Nancy Kraus has been teaching for 28 years. She loves sharing her passion for music with the elementary school students in her class, but over the years, keeping up with classroom demands has become more and more difficult.
“I spend an average of $800 to $1,000 per year as a music teacher,” Kraus said. “I used to have a larger budget for music [from the school], but that has pretty much dissipated over the years.”
Kraus isn’t alone. In fact, a 2015 study found that teachers spend approximately $500 per year on classroom supplies, on average.
For teachers with low salaries or a hefty student loan balance, buying classroom supplies can be a real burden. Buying items for students can mean putting their own needs and financial goals on the back burner.
So if the teacher supplies students with everyday classroom items, what can they do to save money? Here are seven tips that can help you stretch your budget further while keeping up with classroom demands.
1. Ask for help with teacher supplies
“[At my school] we do ask our parents for donations,” Kraus said. “Our musical theater students must pay for their script, CD, and T-shirt each year. That costs them $30.”
In some cases, parents, kids’ relatives, and the local community are willing to help out — they just don’t know that there’s a need. One way to offset your costs is to set up an online registry on sites like Amazon or WalMart.
Not just for weddings or baby showers, a registry is more effective than sending a wish list to parents. With a registry, you can detail exactly what you need and in what quantity, so you avoid getting duplicates or items the classroom doesn’t really need.
Most schools or towns have their own Facebook page, where you can share your registry with parents and generous neighbors. If you have parents’ email addresses, you can also send them the link so they can make the purchases.
2. Split costs with another teacher
Buying in bulk can be a great way to save money, but you might end up having way more than you can use.
If there’s another teacher in your school with similar needs, shop together and split up bulk purchases at places like Sam’s Club, Costco, or BJ’s. There will be less waste, and you can divide your bill in half.
3. Shop after the first day of school
You probably already take advantage of sales on holiday items after Christmas or Halloween, and that same rule of thumb holds true for classroom items. There can be significant markdowns on teacher supplies right after the school year starts.
If you purchase just the essentials for the first day of school, you could buy the other supplies on your list at a significant discount later.
4. Use discounted gift cards
Shopping with discounted gift cards can save you hundreds. Many people receive store cards as gifts or as credit for a return, but those cards often go unused. If a consumer doesn’t have any use for it, they can resell it for a portion of its original value.
Resale sites like Gift Card Granny and Raise sell those unused cards at a discount. Depending on the store and the card’s value, the savings can be significant. For example, right now you can get a $100 Walgreen’s gift card for just $88. Discounted gift cards can help you stretch your budget and get more for your money.
5. Search for coupon codes
Before going shopping, make sure you’re armed with coupon codes. You can often find more coupons online than in the newspaper, and you can search right from your smartphone when you’re in a store.
6. Sign up for rebate apps
Another way to save money is to shop using a rebate site. Sites like Ebates are free to use and give you cash back on every purchase you make through the site. You can still shop at your favorite retailers like Amazon or Best Buy, but by going through the site you can get free cash.
Right now, for example, you can get 2 percent cash back on your purchases from Staples. If you spend $100, that means you get $2 as a rebate. That might not sound like much, but over time those rewards can add up, helping you recoup some of your expenses.
7. Look for grants and contests
The burden on teachers to purchase their own classroom supplies is increasingly common, and many organizations have taken note. There are now many grants and contests that you can enter to get money for your classroom, for everything from markers to new computers.
“We do apply for grants at least once a year, which helps defer costs,” said Kraus.
Here are three opportunities available right now:
- Teacher Supply Boxes: Offered by the Kids in Need Foundation, the Teacher Supply Boxes program provides essential school supplies to high-need schools.
- Classroom Grant: The Association of American Educators offers grants up to $500. All full-time teachers are eligible.
- Donors Choose: The DonorsChoose.org platform allows you to post your classroom needs; benefactors can choose to issue a grant to your request. You can submit a request at any time throughout the year.
Finding cheap school supplies
As a teacher, supplies for your class can be a significant hardship. But by using these tips, you can stretch your budget further and save money while still ensuring your classroom has everything it needs.
If you’re a teacher struggling to makes ends meet because of your student loans, check out this article on repayment and forgiveness programs for educators.
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