Phew. That’s embarrassing and I’m not even sure why. 7 years of teaching and that’s not even all of the out of my own pocket expenses. There was a time in the beginning that I didn’t keep receipts, so my little spreadsheet data isn’t quite accurate. And it’s not counting the random things thrown in with my groceries. I’m not proud of that amount and that’s why I decided to write this post (for my own sake and yours I guess) and share my experience. There are other teachers with higher numbers and lower numbers and people in between, and if you’re thinking, “No way. Not me.” You may want to start keeping track if you don’t already. If I were to have guessed my number each year, I would say I spent about $200. Obviously, that’s way off. But, it really doesn’t seem like much when you spend here and there. Turns out, it is. When I began to keep more receipts and remember to put them on my spreadsheet, the number is out. of. control. And, as you can imagine, the number should get smaller and smaller each year (if you are conscientious and try to make that a goal).
After only 5 months of teaching under my belt, I was already sick of spending my own money. In 2008, I was a first year teacher. I had student loans and all the same bills you most likely had or still have (my parents didn’t have a college fund for me, so it was a pretty big loan and I even went to the relatively cheap university here in Alaska). So, the little income I did have was precious (housing here is ridiculously expensive). So, I immediately looked into ways to save money and was delighted to find out a few more ways. Here are a few things I’ve learned that have helped (and I need to write them down so I can remember to use them myself!).
Every.Single.Teacher. I know. spends there own money on teaching “stuff.” I am guilty of this and I’m guessing so are you. Just changing your way of thinking might just be what you and your bank account are needing…or you can silently grumble at me and keep spending willy nilly while whistling a tune of denial. No? Okay, read on! Most of the time when I buy things for my classroom, they aren’t things I actually need, but are things I really want. Especially with the chevron craze (guilty!). Now, primary teachers (and parents!), we know the truth about needs and wants because we talk about it with our students. You want a new bicycle, you don’t need one. You want a new laptop, you don’t need one. The same goes for us as adults, it just seems harder to hear because we are the ones footing the bill and we try to rationalize our spending by making excuses for ourselves (again, guilty!). So, the next time you’re at Target (or wherever), and those bright and versatile Easter eggs are calling your name, decide if it’s a NEED or a WANT. I know it’s hard. I know. You want them. The kids love them. You have ideas spinning in your head of all of the great things you’re going to do with them. They make teaching fun. They make your center engaging. You saw popular blogger A and Pinterest account B photos and you MUST HAVE THEM NOW. I’m there with you. Really, I am. But, they’re most likely a want. So, if you really can’t resist and pass up a good deal all 30 trips to Target this year, limit yourself. Give yourself an acceptable amount of “want” purchases for the year and stick with it. Consider that money in your pocket (or your vacation savings!).
Most teachers I have talked to about this (nationwide) have a set amount of classroom funds for the year. Some don’t have a dime. My school (Title I), provided somewhere around $200/year for each classroom teacher for supplies. Students weren’t required to bring any school supplies on the first day (we even had backpacks/gym shoes available), but parents often sent things on the first day anyway and I provided a voluntary list of items that the school didn’t provide already. I was lucky. My school had a dreamy closet of supplies that would make any teacher’s heart go pitter patter. Glue, gluesticks, markers, pencils, pens, sticky notes, staples, staplers, mini staplers, tape, binders, index cards, construction paper, white paper, color copy paper, writing paper, composition books, whiteboard markers, a plethora of art supplies….and a whole lot more. In fact, I was able to use my annual classroom funds to purchase things that the school and parents didn’t already provide (including lessons on Teachers Pay Teachers for various activities!). I also was lucky enough to work at a school that has money for activities (field trips, etc) and $ for classroom supplies (book tubs, bulletin board supplies, whathaveyou) that weren’t already available in the work room. In addition to that, our union has negotiated for us to be reimbursed for up to $225 worth of purchases per school year. The system at each school is different, but it doesn’t hurt to ask! So, the next time you’re eyeballing something for your classroom, check and make sure it’s not already at your school hiding in a closet or if you can purchase it with school funds.
PTO/PTA groups are different nationwide. Some are super organized and have detailed info on how they’re supporting a school. Some don’t. Ask your principal about yours and find out if they have a system in place for honoring requests, especially if they organize a fundraiser (read: wrapping paper). Our PTO provided a bus for field trips ($100/each) each year, and asked for submissions from teachers on things they wanted to purchase a couple of times a year and the only reason I found out about it was because I asked (is there a disconnect with communication in your building, too?). Bottom line–ask.
My first year teaching, I randomly decided to organize a class fundraiser. I knew I couldn’t keep up with spending my own money as often, and had several class projects in mind, so I went ahead and organized what we call a Friday Fun Night. It’s basically a carnival like thing that happens at the school for a couple of hours in the evening. It can be quite a bit of work to organize something like that by yourself, but it’s worth it in the end.
Most people have heard about Donor’s Choose and Adoptaclassroom. They’re both fairly easy and surprisingly there are lots of people out there looking to pay it forward and want to help you out, but you have to actually take the initiative to specifically ask for what you need. I’ve had 2 successfully funded projects on Donor’s Choose and highly recommend posting when a company is matching your funds (my last one was reeeeally close to being funded by Sonic, but a generous stranger funded it instead–yay!). It’s fairly easy and if you make an effort to advocate for your project (shout it out on your own social media platforms, email your friends and family, etc.), you will be surprised at how many people are willing to help!
For lots of people, if you mention the word “grant,” they act like you’re saying, “lottery,” and they think they don’t have a chance. There are more grant opportunities for teachers than I can count. Just Google, “teacher grant” and/or add the subject area of what you’re looking for (i.e. “teacher grant art supplies”). Depending on what you find, you can add your state or the region you live in. Lots of businesses have allotted funds for community grant requests. For instance, one time I submitted a letter to Walmart requesting pumpkin carving supplies for groups of students, pumpkins and a scale to weight them. Within a week, I received a call saying my request was approved and to come pick up my gift card for the project. That saved me roughly $100. Lots of chain stores have funding opportunities just like that. Another time, I had a puppet art project in mind, so I did a search and found a grant for it just in time (the deadline was coming up quickly). My project was funded and I kept $300 in my pocket. Side note: check your district policy (some have specific restrictions on if and how you can apply for grants).
If you do end up spending your own money, spend wisely. What do I mean by shop for the future? Shop after holiday/season sales that are 75% off to stock up for the following year (this will likely help you decide if you truly want to do whatever it is you had in mind—you’re committing to storing whatever you buy for about a year). For instance, I saw these New Year’s hats on sale in January and purchased a class set (plus extras) for about $2 (and let the students wear them just for the day and saved them each year after that–they lasted about 4 years) to use the following August when school started. You can read more about that here.
If you’re purchasing on Teachers Pay Teachers, make sure you’re following your favorite sellers to receive notifications about when they have sales (I often announce my own sales and half-off discounts on my Facebook and Instagram), and take note of the TpT Sitewide sales (they’re typically in August, end of November, February and May–but none of those are certain) and keep your wishlist/cart ready so you can purchase quickly when the sale is happening rather than scouring the site looking for things to buy.
I am a realist. If I get something I know I won’t use, I don’t keep it lying around. And when I give something to someone, I wouldn’t expect them to do that either. So, I can tell you with confidence that I never feel guilty about “regifting” or exchanging items (ask my family–they stick to the wishlist now) because I see the alternative as wasteful. For instance, someone once gave me a grocery bag full of glue sticks. An incredibly kind gesture, but I already had a cabinet full of them and so did everyone I asked. So, I brought them back to the store and exchanged them for a set of black permanent markers I knew I would need for an upcoming art project.
Chances are, you know someone that is a retired teacher or close to retiring. They won’t want to keep all of their teaching supplies, so try and find out what they’re planning on doing with A, B and C (but try not looking like a hungry vulture teacher while doing it). I bought 4 huge Rubbermaid totes of science stuff from a retired teacher that needed to clear out her garage…we both walked away happy!
Make use of your tax deduction. You can read the IRS info on educator deductions here. Basically, you can deduct up to $250 of your individual (unreimbursed) purchases that you made to do your job. That being said, I somehow end up spending that, and more. I’ve kept pretty good track of my purchases using an Excel spreadsheet every year (in case I’m ever audited!) and all of the receipts that go with each purchase (I keep hard copies, use an app–Expensify–that I take photos of receipts and it’s stored/calculated, and online receipts are kept in a folder on my computer and in my email). There are also instances (grocery shopping for one), when I forget that I had put something in my cart for school and that doesn’t get marked on my spreadsheet. But, probably 75% of the time, I remember (or I separate the item for a different checkout at the store so it’s on it’s own receipt).
And if you aren’t already taking advantage of Amazon Prime as a teacher, well, you’re definitely missing out. I do the majority of my shopping on Amazon. I buy everything from clothes to dishwasher detergent to play doh on Amazon. I LOVE how I can shop in my pajamas, right on my couch, at 11:00 p.m. and get FREE 2 day shipping. My husband bought me the Amazon Echo for Christmas, which makes me feel like I have a personal assistant haha!
So that’s it! I hope I was able to share something new with you and I wish you many years of savings!
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Jen, thank you so much for this wonderful post! I don't even want to estimate how much money I spent on my classroom through the years! Thanks for all those great alternatives to spending our own money!
Peggy @ Primary Flourish
Thanks for sharing your awesome ideas and for participating in our collaborative linky. 🙂
Nicole and Eliceo
Thank you for these helpful ideas! And I find it interesting – isn't it $200 or $250 that the IRS allots teachers for an annual deduction? Great tips!
Reading and Writing Redhead
It is $250 🙂 That's what I wrote for #10! Clearly it ought to be more though haha!