9 Ways to Get Help with Back to School Supplies

Did you know the average family in 2022 spent over $600 per child on back-to-school supplies? This figure can be overwhelming, especially if you have a long school supplies list, have more than one kid, or are on a tight budget.

Fortunately, financial help is usually available for families struggling to afford clothes and school essentials. Here are nine ways you can save money this school season and ensure your child has everything they need to thrive this upcoming school year.

Ask friends and family for second-hand items

Share your school shopping list with friends and family. You never know who might have colored pencils, glue sticks, lunch boxes, and other items just lying around the house unused. Friends and family can also be a helpful source of second-hand clothing, especially if their kids are close in age to yours.

Know someone who owns their own business? Ask if they'd be willing to donate any extra supplies they purchased for their business. This can be an excellent way to score some permanent markers, pencils, pens, plastic folders, ink cartridges, and other school supplies.

Talk to your child's school

School districts know school supply lists can be expensive. Speak to your school administrator and find out whether they can provide your child with any back-to-school essentials. You may have to fill out some forms and show some documentation of financial hardship, such as your paystubs or tax returns. However, school districts are often prepared to help families in need so that every child can have a successful school year.

Contact local organizations involved in school supply drives

You may have seen local charities and businesses organizing drives to collect common school supplies. If you're not sure which organizations are supplying school essentials to families in need in your area, reach out to your local food bank, radio stations, news channel, or school board. They'll likely be able to point you toward organizations actively donating items for the upcoming school year.

In fact, some of our Advance America branches host backpack drives to provide families in our communities with school essentials kits. Backpack drives typically provide your child with a free backpack filled with spiral notebooks, pencils, binders, subject dividers, water bottles, and other school supplies. Contact your nearest branch to see if they’re hosting one in your area this year.

Depending on the organization hosting the supply drive, you may need to register or prove financial need in order to take advantage of charitable donations.

Search online marketplace listings for low-cost and free supplies

Several marketplace websites give anyone the chance to post descriptions of items they'd like to sell or give away for free. Check them out on a regular basis to see if anyone lists office or art supplies that you can use for your child's school year.

Retired teachers and teaching assistants may even post marketplace ads for unused classroom decorations, pocket folders, construction paper, spiral notebooks, washable markers, and other school supplies. If you do find free school supplies online, be careful when making arrangements to pick them up. You might even consider meeting up at your local police station or fire department just to be safe.

Look for BOGO school sales

Many retailers that sell school supplies host buy one get one free (BOGO) sales in August and September. Find out when these sales will be happening and use coupons to maximize your savings when shopping. You can also pair up with another parent, purchase two of every school item, and split the cost to make the most out of BOGO sales.

Shop secondhand for school clothes and backpacks

Buying gently used back-to-school items at garage sales and thrift stores is an effective way to save money. Secondhand items you may want to consider include school clothing, shoes, backpacks, lunch bags, pencil holders, lap desks, and desk caddies.

Find a cheap selection of school supplies at dollar stores

There's no reason you need to purchase your school supplies from a big-box chain or office supply store. Discount dollar stores often stock plenty of back-to-school basics this time of year, including scissors, pencil boxes, washable markers, three-ring binders, disinfectant wipes, and reusable water bottles.

You could even find a nice selection of low-cost college supplies! Stock up on adhesive hooks, plastic storage bins, extension cords, planners, tab dividers, sticky notes, and mechanical pencils without breaking the bank.

Save big on school shopping during tax-free weekends

Several states are having tax-free weekends this summer. If you're lucky enough to live in or near a state with a tax-free weekend, plan to purchase most of the items on your child's school list during this event. Tax-exempt weekends are also the perfect time to save on more expensive items like tablets and graphing calculators.

Find your state’s 2023 tax-free dates below. Be sure to check out your state government’s website for more details on item exemptions and purchase limits. 

A Chart listing the tax-free shopping dates for participating states


Note: States marked with an asterisk (*) are not yet confirmed at the time of publishing.

Apply for a small loan to fund your school shopping

When you're in a pinch, taking out a small personal loan could help you pay for back-to-school supplies. This is especially true if you need more expensive supplies like a computer, tablet, printer, or computer-related accessories.

At Advance America, we offer a variety of loan options you often may not be able to find at a bank or credit union, including:

Payday loans

These short-term, small-dollar loans are also known as cash advances. Borrow what you need to complete your back-to-school shopping list and pay off the loan on your next payday.

Installment loans

Prefer to borrow a little more and have more time to repay your loan? An installment loan offers longer repayment terms, letting you make smaller payments over time.

Lines of credit

Opening a line of credit gives you access to money when you need it. Get approved for a maximum borrow amount and draw upon it as needed, such as when you're shopping for school essentials.

Stop by your nearest Advance America branch to discuss your options with our knowledgeable staff. We're more than happy to offer you a customized option that fits your budget and lifestyle. Don't feel like driving across town? Apply online right now!

Spend less on back-to-school shopping this summer

Getting the most bang for your buck requires a little planning and creativity, but you can keep your child's school supply list affordable. Whether you score some back-to-school deals, participate in a local backpack drive, take out a loan, or buy basic learning supplies in bulk, there are options.

Reach out to your local Advance America to learn about any community events planned for the upcoming school year.

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