Money Saving Tips and Ideas for Teachers: Ways to Save on Classroom Materials and Supplies
If you are looking for ways to cut spending, one thing to consider is the money that you spend for your job. There are ways to save money with any job, but I'm focusing on my own area of experience: teaching. It is not a secret that the vast majority of grade school teachers in the United States are expected to provide many of their own supplies and materials. Regardless of your teacher salary and any supplemental income that you have (i.e. summer job, part-time tutoring work, spouse income, etc.), it is important to save where you can when you can. Every little bit makes a difference. Some of these ideas are more applicable to certain grade levels than others. However, making even one or two adjustments can have a significant effect on your overall spending.
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Books: Look for used books and use borrowed books from the library. While it's important to build a general fiction and nonfiction library for your classroom, the library is great for seasonal books, special projects, and a few other selections to mix up the routine. For used books, check eBay, Amazon, thrift stores, used bookstores, garage sales, estate sales, and more. Check both the public library and your school's library for books to borrow.
Use Scholastic points and other offers. If your students order from Scholastic, you earn points that you can use to purchase Scholastic products. This is a great way to stock up on books, CD sets, and other classroom supplies.
Use free online resources. Instead of purchasing lots of book resources that require photocopying or reordering every year, consult the Internet first. There are numerous free resources for just about every topic imaginable. Whenever possible, have students use the resources on the computer to avoid printing costs.
Shop the back to school sales. Not only do many teachers love school supplies as much as the students do, but they love to save money on them. Stock up on basic materials that your school does not supply for you when they are on sale in the late summer.
Buy in bulk. There are lots of bulk deals online on eBay and through large box stores such as Office Depot. You can also check stores such as Costco and Sam's Club. Make sure that you buy in bulk when it makes sense to buy in bulk. For example, if you know how much cardstock you use every school year, order this amount in bulk before the school year starts. If you don't need something in bulk, don't purchase this way simply because you're getting a deal.
Buy what you need when you need it. For example, if you're currently teaching kindergarten, buy fiction and nonfiction books and curriculum resources that are at that level. Avoid making unnecessary purchases simply because you find a good deal. If you need materials for a different grade level down the line, you can make purchases then.
Make your own materials. When I was first teaching special education, I had more time than money. It was often easier to make my own materials than it was to research and purchase them. There are plenty of circumstances where it makes sense to buy, but sometimes it is easier to make it yourself. This is applicable with just about anything from worksheets to shelving.
Hand me downs from teachers. Many teachers who are retiring, switching grade levels or subject areas, or simply cleaning out before a break or at the end of the school year often give away valuable resources. Take advantage of this as you can. When I was a teacher aide, I was able to get a nearly complete wall pocket calendar with holiday card inserts from a teacher cleaning out at the end of the school year. I then used the following year in my own classroom.
Look for boxed set deals on Amazon. They are almost always much cheaper than buying individual items.
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Tip: Ann Taylor Loft is one of a handful of clothing stores that offers a teacher discount.
Ask parents to send supplies and/or donate time. When you need more general classroom supplies (i.e. Kleenex, glue sticks, etc.), don't be afraid to ask parents. If parents are not able to contribute purchased supplies, you can still ask for things that they would recycle or throw away (i.e. egg cartons, toilet paper tubes, etc.).
The donation of time is always valuable, too. Parents can help out with classroom parties and art or science projects that require extra hands. They can provide extra help for students or simply listen to students read books. They can help you out with assembly or set up, such as snack time, take home folders, making photocopies, and more.
Use teacher discount cards. Here in an extensive list of many of the top chain stores that offer some sort of teacher discount. Don't forget to save all of your receipts so that you can get a tax write off (see more info below). Don't be afraid to ask about discounts at local stores as well. Many small businesses, including teacher supply stores, offer discounts as well.
Thrifting. As I previously mentioned, thrift stores are a great resource for second hand books. If you are hunting for furniture or other supplies, they can also be a great place to check.
Dollar stores and dollar sections. Dollar stores and the dollar sections of big box stores such as Target are a great place to look for school supplies, teaching materials, holiday items, and other general kid items, such as indoor recess classroom games.
Keep receipts for tax write off. Any time you spend money on a classroom supply that you will not receive reimbursement for, save your receipt. It's best to keep a folder or some sort of file system so that all of your receipts are in one place. This will make tax time much easier. For more tax tips, see the video on the right and the link list at the beginning of this article.
Correspond with parents online. If you work for a school district where many parents have computers and Internet at home and like to communicate online, this can be a great option for you. Consider sending out regular parent communication such as class newsletters and schedule reminders (i.e. early out days) through e-mail or a web site. It is more time efficient and cost effective than printing and sending home handouts.
Save scraps for art projects. If you teach a younger elementary grade and frequently do art projects, save your paper scraps. Many teacher simply put out a box that students can put useable scraps into after finishing projects. Consider saving white printer paper that has only been used on one side as well. Many students are happy to re-use the other side for drawings and other projects.
Fundraisers and Christmas gift trees. Some schools have annual fundraisers to raise extra money for teacher supplies. At the school where I taught special education, we put out a little Christmas tree before the November conferences. Teachers could write wish list items (typically $10 or less) for their classroom on ornaments. Parents would take the ornaments at conferences and then give gifts around Christmas.
Community resources. There are many people around the community who may be able to offer classroom resources as well as the gift of classroom presentations and field trip opportunities to correspond with numerous classroom units. Check out this great list of people to consult with in your community.
Ask family and friends at holidays. The older you get, the more boring your Christmas and birthday lists get. My husband and I are frequently excited about gifts like tools and appliances. Work related items now make it on the wish lists, too. When I was teaching, I asked for classroom items on a number of occasions. Many family members were happy to pick out books, stickers, and more for me.
Brainstorm with co-workers for more ideas. There are lots of innovative, creative teachers out there. Have a brainstorming session with some of your co-workers to come up with additional ideas for saving money on your classroom materials and supplies.
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Looking for other ways to save money? Check out these articles.
More teaching resources from the author.
- Best Teaching Materials That I've Bought or That I Believe are Worth Purchasing
In this article, I discuss the teaching materials that I bought while teaching special education or inherited in my classroom and believe are worth purchasing. I include lots of resources for purchasing these materials.
- Tips and Guidelines for Creating and Organizing a Strong Effective Teaching Portfolio
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