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Money-Saving Tips for Teachers: Saving on Classroom Supplies

Rose is a full-time freelance writer who frequently writes about education, special education, DIY projects, food, Milwaukee, and more.

How teachers can save on classroom materials and supplies

How teachers can save on classroom materials and supplies

How to Save Money as a Teacher

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.

The Magic of Scholastic Book Clubs

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 it the following year in my own classroom.

Take advantage of sales and online bulk deals to buy large quantities of frequently used supplies.

Take advantage of sales and online bulk deals to buy large quantities of frequently used supplies.

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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 is 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 great places 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.

A simple tray or bin or a folder system works perfectly for collecting re-usable paper scraps. Students can use these for future projects, fine motor skill work, and much more.

A simple tray or bin or a folder system works perfectly for collecting re-usable paper scraps. Students can use these for future projects, fine motor skill work, and much more.

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 email or a website. 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 teachers 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 reuse 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 during the 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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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on September 12, 2012:

Thanks, Sharyn! Many teachers are in the same position as your sister. I am not familiar with all of the dollar stores, but I know that at least a couple of the big chains do have teacher aisles/sections like Dollar Tree does, which is great.

Sharon Smith from Northeast Ohio USA on September 12, 2012:

This is a great hub Rose! My sister, until just recently, was teaching pre-school. They had no budget and whatever my sis bought, the money came out of her pocket. I was constantly on a mission to find things for her classroom that were free or very cheap. I found tons of things for her including kid-friendly furniture at garage sales. Also, we have a store here called Dollar Tree. I know you mentioned dollar stores. Dollar Tree has an entire section/aisle dedicated to teacher supplies. It is really fun to look at all that stuff. It is a "teachers with no funding" dream. Great hub!

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on September 12, 2012:

Thanks so much, Cyndi!

Cynthia Calhoun from Western NC on September 12, 2012:

You have the best teaching hubs. Seriously! Great job here! Fabulous resources and article. Voted up and more!

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on September 12, 2012:

Thanks so much, Kelley!

kelleyward on September 12, 2012:

Wow this is packed with tons of useful information teachers can use. I'm sharing this teachers I know! Take care, Kelley

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on February 21, 2012:

Thanks Cara! I'm so glad to see that these ideas are so practical, as so many teachers are already using a lot of them. You are right that a lot of teachers are great about sharing with other teachers. You can often borrow supplies for lessons or units. Thanks for sharing my hub!

cardelean from Michigan on February 21, 2012:

Great list of ideas and as Esmeowl said, I think that I also have used them all. You mentioned hand me downs but also sharing in general with other teachers. Teachers as a general rule are great sharers! And yes, Dollar Tree rocks! Since I am a teacher and like to share, I will be sharing this with all of my teacher friends! :)

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on February 21, 2012:

Jamie, they definitely do. There are so many great teacher and craft supplies that you can get there. You're right that it's definitely nice not to have to buy all of the books that you want to use in your classroom. Thanks for passing this on to your aunt!

Jamie Brock from Texas on February 21, 2012:

Rose, I noticed at the Dollar Tree in particular, they have a whole isle of teachers stuff. The Dollar Tree is the bomb! I keep forgetting about the library really is nice to be able to check out a book and not have to buy it new. I'll have to send this to my Aunt Shannon who is a first grade teacher. I bet she will really appreciate it. Thanks for sharing!

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on February 20, 2012:

Thanks so much Alyiss! I'm glad that this was helpful for you and hope that it will be for others, too.

ayliss08 from Guangzhou, Guangdong, China on February 20, 2012:

Really great hub, with so many helpful ideas and tips! I appreciate reading this, and have learned a lot. I am sure many people will benefit from your work. Thanks for sharing, and voted up!

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on February 20, 2012:

That's awesome, cebutourist. :) Thanks!

justateacher, thanks! I hope that some of them are useful for you.

Angela, you are definitely right.

Rebecca, for sure! Yep, I mentioned dollar stores. You can get some great teacher finds there.

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on February 20, 2012:

Yard sales! Great for books and class room library. Dollar Tree has teacher stuff. Don't forget them!

Angela Kane from Las Vegas, Nevada on February 20, 2012:

Your tips and ideas are very good. I think teachers need to make their money stretch more than any other professional because every penny counts.

LaDena Campbell from Somewhere Over The Rainbow - Near Oz... on February 20, 2012:

These are great ideas!I am going to check out some of your lists, etc. Voted up and useful!

cebutouristspot from Cebu on February 20, 2012:

Nice tip. I will surely pass this to my son teacher :) Thanks for sharing

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on February 20, 2012:

Esmeowl, that's great that you have used all of these ideas! I have used a number of them myself and am glad to know that the other ideas are practical, too.

Thanks so much Victoria!

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on February 20, 2012:

This is great for teachers. You always write about such good ideas, and you do it well. Voted up, useful, and awesome! Sharing!

Cindy A Johnson from Sevierville, TN on February 20, 2012:

These are all fabulous ideas and I have used them all. My favorites are Scholastic points and yard sales/thrift stores. Great job.

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