Just Say No to Unnecessary Brand New School Supplies!

by Katy on July 26, 2023 · 29 comments

The following is a reprint of a previously published blog post.

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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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Jan Hardy July 26, 2023 at 9:29 am

Thanks for this, Katy! I’ve never understood the whole back-to-school shopping thing and I swear it didn’t exist when I was a kid. My mum might’ve looked through the stash of clothes for me and my sisters, and re-shuffled hand-me-downs, but we didn’t get new clothes. All our pencils, paper, etc. was supplied by the public schools except maybe a binder or two. Even going away to college, I took my own stuff that I had been using, like sheets, towels, etc. No extravagant shopping trips for our family – tuition was expensive enough!


Bee July 26, 2023 at 9:47 am

When my kids were growing up, I always kept a box filled with school supplies. It contained both old and new items. We always check the box first. I also found over the years that my children did not always use what was on the list. I have noticed this year that people are requesting specific high ticket items such as a TI 84 graphing calculator on BN.

For my own personal office supply needs, I buy almost all items from estate sales. Bags of pens, markers, envelopes, file folders, sheet protectors, staplers, scissors, whole punches, and so forth can all be purchased for pennies on the dollar.


Amy July 26, 2023 at 9:49 am

When my daughter was in kindergarten, they sent home a list for back to school. Adding it up it was $68. Plus an additional fee for paper. She brought home a gallon sized ziploc with the remains. It made me sick.


Ashley Bananas July 26, 2023 at 10:20 am

I did the whole extreme couponing thing and came to realize that nothing is worth the full price as listed in the store. So, I rarely buy things at full price. I also have a habit of picking up pens and pencils. I used to throw them in an old beer stein, but let that go once when moving. Now I have an old flour, sugar, etc canister set that I use for pens pencils etc. I go through it every year or two and throw out old ones. I have found that we have so many, I actually bring them into work and will put few in the pen/pencil holder as they tend to disappear. Instead of buying all new, we fill in the gaps for my son when it comes to back to school. Also for clothes, we shop as he grows and fill in the gaps. He’s most likely going to have another growth spurt or two, and when he does we will look for sale/clearance and second hand to round things out for his size. We have found some really great local second hand charity stores that have amazing prices and items are very well weeded and like new or literally new with tag.


A. Marie July 26, 2023 at 10:52 am

I’m not in a position to comment on back-to-school sales per se, since I have no children. But, Bee, I’m with you on office supplies from estate and garage sales. And I reuse envelopes, folders, etc., till the cows come home.

Also, I’m with Ashley Bananas on picking up pens and pencils. It’s probably a sad commentary on our times that I live near a nonprofit tutoring organization (on the campus of a former Catholic church and school), and I’m *always* finding pens and pencils on the grounds there. (I swear, the older I get, the more I feel like the late Andy Rooney. And if you have to ask who Andy Rooney was, you clearly don’t fall into the “older than dirt” category with me.)


Kathy July 26, 2023 at 11:32 am

I don’t remember these extensive school supply lists when I was a kid nor when my sons were in school. We did the typical clothing inventory and usually new shoes were needed due to growth spurts.
I look for school supplies on clearance and donate to school supply drives hosted locally


Ruby July 26, 2023 at 12:05 pm

We always got new shoes because we went through summer in flip-flops or scruffy Keds, but otherwise everybody just showed up with a pencil and notebook paper.

I remember my mother tying the coins for lunch money into the corner of a hankie so it would not get lost in my pocket. Untie it to pay and have a clean hankie for the day.


Linda M July 26, 2023 at 12:24 pm

I sure can remember the coins tied in the hankie. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

A. Marie…I remember Andy Rooney…part of the Older Than Dirt Club also…lol!


Q July 26, 2023 at 12:34 pm

This is timely. I don’t have anyone going back to school, but I might just go through my supplies and post on my local freecycle.


Kara July 26, 2023 at 12:37 pm

I also kept a box of school supplies, bought each year on sale. We looked in the box first before buying new each year. My husband is a high school teacher and he doesn’t give a supply list. He calls local businesses and asks for donations of pencils. Many businesses are glad to give pencils (usually with their business name on them).


MB in MN July 26, 2023 at 2:09 pm

Smart move on your husband’s part!


Kara July 26, 2023 at 12:45 pm

And on the subject of waste, I’m sad to say that Melissa and Doug brand toys do not have replacement parts. I called today and was told that they make the toy as a whole set, not as individual pieces that make up a set. So with no replacement parts. So more toys will be thrown away because of lack of replacement parts.

I had a toy that my children played with 25 years ago. A rubber gasket had failed. I called the company and they sent a new gasket for free. My grandson now plays with the toy. And I had acquired the toy used to begin with. THOSE are the companies I like.


MB in MN July 26, 2023 at 12:52 pm

I have fond memories of getting my back-to-school list and shopping for supplies, but my mom was thrifty and we took good care of our things so I’m sure we reused what we could. Since I love school supplies so much and know that so many families cannot afford them, I enjoy donating every year and I’m gobsmacked at the extensive lists nowadays. P.S. I remember Andy Rooney, too.


Bee July 27, 2023 at 4:33 am

I loved school supplies too. Special items for school were often in our Christmas stockings – pencils with our names on them, novelty pens and erasers, and pocket planners. My sisters and I loved those things. Because the were special, we were careful not to lose them.


DebbieR July 26, 2023 at 3:38 pm

I’m all for this! I used to salvage whatever came home with the kids at the end of the school year and reuse, but now that they are in middle school/high school, they don’t need as many supplies anymore, so I’ve been donating some of the extras I bought over the years during tax-free weekend. I also don’t understand buying a new backpack every year, either. My kids used theirs until it was too worn to be fixed before we would get a new one.


Christine July 26, 2023 at 3:52 pm

Andy Rooney fan here. I remember him giving his 5-minute spiel at the end of 60 Minutes on Sunday nights. Always had something both interesting and funny to say.
My kids are all grown up and then some so I have no need to supply them with school supplies anymore. My church does a school supply drive every summer for the inner city school we partner with and for this I purchase supplies from the dollar store. I don’t spend a fortune, maybe $10 to $15 but it makes a difference with many members of the church doing the same, maybe more, maybe less, but together it puts a dent in the students’ family expenses.


auntiali July 26, 2023 at 8:25 pm

My kids are too old for back to school supplies, although my daughter is going to grad school this year. I buy items on sale and donate them to the public school in my town which has an outrageous back to school list for every grade.

When dh travelled for business I’d have him pick up the hotel pens and any other pens or pencils that were laying around after a conference. The kid’s dentist would give out pencils. I got the kids Jansport backpacks at Costco years ago when they were $19.99 and both kids have use the warrentey on them which meant that they got new backpacks. Always saved whatever was save-able from the end of year stuff.

I love back to school supplies so it soothes my soul to buy them on sale and donate them.


Katy July 26, 2023 at 10:15 pm

My 27-year-old daughter also has a Costco Jansport backpack that she got in elementary school. She’s sent it back once to get the zipper repaired.


texasilver July 27, 2023 at 1:16 pm

Yep. Jansport backpacks are made in the great state of Texas in Uvalde. I sent a backpack back to them to repair the fabric divider. Back it came ready for use. Jansport backpacks have a lifetime warranty.
Many surplus school supply items could be donated to churches, shelters, and other groups that work with kids. I’ve read that elementary school teachers have had to share school supplies within their classroom. Some parents can’t afford to buy the items, so the teacher put supplies on a table for all to use. Maybe leftovers could be used in this situation.
I sent some new (used) school supply items in my decorated shoebox for Operation Christmas Child. That charity asks for new items as the boxes go to 3rd world countries & may be the only new thing(s) the child has ever received.


Jan Hardy July 31, 2023 at 3:43 am

I have a Jansport backpack I’ve been using off and on for 30 years now. It’s held up so well it looks new. I just throw it in the washing machine, hang it to dry, and go again. I didn’t know it had a lifetime warranty! I may leave it to someone in my will.


auntiali July 26, 2023 at 8:45 pm

And another thing. My friend and I went out to lunch at a NOT frugal local diner here in NJ home of the diners. A turkey dinner was $23!!! Anyway on our way in we were going up the ramp cause of my stupid knees and my friend was admiring and guessing what vegetables were growing in the space between the curb and the ramp. I hear a knocking sound and it’s the owner waving his finger in a “no-no” motion telling us not to pick the produce. I assured him we wouldn’t. But really, wouldn’t it be a fair trade that we got produce if we bought a $32 steak dinner?? Crazy! I think that amount is more than Outback gets.


Crunchycon July 27, 2023 at 4:31 am

I grew up in a town so small, we had one “supermarket” (two lanes!), and the school supplies were on one endcap of said supermarket. We might have gotten a fresh pack of Crayolas (16-pack at most), a new binder if the old one was trashed, and paper. Pens and pencils came courtesy of leftovers from my Dad’s company (NOT poached), and were already around the house. New shoes, because we’d outgrown the old ones. It is really amazing, though, what’s around the house. I’m a bit shocked and amazed at the length of school supply lists in the present day.


Mary Ann July 27, 2023 at 8:24 am

As a high school teacher, I can assure you that no matter how many pens and pencils you buy your children, they will still not have a pencil when they come to school! The brain system that remembers school supplies usually doesn’t develop until they are 23 . I always buy a box of golf pencils as daily loaners. They are not attractive enough to keep but we don’t waste precious time with them borrowing things from each other.

Do your local teacher a favor, and donate a box if you see them on sale.


texasilver July 27, 2023 at 9:36 pm

I teach at a community college. The students are all required to have a laptop or a tablet for school. One evening I wanted to teach a lesson that involved a piece of paper. 1/2 of the class had no paper. I had to go find some. It seemed odd to me that students would not bring a spiral notebook or a tablet of paper. I wondered “Am I hopelessly archaic that I wanted to use a piece of paper & expected them to have some paper brought to class. The lesson went well once I obtained the paper.


Penny July 27, 2023 at 2:06 pm

At my daughters school they all shared the supplies communally last year so we didn’t get anything back! For this year they also specify name brands and sometimes color. I’m not sure if they will keep their own thing this year it and don’t have last years things so I feel stuck buying new. I tried to sneak in a handful of things we did have around the house. I always had extras to use for the following year growing up so this is disappointing to me. At least they have a free supply day for anyone who can benefit.


texasilver July 27, 2023 at 9:36 pm

I teach at a community college. The students are all required to have a laptop or a tablet for school. One evening I wanted to teach a lesson that involved a piece of paper. 1/2 of the class had no paper. I had to go find some. It seemed odd to me that students would not bring a spiral notebook or a tablet of paper. I wondered “Am I hopelessly archaic that I wanted to use a piece of paper & expected them to have some paper brought to class. The lesson went well once I obtained the paper.


Katy July 28, 2023 at 10:09 am

That 0% surprises me.


Lea July 28, 2023 at 6:24 am

My two kiddos are off to University this year. While we’re buying some new, they taking many things they already have – sheets, towels, laundry baskets, hangers, school supplies, etc. The suggested things to bring list is surprisingly short.

Two things no one has mentioned:
1. Budget cuts at schools require that students supply more if their own items than in years past at public schools and private schools/charter schools may not have the funding to purchase some things to begin with (in many states funding for charter schools does not include any public funding outside the district per-pupil allotment). And inflation has affected buying power for everyone – if the cost of toilet paper has doubled, and funding is the same, there’s less money for something else.
2. I found as my kids went through school that if a brand was specified, it was for a reason (crayola crayons are often specified in kindergarten because they interact with standard typing paper than other brands making it easier for children who are struggling with manipulating writing instruments.). That surprised me and made me either use last year’s (as the kids got older) or looked for sales.

Just a bit of food for thought!


Blue Gate Farmgirl July 30, 2023 at 7:06 am

From age 12 on I bought my own supplies and clothes from picking berries and beans. I usually bought one new to me outfit and the rest were hand me downs from a city friend. I would get one pair of nikes from my Grandma and she taught me to scrub them every Saturday and use the shoe paint (oh man, I’m aging myself) and wash the shoelaces. I used the same Trapper keeper for all of Middle school and High school. I used the same Jansport backpack from Middle school thru college and then my daughter used it. It’s now my go bag. A very talented friend had painted my horse on the backside of the bag and I painted my kitty on the front pocket. I still grab office supplies at estate sales. If I do not need them I donate them to the women’s shelter and the free clothes pantry. I put together in a ziploc bag a couple pens, pencil, notepads. They are popular items.
A couple favorite Andy Rooney quotes:
If you smile when no one else is around, you really mean it. …
Always keep your words soft and sweet, just in case you have to eat them.


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