Back to School on the cheap

We realize it’s only July, but we’re already thinking about going back to school in the fall and how to help you do it on the cheap! Here are some tips we’ve learned over the years:

Reuse and Recycle! 
Before heading to the store, look around your home first to see what office and art supplies you could use for the upcoming school year. And you might not need a new backpack or lunch box, maybe last year’s just needs a good wash!

Borrow or trade school supplies
Ask extended family and friends if they have spare supplies you could borrow or have. Or maybe they are interested in trading extra supplies? Maybe you have a bunch of pencils and your friend has extra notebooks–a swap would be a win-win situation for both of you! This can also work for clothes, if you know folks whose kids are older and outgrown their clothes, or check your community’s Facebook/NextDoor page or neighborhood newsletter for upcoming clothing swaps! Some neighborhoods even have “Buy Nothing” pages, like this one in St. Johns. Here are the Buy Nothing pages in Oregon and Washington.

Buy second-hand!
From backpacks to clothing, you can find real bargains at garage sales and thrift stores. Or check out Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace (or better yet, the Facebook Buy Nothing pages above) online.

Start now!
If you can, spread out your purchases over the summer. You don’t need to make extra trips to the store, just hit up the school supply aisle when you’re already out grocery shopping or running other errands. And be sure to check the front page of the store's circular or sales flier for items that are currently on sale! 

And the flip side of the coin… wait!
There are plenty of great sales to take advantage of during the back-to-school rush, but seasonal items such as fall clothing become cheaper after school starts (and they have to make way for the winter stuff). And fingers crossed, your kids won’t need that winter sweater for a little while!

Follow your list
School supply lists are available now for some schools in Multnomah County. Print the list and bring it with you every time you go shopping. And follow it - no need to get anything fancy that’s not on the list. Here is what we found as of the publishing of this post:

  • Centennial: We were unable to find updated supply lists on their website. Trying visiting the district website and clicking on the Schools link to find your school's individual page. Supply lists can often be found under the “Families” or “For Parents and Students” dropdown menus.  Or do a Google search for your school’s name and “supply list.” Be sure you are looking at the list for your school (check the address!) and for the coming school year.
  • David Douglas: Information on school supplies for the various schools can be found here.
  • Gresham Barlow: “Gresham-Barlow School District will be supplying elementary and middle school students with any necessary school supplies. Families will still need to provide their students with backpacks. Each school will be in contact with families regarding other school-specific details before the start of the school year.” More info here.
  • Parkrose: You will need to go into each school’s page to find their supply list. Once at your school’s page, look under the Student’s drop down menu for the supply list (if it has been made available). 
  • Portland Public Schools: Some schools provide supplies for free; unfortunately, each school is different. For the most part, find your school and look under the 'Our School' menu. Sometimes supply lists are linked directly from there. You can also try using the search feature (top right of page) and type in your school’s name and the word “supply”. 
  • Reynolds: Reynolds is on top of things and has one page with all the supplies needed!
  • Riverdale: Select your school and check the website.

And definitely contact your school directly if you need help with getting supplies; they will help!

This article was written for our Family Newsletter, available in English and Spanish. Please sign up here and you can email us at with any questions.