Just Say No to Brand New School Supplies

by Katy on August 6, 2017 · 16 comments

The following is a reprint of a post that gets published every year. Enjoy!

School supplies

It’s school supply time and despite the glossy ads featuring pretty new pens, pencils, binders, scissors and whatnot, it’s actually okay to *gasp* reuse the stuff you already have. That’s right, fellow non-consumers, last year’s scissors will still work this year, and that slightly used pencil can be resharpened. And that grubby binder? Try giving it a scrub and laying it out in the sun to dry. You’ll be surprised how fresh it can look.

Sure, there are some school supplies that have to be bought new such as 3-ring notebook paper and boxes of Kleenex, (umm . . .  not sure how you would buy used Kleenex.) But I’m usually able to get away with only buying a couple of things for back-to-school.

So dump out and organize your pens, pencils, scissors and general office-y mayhem; scrub out your binders, backpacks and winter coats and make do with what you already have. You’ve already paid for it, it’s already been manufactured and any excessive packaging has already happened.

It’s one of those win-win situations. It’s sustainable and will save you money. And you don’t have to be a member of the buy-nothing-new Compact to make these decisions.

So happy shopping . . . from your own stash!

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Kayleigh August 6, 2017 at 2:57 pm

Wow, I envy that your school allows you to re-use your school supplies. We have so much barely used stuff. Problem is, my daughter goes to a private school. They put out a list of stuff to buy. On meet the teacher afternoon the kids have to bring what was bought, put it into the community bins in the classroom. Once your kid does this, the teacher signs off on her clipboard that you provided the listed items. If the items aren’t provided, you get a $50 bill added onto your yearly tuition. Granted I ship the sales and typically buy everything for much less than $50. It’s really not the cost that bothers me, but the waste. At the end of the school year last year’s teacher divided up all the partially used stuff and sent home with the kids to use over the summer I guess. My daughter came home with a full gallon sized zip lock of glue sticks, markers, erasers, crayons, colored pencils, etc. I teach at this school and it happens in my classroom too. I could care less if the kids came with decent used stuff, but it just isn’t part of our school culture. I mean, 2 weeks into first quarter and that shiny brand new stuff is used goods. Anyone else have this” it has to be new or we will charge you?”


Kristen August 7, 2017 at 7:45 pm

Sounds like a toughie. I haven’t run into that myself, and I went to private school my whole life. Everyone just used what they had brought for themselves, and it was very common to see the same binder/pencil case/pencil crayon set used multiple years.
I encourage you to challenge the culture of waste at your school. Surely if the kids have the required supplies then it shouldn’t matter if it is brand new. Can the communal supply bins be kept from year to year? A class set of glue sticks does not need to be replaced just because it’s a new school year! Just replace them as needed, and everyone will save money. Even if you just implement change in your classroom, it will make a difference!


Minimalist45 August 6, 2017 at 3:22 pm

I haven’t bought supplies in years. As a teacher kids are very lacksadaisical with their supplies and I always gather them up. I’ll never need any for the rest of my life.


tia August 6, 2017 at 7:28 pm

Wow. That is a big pile of stuff. I own a pen and a mechanical pencil. My most recent study courses are all on my $29 Kindle and I add notes and highlighs with built in apps. I’m kinda surprised schools even require any supplies.


Shelsea August 6, 2017 at 7:49 pm

They have to learn how to write.


tia August 7, 2017 at 9:43 am



Susan August 7, 2017 at 5:49 am

I have been reading this post for the past few years and was expecting to use all of our on-hand school supplies for my daughter’s first day of school. NOPE!! The teacher had such a specific list of supplies that the only thing I can reuse is a single orange folder. School supplies for elementary kids are communal. I have to buy boxes of crayons, pencils, markers, etc for ALL the students to use and they are suppose to be all the same so the kids don’t fight over the “cool” pencils.
My enthusiasm for putting together school supplies for my daughter has vanished and the consumer world has won. 🙁


ouvickie August 7, 2017 at 7:16 am

That’s the way they do it at my granddaughters elementary school too and they tack on several times the amount that one student needs. I think they are hoping the parents that buy the multiple amounts will buy enough for the kids whose parents either don’t have the money for supplies or won’t spend the money for supplies. It’s a sad situation when, especially since many of the churches will provide backpacks and supplies for the poor kids.
However, our State leadership at the top cares nothing about education here and they misappropriated the funds that should have gone for the schools and the Teachers.
It’s pretty pathetic. 🙁


Donna August 7, 2017 at 1:55 pm

I just went back to school shopping with my sister for her two young kids (Kindergarten and 3rd grade) and I was blown away by the school supply list the school put out. The kindergarten list included: 6 boxes of 24 count crayons, 20 glue sticks, 5 bottles of glue, and 2 boxes of markers among other single items. She spent over $200 on the two kids. Simply ridiculous!!!


nicoleandmaggie August 8, 2017 at 6:02 am

Our kids’ elementary school supplies have moved to being communal. I like this because it makes it easier for kids who can’t afford school supplies. I just wish that we could what we did when we were living in a blue state and give money to the PTA to buy in bulk instead of buying new supplies individually.

My middle schooler is reusing a lot of his stuff from last year. One of the things they require new this year is a $100 graphing calculator. Again, I wish our current state was like the blue state we were in before and solicited donations so the school could own the calculators instead of the kids. I feel really bad for the kids whose parents can’t afford to buy calculators or rent instruments or go on field trips or get school supplies. The district does have a pantry that accepts donations for kids who get free and reduced lunch, but it’s mostly clothing and hygiene supplies.


Ashley August 8, 2017 at 11:38 am

I’m VP of my school’s PTA. We provide a supply kit for the kindergarten kids and we also pay for the field trips and buses. Parents complain that we have to do a lot of fund raising but they don’t understand how much they would have to pay out of their own pockets otherwise.


nicoleandmaggie August 8, 2017 at 5:18 pm

It seems so much more humane to do it that way. Not as humane as tax money going to support future generations of Americans, but better than this idea that kids should be penalized for their parents being poor. Or that kids should have to rely on religious charity because people aren’t willing to give a little extra unless the “worthy poor” end up being indebted to a Christian organization for something that should be a right for all Americans.

We’ve been doing directed donations each time we get one of these requests for our own kid, and there have been a lot of them, but we had to take the initiative to ask about it ourselves. And I just feel really bad for kids on the other end whose parents can’t or won’t provide for them who have to ask the teachers what to do when they don’t have the money. I remember just not going on field trips to ball games or amusement parks as a kid– not wanting my parents to have to worry about the money and not wanting to ask for charity (my parents would have died of embarrassment)– and that would be something like once every three years since all the local educational trips were covered. There’s so much less covered here.

In contrast, the year we were living in a blue state they flat out asked for a (recommended) largish donation at the beginning of the year from people who could afford it and some smaller amount for school supplies for people who didn’t want to shop on their own and that was it– and that money covered supplies, field trips, computers, calculators, and the arts program. There were also a limited number of free musical instruments that the school owned that anyone could rent if they jumped through a few hurdles, or the richer people could pay to rent through local music stores without jumping through hurdles. Kids didn’t have to feel bad for not having stuff because it was supplied for everyone.


Roberta August 8, 2017 at 7:10 am

I know it’s hard to approach the school about this, but have any of you spoken to the principals about overbuying school supplies? My husband is a teacher, and in his 20+ years of teaching he has often purchased school supplies for students who cannot afford them. However, he *cannot* solicit supplies from students, either for communal use or classroom use (kleenex, colored pencils, etc).

Since my children have begun attending public school the school solicits needs, but on a voluntary basis. The math teacher requests calculators to share, other teachers solicit hand sanitizer or whatever. Perhaps you could speak to the principal about changing the school culture?


Kate August 9, 2017 at 11:43 pm

I don’t even have to buy binder paper or notebooks, usually. I dumpster dive (or rather, garbage can raid, and I don’t dive into anything) at schools a little after the last day, and find tons of clean paper to use and very nearly new notebooks. When I do buy paper, I find it in squalid old school thrift stores, and refuse to pay more than 75 cents or so.


Kate August 9, 2017 at 11:47 pm

Oh, and I’m not buying for kids, but myself.


Adriana @MoneyJourney August 10, 2017 at 11:10 am

I agree with you on this one 100%! If last year’s supplies are still in good shape, why waste them?
I don’t have kids just yet, but growing up remember often reusing school supplies. It wasn’t my choice per se.. but my parents explained how buying new ones is actually unnecessary. Frugality lesson learned!


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