According to the National Retail Federation*, the average family spends more than $600 on children's clothing, electronics, and back-to-school supplies each year. For families who are struggling to pay rent and buy groceries, that cash is hard to come by. Instead of spending money you don't have, or expecting your kids to go without, take advantage of the following sources of free backpacks and school supplies in your area:
- Your Local School District
Start with your local school district. Some states, like Michigan, require school districts to provide all necessary school supplies to children receiving a free public education. In these locations, parents may voluntarily provide additional supplies, but school districts can not force them to do so. Other states, like Wisconsin, require school districts to provide books and school supplies for children whose parents cannot otherwise afford them. So start your search for free school supplies by contacting your local school district to find out what kind of assistance they can provide. This goes for school uniforms, too. If you can't afford them, but your child is required to wear a uniform, find out what procedures the school district has in place for providing uniforms directly or helping low-income families pay for them.
- Local Charities
Contact your local food bank to ask which charities in your area are collections school supplies for kids in need. Chances are, they'll be able to point you toward sources of complimentary school supplies that aren't widely advertised. Be sure to ask about preregistration, too, and whether you need to prove financial need in order to participate.
- Area Backpack Drives
Many TV and radio stations run free backpack drives during the summer. Some even provide backpacks filled with other school supplies, like notebooks, pencils, crayons, bottles of hand sanitizer, and more. To find a backpack drive near you, visit the web sites for each local TV and radio station, or call them directly. Be sure to ask whether you need to register as a recipient in order to receive free backpacks and school supplies, too.
- Freecycle.org / Craigslist.org
Both of these web sites allow users to post descriptions of items they'd like to give away for free. Freecycle's mission is to reduce the volume of gently-used items bring thrown into local landfills. However, be cautious about making arrangements to pick up any free items you find online. Speak with the owner directly, verify the address, and pick the items up during daylight hours. If possible, meet in a public location rather than at the individual's house, or bring a friend with you.
- BOGO Sales
Many retailers offer buy-one-get-one-free sales in August. Combined with coupons and tax free shopping dates, you can easily save $50 or more. Consider pairing up with another family, too, to maximize the BOGO savings. Purchase two of everything on one receipt and then split the cost 50/50. This strategy allows you to save on items you wouldn't otherwise have purchased in multiples of two.
There are lots of different ways to save on back-to-school supplies. If you're creative and start early, you can avoid paying full-price for most things on your kids' lists.
Grannis, Kathy. "Back-to-School Sales Expected to be Flat as Parents Practice Restraint, According to NRF." National Retail Association. N.p., 21 July 2011. Web. 8 May 2012. [http://www.nrf.com/modules.php?name=News&op=viewlive&sp_id=1157].