School supplies, clothes and other expenses can be a big drain on the wallet as children head back to class. Parents plan to spend $510 this year, on average, according to Deloitte’s 2018 back-to-school survey.

“Back-to-school time is very expensive for all families, and military families are no exception,” said Bob Thomas, a retired Air Force brigadier general who is chief operating officer of Operation Homefront.

His group’s Back-to-School Brigade program offers backpacks filled with donated school supplies for children of junior enlisted members (E-1 to E-6) in some locations. Recently at Fort Hood, Texas, for example, 500 backpacks, each with 20 items, were provided to military children.

“Providing the backpack relieves part of the burden,” Thomas said, allowing families to focus on other needs, such as clothing for school.

A number of donors fund the program, which has provided more than 300,000 backpacks since 2008. While the program is winding down now, look for it again next year at

Looking for ways to trim your school costs, now and throughout the year? Check out these military-friendly options:


Check out your local commissary’s offerings to fill lunchboxes, stock up on after-school snacks and prep healthy family breakfasts. Commissaries are having back-to-school sidewalk sales at various times now through October. Some sales are over, but more than 140 stores will hold one in the coming weeks; find out when here.

Stores will offer a variety of items at savings beyond the normal commissary discounts, such as cases of breakfast cereals, bottled water, lunchmeats and dairy products. Also check for ongoing deals under the Your Everyday Savings, or YES!, program.


Clothes, shoes, backpacks, school supplies … the military exchanges have them all.

Scope out the offerings, whether at your local exchange or your online exchange. Remember, veterans can shop now at online exchanges once they register via

Free online tutoring and homework help is provided 24 hours a day, from anywhere in the world, for active-duty, Guard and Reserve service members, and their families.

Funded by the Defense Department and Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, this military-specific program of offers tutoring in more than 40 subjects, from K-12 areas to college and professional courses. Their 3,000 tutors are subject-matter experts who must complete a rigorous application process and background check.


Spend smart: Set a budget that makes the best use of the dollars. Take stock of your children’s clothing to see how many new items they actually need.

Find bargains: Check with your base thrift shop, or local consignment stores, for nearly new items that cost much less.

Follow orders: Get the teacher-approved list of school supplies, if there is one, before you shop. Don’t waste money on items your kids won’t use.