Leadership Symposium Early Bird Deadline Approaching | Join K-12 leaders nationwide for three days of empowering strategies, networking, and inspiration! Discounted pricing ends March 1. Register today.
Opinion
Teaching Profession Opinion

Teaching Secrets: Spend Less on School Supplies

By Cynthia Henton — May 08, 2013 4 min read
Illustration of a man holding oversized money.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Jenny, a waitress, noticed at the end of her shift there was a napkin shortage. So she used her tips to stop and pick up a few packs. Alan, a bus driver, got caught in a traffic jam during his route. So he used his personal credit card and filled the bus with gas before ending his shift. Jamal, an administrative assistant, noticed the office supplies were low. On his lunch break, he cashed his check and proceeded to the office supply store to stock up. Nothing special, just copy paper, toner, and a computer monitor.

Sound ridiculous? Who uses their personal funds to supplement items needed for their job? Well, if you’re like me and thousands of other teachers around the country, you know the answer.

In 2010, researchers found that teachers were spending an average of $356 on classroom supplies per year—nothing special, just paper, pencils, and supplements to inadequate curricular materials. And we all know teachers who are spending much, much more—especially given the tightening of school budgets and the impact of the recession on students’ families. I have bought everything from books to bookshelves, pencils to printers, and crayons to crafts.

So, what are the alternatives when you need certain supplies for your classroom? Below I have listed a few ways teachers can keep more of their own money without investing huge amounts of time—another commodity of which we have very little.

  • Just Ask. This strategy has worked for me throughout my teaching career. That is to just ask for what you need and/or want. This can be done in a variety of ways. For starters, simply post a wish list outside your classroom door. As parents come to drop off and retrieve their children, they will see listed items that you are in need of. Think of this as a kind of “classroom registry” similar to what a bride/groom would share with friends and family. This list could also be sent home in a class or school newsletter. Parents don’t often know what specific needs you have and may innocently assume that when new supplies appear in your classroom that they were purchased by district or school funds.
  • Have your students speak up. As part of a literacy lesson, for example, students could write to parents or even community members (stores, local chamber of commerce, wholesale warehouses, local businesses, teacher learning centers, and the like) to request specific items. What business could resist a letter sincerely written in a child’s own handwriting and voiced in their own words? Also, many such donations are tax deductible.
  • Lobby the PTA. Candy bar, wrapping paper, and magazine sales fundraisers are often used for technology upgrades, field trips, updating the library, getting new gym equipment, and so on. But you too can share needs that are specific to a particular classroom or grade level. In some schools I have taught, the PTA administers “grants” to teachers to assist them with specific classroom needs.
  • Locate donors through nonprofit organizations. DonorsChoose is an online charity that makes it easy for anyone to help teachers in need. Its website states that " … public school teachers from every corner of America post classroom project requests on the site, and then donors can give any amount to the project that most inspires them. When a project reaches its funding goal, the item(s) are shipped to your classroom.”
  • Prowl the Internet for treasures. Did you know that Craigslist has a “free” section where people list items they’re looking to give away? Browse through this section and you may be amazed at what people are looking to get rid of. There is also a section where you can post what you are looking for.

Here are some examples of ads posted in March 2013:

Affordable and/or free art supplies—acrylic paints, canvases, paintbrushes, nice drawing pens, easel, paper, etc. Please make me an offer and email me with any inquiries. Wanted: Packing peanuts and other packing supplies, bubble wrap, air bubbles etc. Willing to pick up in Lacey or Olympia area. Thanks! I am looking for free unused 2013 calendars. Full-size or pocket/purse size is fine. Thank you.

As you can see the ads are short and to the point. There are hundreds of such postings updated daily.

  • Other Internet treasures can be found on online auction sites such as eBay. For a fraction of the retail cost, I have found pencils and markers by the gross, teaching materials, toys, games, and storage containers.
  • Don’t shy away from grant writing. The days of spending hours and hours stating your case for funding, presenting a budget and even securing letters of recommendation are fading. Check out grants offered by the Association of American Educators and the NEA Foundation, in addition to those shared on the website Grant Wrangler.

So the next time you’re reaching for your wallet to pay for supplies, think twice. Plan ahead, get creative, and you might be surprised about what you find! And, if you’re like me, you will be overjoyed to have more money in your personal budget.

Do you have teacher budget secrets of your own? If so, please share them. There can never be a shortage of good money-saving tips.

Events

Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Science of Reading: Emphasis on Language Comprehension
Dive into language comprehension through a breakdown of the Science of Reading with an interactive demonstration.
Content provided by Be GLAD
English-Language Learners Webinar English Learners and the Science of Reading: What Works in the Classroom
ELs & emergent bilinguals deserve the best reading instruction! The Reading League & NCEL join forces on best practices. Learn more in our webinar with both organizations.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Opinion How I’m Keeping Ahead of Burnout: 4 Tips for Teachers
An English teacher shares her best advice for battling the long-haul blahs until spring break.
Kelly Scott
4 min read
Young woman cartoon character making step from gloomy grey rainy weather to sunny clear day.
iStock/Getty + Education Week
Teaching Profession Opinion Why Is the Nation Invested in Tearing Down Public Education?
Education professor Deborah Loewenberg Ball argues that panic over test scores keeps us from building on the strengths of our children.
Deborah Loewenberg Ball
5 min read
Illustration of school text books and wrecking ball.
F. Sheehan for Education Week / Getty
Teaching Profession Teachers Censor Themselves on Socio-Political Issues, Even Without Restrictive State Laws
A new survey from the RAND Corporation found that two-thirds of teachers limit their instruction on political and social issues in class.
4 min read
Civics teacher Aedrin Albright stands before her class at Chatham Central High School in Bear Creek, N.C., on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. The class is debating whether President Trump should be impeached. The House impeachment inquiry into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine has become a teachable moment in classrooms around the country as educators incorporate the events in Washington into their lesson plans.
Civics teacher Aedrin Albright stands before her class at Chatham Central High School in Bear Creek, N.C., on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. The class was debating whether President Trump should be impeached. A new national survey found that a majority of teachers are now limiting instruction on political and social issues in class.
Allen G. Breed/AP
Teaching Profession 10 Major Challenges for Substitute Teachers
Substitute teachers want more support to do their jobs well. One state has identified their top concerns.
4 min read
Illustration of people climbing stacks of books. There are 3 stacks of books at different heights with people helping people climb up.
iStock/Getty