Getting everything your child needs for school can be expensive and challenging for parents on a budget. It’s especially painful this year if you’re one of the at least 30 million Americans believed to be unemployed.
If you’re looking for places to find free or discounted school supplies, we’ve done some of your homework for you. In no particular order, here are some ideas:
— Go to EveryoneOn.org.
— Try your local food bank.
— Shop at Goodwill.
— Try an estate sale.
— Search your house.
— Don’t forget United Way
— Consider Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
— Don’t forget about actual stores.
— Talk to your child’s school.
Go to EveryoneOn.org
If your income is really uncertain — maybe you’re on food stamps or in public housing or your child participates in the National School Lunch Program — you may want to check out this nonprofit’s website. You input your ZIP code, and it will show offers in your area for low-cost internet services and computers.
[See: 35 Ways to Save Money.]
Try Your Local Food Bank
Some food banks offer school supplies to children in need, so you might ask if they have anything. If your local food bank doesn’t, odds are, they know where you should turn.
Some food banks have programs that will provide school supplies for teachers, who can then give them to their students. The Houston Food Bank’s Teachers Aid program is an excellent example of that type of arrangement.
Shop at Goodwill
The nonprofit, as you’re likely aware, has stores throughout the country that offer secondhand goods for low prices. It may be worth checking out for school supplies. Kim Praniewicz, vice president of marketing and mission advancement at Goodwill Industries of Central Florida, says that parents typically can find low-priced clothes, pens, pencils, notebooks and folders as well as electronics that students may find handy, like earbuds and webcams.
It’s also an environmentally friendly move, according to Praniewicz. “By shopping at Goodwill, you’re helping to divert more than 3 billion pounds of clothing and household goods from landfills every year,” she says.
Try an Estate Sale
Most harried parents will probably think, “Who has time for this?” But Chris Castanes, owner of Surf Financial Brokers, an insurance company in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, says, “As the executor of my father’s estate, I can definitely say that there are plenty of binders, paper and pens available at estate sales. In our search for a good estate sale company, we ran across plenty of supplies that could be used in school for a fraction of the cost of a retail store.”
You can find estate sales in your area at EstateSales.net.
[Read: Money Saving Challenges.]
Search Your House
Amanda Ramkissoon is a high school math teacher and the owner of FrugalMomGuide.com, a personal finance blog.
“Believe it or not, my No. 1 tip for getting free school supplies is to look around your house,” she says. “Why buy new notebooks, pens, pencils, erasers and other stationery when you already have these tucked away in desks and cupboards around your home? Many of us have notebooks with just one or two used pages. Take the used pages out, and these books are as good as new again. The same goes for other office supplies. You’ll be surprised by how many random pens and pencils you have lying around your home, all in great working condition.”
Don’t Forget United Way
United Way does a lot of back-to-school drives and distributes school supplies to families. You could go to its website and talk to your local chapter to see if you can get any supplies that your child needs.
Consider Boys & Girls Clubs of America
This is another wonderful resource. You also might want to check with your local Boys & Girls Club chapter and see if they have school supplies.
Don’t Forget Actual Stores
Walmart, Family Dollar and Dollar General in particular tend to have inexpensive school supplies. Also consider Target, Costco and numerous other stores. Sure, many of these retailers also have expensive back-to-school items. But if you have the time to shop for bargains, you may find some good deals. For instance, Walmart has a section on its website advertising $1, $2 and $3 school supplies.
Talk to Your Child’s School
It isn’t easy to call the school or email your child’s teacher and ask for suggestions on finding cheap or free school supplies. But there should be nothing embarrassing about asking for free school supplies when the country is in the midst of a pandemic and economic crisis. You will not be the only parent contacting the school.
If the school doesn’t have any ideas where you can get cheap or free school supplies — which seems unlikely — you might want to offer ideas of your own.
You could suggest that your child’s school work with the National Association for the Exchange of Industrial Resources, a nonprofit that takes donations from companies, like school supplies, and then gives what they get to churches, schools and other nonprofits.
NAEIR has thousands of member schools and teachers who choose the supplies they want from a catalog of merchandise. Teachers are not charged a membership fee, and the shipping is also free (they may be asked to pay a small handling fee). Schools are also free to join, but since they might order pallets of merchandise or items like desks, they may be asked to pay a freight shipping charge.
[Read: How to Save Money for Your Kids.]
Teachers should consider connecting with the Kids In Need Foundation, which offers free school supplies to students at high-need schools. Teachers also may want to consider applying to the SupplyaClassroom.org program.
But one way or another, if you’re bound and determined, you will find free or discounted back-to-school supplies for your child. Especially if your kid is going to the classroom by way of your sofa, and if you’re playing the role of teacher, principal, cafeteria worker and hall monitor, finding cheap mechanical pencils, notebooks and laptops may be the easiest thing you do this school year.
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