How to Get Free Backpacks and Donated School Supplies

Girl with backpack walks to school with her mom.

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According to the National Retail Federation, the average family spends almost than $700 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.

How to Find Free Backpacks and School Supplies Near You

Check in your local area for these suppliers.

Explore 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.

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.

Check With Local Charities

Contact your local food bank to ask which charities in your area collect school supplies for kids in need. Chances are, they'll be able to point you toward sources of complementary school supplies that aren't widely advertised.

Be sure to ask about preregistration and whether you need to prove financial need in order to participate.

Look for 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 websites 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.

Search Freecycle.org and Craigslist.org

Both of these websites 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 being 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. Some communities provide safe exchange zones at police department parking lots, for example.

Scour BOGO Sales

Many retailers offer buy-one-get-one-free (BOGO) sales in August. Combined with coupons and tax-free shopping dates, you can easily save $50 or more. Consider pairing up with another family 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.

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