewards on all purchases (except stamps and gift cards) that can then be gifted to a teacher using the app. This quick video does a good job of showing how to gift rewards, but it’s simple; basically, follow the prompt that says “Classroom Rewards Available to Donate” then select give now, search for your school, and select your educator.
Teachers, let your parents and friends know about this easy way they can give back, because they’ll probably be at Staples anyway.
6. Save 15% on school supplies with Target Circle.
Teachers who are Target Circle members (this is basically the Target app that is activated by either showing your app or entering your phone number at checkout) can save 15% on school supplies. Known as the Teacher Prep Event, this year the additional teacher savings run from July 17 to Sept. 10, almost six weeks longer than last year. It’s free to become a Target Circle member if you’re not one already.
Every kid and every classroom needs back-to-school supplies, but teachers and parents shouldn’t have to break the bank to get what they need to start the school year off on the right foot. In addition to the suggestions on this list, you can help teachers and families in need by setting up a local drive, taking donations, and getting wish lists from teachers. (If you’ll be filling backpacks, don’t forget the Dollar Store, where you can get 36 backpacks for $45.) Posting on Facebook and community boards is an easy way to connect with local members who want to help. And whether you’re a parent, teacher, or just trying to help out, it never hurts to contact the school directly to see if it offers any direct support or ways to get involved.