5 Tips for Saving Money as a New Teacher

Let's face it...shopping for a classroom can be expensive, especially if you a new teacher trying to set up your room for the first time! After 15+ years as a bargain shopping (school supply hoarding) extraordinaire, here are a few of my top tips when it comes to setting up a classroom on a teacher budget.

1) See What Your School Has Available

When I first started teaching I was at a school that basically gave us a box of paperclips & a pat on the back before sending us on our way. I quickly learned that any materials I needed were up to me to supply. 

Fast forward a few years and I am now at a school that works really hard to supply what the kids need like notebooks, crayons, pencils, etc and I just shop for backups, name brand preferences, and a few of my own must-haves.

Get a Feel for How Things Work at Your New School

Before going crazy shopping for all of the school supplies on your own (even though it can be SO tempting!), take time to ask someone at your school what to expect. 
  • Will your school provide a few basics or everything you need? 
  • Do you have access to a supply closet? What is the process for requesting things if you run out?
  • Do families normally bring in supplies at the beginning of the year? Will they donate throughout the year when things run low?
  • Will your school give you a certain allowance to buy what you need?
Also, you may want to inventory what is already in your classroom before shopping for new things. We all know it's a total gamble on what we "inherit" when we move to a new room.

2) Shop Around

Nothing makes me quite as giddy as school supply shopping (seriously, it's a problem 😂). One of the most helpful ways to save some money is to shop around for the best deals.

Compare Sale Prices

After making a list of what you need to buy, start checking online sales adds for the best prices. I try to make it a habit to check ads once a week or so during back to school season because prices can change. 

When I go into a store I try to only buy what was on sale and save the rest for later.

For example, I try to never pay more than $0.50 for a box of Crayola crayons during Back to School Sales.  While I was at Walmart buying crayons, I noticed colorful composition notebooks nearby. I used my phone to check online and could see that Office Depot had a better selection of colors, for less money each. I decided against buying the notebooks and added it to my Office Depot list for the next time I was in the area.

Take Time to Do The Math

Buying in bulk isn't always better. I try to look at the price per item before buying multiples of something. You may not save a ton, but hey, we're talking pinching pennies here! During my trip yesterday I noticed:

Box of 30 -  $8.50 - $0.28 each
2 pack: - $0.54 - $0.27 each 

Black Expo markers:
12 pack - $12.97 - $1.08 each
8 pack  - $7.34  - $0.92 each
6 pack -  $4.88  -  $0.81 each

3) Ask for help

shopping cart full of school supplies

Do any of your friends or family have items (children's books, school supplies, toys that could be used for indoor recess activities) they no longer need? Say "thank you" and scoop those free things up!

Crowd Source 

Chances are, you have someone in your life that wants to help you get started. Let them. Check with district rules before using any crowd funding programs to make sure it is allowed, but then...write up some proposals, make a wish list, etc!

In my district, we can use Donors Choose but there are many other programs available. Donors Choose is great because even strangers may end up helping fund your projects!

Use Coupons

Check to see if the store you're going to has a free Rewards Program or a Teacher Discount. Staples, Office Depot, and Michaels all have Teacher Discounts if you show your ID. Also, if you download the store's app (like JoAnns) or check online,  there may be exclusive coupons to save even more. 

Go With a Friend

Now, you didn't hear this from me, but...some stores have great prices but a limit of how many you can buy at a time. If you happen to have a friend or family member with you, do a separate transaction and double how many you can buy while you're there.

4) Start with a color scheme

Bins and boxes in rainbow order  for organization

While it can be a ton of fun shopping for cute bulletin boards and decorations, think carefully about an overall color scheme for some of the bigger purchases. If you have a color palate that you like, you can easily swap out some of the decor items later on without needing to reinvest in a million boxes, bins, etc to match something new.

As a girl who's had an Ocean Themed Classroom for 15+ years...let me tell you how much I love a theme! But, it's really my shades of blue color scheme that prevents me from redoing everything each year. Well that, and my commitment to decorating my classroom on a budget each year!

I have purchased blue fabric for bulletin board backdrops (reuse for a few years at a time), shades of blue bins for book boxes, flexible seating options, and blue accent pieces. 

Now, when I want to swap out a new ocean themed item or small decor piece, I can, knowing the big stuff is going to stay the same.

5) Take Your Time

Blue and Green classroom supplies

As they say, "Rome wasn't built in a day.", and your collection of teacher stuff won't be either. Start by purchasing some basics and know that you will add more as you gain experience.

It's okay if your walls aren't filled with tons of decorations when you start the year. Anchor Charts you make with the kids can be far more meaningful. 

It's okay if building your fabulous classroom library takes years! Just do your best to get books in the hands of your students in some way.

It's okay if you have to work with what you have those first few years. My ocean theme actually started because I inherited an awfully tacky painted wave border around my first room. I embraced it, made it work, and have refined my ocean theme over the years.

Make Smart Investments

Plan to make 1 or 2 bigger purchases a year if you need to. Your first year as a new teacher will feel overwhelming with everything you want to buy to make your room feel like home. Again, start with the basics. 

One year I purchased weighted stuffed animals for our library. One year I bought a bunch of flexible seating options. Some years I need to focus on the basics again like new Data Binder materials, or refreshing my individual school supplies for each kid.

Make a Wish List

As you think of things throughout the school year, add them to a wish list. Making an Amazon wishlist (and even sharing it with your friends and family), is a great way to keep track of things you may want to purchase in the future. Some people ask for items from the list for birthdays or holidays (just remember, it's okay to NOT be only a teacher, and have other interests too).

Even after all these years, I still keep running Amazon Wishlists of favorite 1st grade items and things I hope to add in the future.

No matter what, just remember the difference between wants and needs, and it's okay if those first few years you are still figuring that out. I can not tell you how many things I bought early on that I now realize I don't actually need! 

Good luck with a new school year teacher friends, and I wish you lots success in your penny pinching-teacher wallet friendly shopping adventures!

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