How to get back-to-school supplies for free this year

Parents struggling to afford school supplies can get them for free (yes, free!)

You’re not the only parent who is already feeling the pinch of pricing out your kids’ back-to-school supply list. According to the latest numbers, the average cost of school supplies can swing widely — up to almost $1,500 for high school students.

Unfortunately, you read that right. The ninth annual Backpack Index survey released by Huntington Bank showed that school supplies and extracurricular activities for the 2015-2016 school year may have cost as much as $649 for elementary schoolers, $941 for middle schoolers and $1,402 for high schoolers, who saw the highest jump in price at a 9 percent increase compared to the previous year.

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If you have more than one kid, the cost of school supplies can quickly add up (especially if you have high schoolers in the “high cost” bracket). There’s no better time to get creative in figuring out how to get supplies on the cheap. Here are some of our favorite no-cost school supply resources to bookmark and pin on Pinterest for later:

Parents struggling to afford school supplies can get them for free (yes, free!)
Image: Gabriela Arellano/SheKnows;Image via Getty Images

1. Clothing swap

This idea is one shade of brilliant because there is more than likely to be a clothing swap hosted in your local area. You can start by searching for Facebook events put on by local youth or parenting groups that allow you to bring your own gently used kids’ clothes to earn you “tickets” in the swap. is a specialty site that serves the same purpose; with beginning-of-the-year deals on girls’ and boys’ school clothing.

2. Salvation Army

The Salvation Army has made it their aim in years past to help parents offset the increasing cost of school supplies. The Salvation Army hosts a number of distribution events and encourages parents to contact their local chapter for more information on back-to-school assistance. The organization is also looking for donations and volunteers for these events.

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3. Kids in Need Foundation

Kids in Need’s mission is simple — to ensure that every child is ready to learn and succeed by providing them with free school supplies when needed. Last year, Kids in Need helped more than 4.8 million students in challenged communities, out of the estimated 16 million kids who come from families in extreme poverty. Through the School Ready Supplies program, Kids in Need donates free school supplies to students through their teachers, not directly to individuals, parents, schools or organizations.

4. Operation Homefront

Operation Homefront, an organization that provides military families with outside help, also reaches out in the way of school supplies with their Back-to-School Brigade. Backpacks and school supplies will be distributed for free to military kids at events throughout the country. The program is also partnered with the Dollar Tree to provide more opportunities for pickup and distribution.

5. Office Depot Backpack Program

To mark the 16th year of its award-winning National Backpack program, the Office Depot Foundation will be donating 200,000 backpacks decorated with kid-friendly designs. According to Office Depot, millions of kids head out to school each morning using pillowcases or plastic bags to carry their textbooks and school supplies.

6. Local back-to-school events

To take advantage of these types of events, you may have to keep an eye on your local calendar. In 2016, a community in Hillsborough County, Florida, hosted a back-to-school bash to help minimize the rising cost of school supplies, where parents were provided supplies and other related items free of charge. Similar events are hosted in most states throughout the U.S.

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7. Craigslist

Depending on the size of your city, this may work like a charm. Under the “For Sale” section of each Craigslist region, you can click on the option for “Free.” There, you can search by keyword for any number of items people are giving away for free — including school supplies. During the back-to-school season, you may find several businesses or individuals posting free school supply promos or giveaways for kiddos who may need some extra help.

8. Free software

For kids in that pricier high school group who may be taking classes in photo editing or graphic design where Photoshop is used, you can thankfully avoid paying anywhere from $10-$80 per month by using a free software instead. Another option is Gimp, an open-source image editing project and popular alternative to Photoshop that comes highly recommended for photo editing by the tech crowd — at no cost to you.

Before you go, check out our slideshowbelow:

Parents struggling to afford school supplies can get them for free (yes, free!)
Image: People Images/Getty Images

Originally published Aug. 2011. Updated July 2016.