Managing Your Classroom Budget
It’s an endless and well-documented cycle: Teachers have an idea for a lesson or unit that requires some extra supplies, but schools, already strapped for cash, don’t have the budget to accommodate the idea. So teachers, wanting the very best for their students, buy the supplies themselves.
Classroom expenses can seem unending and can get out of hand fast—so how can teachers give students a fantastic, hands-on learning experience on a budget? In this article, we’ll discuss three ways you can minimize the money you shell out of your own pocket without taking away from students’ learning.
Find Freebies (and Cash) in Your Community
You might get lucky finding free supplies on local Facebook groups and sites like FreeCycle, but not every teacher wants to watch these sites like a hawk waiting for the right freebie to pop up. Here are some creative ideas to raise cash and find supplies in your community:
- Auction off in-school experiences. Students love to do something out of their ordinary routine at school. If you’re in a community that can afford it, consider selling or auctioning some of these experiences for parents to buy for their students. For example, you might offer having lunch with the teacher, being a library or gym assistant for the day, or shadowing the principal or school nurse. A great time to sell your experiences is at a school event or silent auction.
- Sell ad space on your assessments. Yep, you read that right. One San Diego teacher raised more than $600 selling small spaces at the bottom of his copies: $10 for quizzes, $20 for tests, and $30 for final exams. The sponsors’ ads were often encouraging notes for the students, and the proceeds paid for a year’s worth of copies.
- Host a school supply swap. Parents and teachers often have drawers full of neglected school supplies. You can all help each other out by hosting a school supply swap, where everyone brings their unused supplies and trades or gives them away to anyone who needs them.
- Ask a local charity. If your students need basic supplies like pencils, notebooks, etc., NeedHelpPayingBills.com has curated an up-to-date list of charities that give away school supplies, organized by state and region.
- Request free books from Half-Price Books. Half-Price Books donates books to teachers that focus on literacy, the environment, and education. All you have to do is fill out this form and pick up the books at your local store.
Make a Wish List
Never underestimate the power of making your needs known. At the beginning of the year, or even in your regular communications with parents, send out a wish list of supplies you know you’ll need. Don’t limit your requests to parents either. You never know when a fellow teacher might be looking to offload some supplies, and you might be surprised by how willing local businesses and churches are to help. Teachers have gotten everything from gift cards to paid-for field trips to computer equipment just by asking.
Veteran teachers often know exactly what they’ll need, but if you’re a first-year teacher or you’re starting somewhere new, here’s a list to help you brainstorm your wish list. In addition to this list, check out our article Uncommon and Overlooked Teacher Supplies for Back to School.
- Plastic totes: Even if you don’t have a lot of supplies yet, you’ll be surprised how quickly things accumulate over the year. Having organizational items like totes will help keep your classroom clutter-free.
- Coffee cans: Coffee cans can be handy for storing drawing supplies, paint supplies, and all the other little things that can get lost in large plastic totes.
- Sandwich bags: Sandwich bags are fantastic to have in a pinch, whether you need to organize and store small objects, seal leftover food, or do a quick, easy science experiment.
- Pencils and pens: Especially in disadvantaged areas, students might not have access to basic supplies like pencils and pens. Asking for donations will ensure all students have what they need to take notes and complete assignments.
- Markers: Markers can come in handy for all kinds of projects, and with the possibility of frequent use, accidentally leaving the caps off, and markers mysteriously rolling away forever, it doesn’t hurt to have a lot of them.
- Crayons: Like markers, crayons can come in handy for educational and recreational activities, and having lots of colors and options can inspire students’ creativity.
- Chalk: You don’t ever want to be caught at the beginning of a lesson without chalk or dry-erase markers, so make sure to have a healthy supply on hand at all times.
- Craft supplies: You never know when inspiration will strike for a craft project, so it’s always helpful to have a stash of supplies such as pipe cleaners, coffee filters, paper plates, glitter, googly eyes, paper bags, etc.
- Tissue boxes: COVID-19 reminded us all of the importance of preventing the spread of sickness. Tissues are great for sniffles or a quick cleanup—and you can use the empty boxes for craft projects!
- Soap or hand sanitizer: Having plenty of soap and hand sanitizer around will make it easy for your kids to keep the classroom a germ-free place.
- Disinfectant wipes and/or spray: Keep your classroom sanitary and sparkling with these basic cleaning supplies.
- Kitty litter: No matter how clean you keep your classroom, kids will inevitably get sick, and sick kids sometimes…get sick all over the floor. Kitty litter is great for helping absorb the mess (and the smell).
- Batteries: Do you have a clock, remote, or other items in your classroom that require batteries? Having the correct ones on hand will save you from having one more chore at the end of the day.
- Healthy snacks: It’s easy to turn to candy for a treat, but if you keep a store of healthy snacks on hand, you can better fuel your kids’ minds and bodies to learn.
- Band-aids: Having a couple basic first-aid supplies will help keep you from having to send students down to the nurse for every little bump and scrape.
- iTunes gift card: You never know when you’ll want to use a song, movie, or e-book for a lesson or simply a break in the day (class dance party, anyone?). iTunes gift cards will let you access valuable digital resources without having to debate whether you want to spend another three bucks today.
- Books featuring diverse characters: Make sure your class library has heroes and protagonists from all different backgrounds to help students remember that their present experiences are valid and their future is unlimited.
Raise Money Online
It’s easy to feel alone when you’re trying to scrape together resources for your students. However, many companies and charitable organizations understand the needs of teachers and want to partner with you to bring your students the best resources available. Here are a few of them:
Donors Choose: Donors Choose allows teachers to post classroom projects of any size, and donors from around the country can contribute until they’re fully funded. Donors Choose then takes care of purchasing the requested items and shipping them directly to your school.
Advancement Courses has worked with Donors Choose for years. In 2019, we helped raise more than $50,000. Stay tuned to our Facebook and Instagram pages for more information on this year’s campaign, starting in mid-August.
Adopt a Classroom: Adopt a Classroom allows individual teachers or whole schools to post their needs, receive funds, and then order their supplies. Donors can search by location, grade, subject area, or greatest need.
Grants from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics: Are you a math teacher? The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has collected dozens of grants and scholarships to help math teachers continue their education, pursue research projects, and improve their classroom teaching practice.
National Endowment for the Humanities: Over the past five decades, The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded tens of thousands of grants to educators across the country. These grants focus more on high-level initiatives than day-to-day school supplies, but they’re worth a look.
The McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation: This grant is for teachers who want to try innovative classroom techniques. If you (or you and a group of colleagues) are looking to try something new, this grant gives you the opportunity to create, test, and report on your strategies.
Dealing With Money in the Classroom
Although it’s not ideal for teachers to have to fund all their classroom projects, a little creativity and help from others can help you stick to a reasonable budget. For more on how to manage and talk about money in the classroom, check out these courses from Advancement Courses. We offer K–12 educators more than 280 online, self-paced professional development courses covering both foundational topics and emerging trends in education.
- Free Micro Course: An Exploration Into Managing Your Classroom Budget: Sick of dipping into your own wallet for classroom supplies? Learn how to set up a classroom budget, prioritize needs, and find resources no matter your budget through the use of DIY projects, online materials, and families and the community.
- Teaching Life Skills and Financial Literacy: Prepare your high schoolers for life beyond the classroom. Examine the career, financial, and household skills your students will need for adult life, and develop strategies for engaging your teenagers, their parents, and the community to help them transition beyond secondary school.
- Self-Care Strategies for Teachers: Create long-term self-care strategies so you can build a more grounded, inspired, and sustainable career in education and better manage stressful situations.
- Students Are Not Customers: If teachers aren’t careful, the business world’s customer-service mentality can creep into their classrooms, hindering their ability to challenge their students. Learn how to build a strong rapport with your students and create a rigorous, differentiated curriculum that will push them to their highest potential.
- Teaching Poverty’s Children: Learn about the nature, causes, and effects of poverty, and gain robust and effective strategies for helping these students succeed in and out of the classroom.
All courses are offered for both graduate and continuing education credit for your salary advancement or recertification needs.