Across the nation, teachers spend more than $1 billion of personal money on classroom supplies each year. From hand sanitizer to keep germs down and kids healthy to crayons that replace the classroom’s initial stock, 80 percent of teachers say that they invest their own money primarily because of school’s limited budgets, which often receive annual cuts. It’s not required of them to do so, but it’s hard to explain to a class full of 10 year olds that there’s no more Kleenex or colored pencils for the rest of the year.
How to Stop Spending So Much?
While school budgets may not be too easy to fix, there are ways to make your dollar stretch when it comes to supplies for the classroom and you may be surprised what kinds of funds are available. If you’re looking to spend less of your own money on classroom supplies, here are some tips to consider.
1) Ask Parents
Many parents don’t realize teachers buy classroom supplies with their own money, or that the initial stock of paper, pencils, crayons, and book may not be replenished by the school system. Parents understand how quickly children go through paper towels and tissues, and many don’t mind helping out, especially once they’re aware of the situation. Send a letter home asking for classroom donations, and list what the classroom needs. To make the donation request more successful, ask parents for items easily purchased at a local store. A busy mom is more likely to pick up a pack of napkins while grocery shopping than she is to make a special stop at the office supply store for pencil sharpeners or white board markers.
There are all sorts of people out there who want to help others succeed, and education is an issue close to people’s hearts. With online crowdfunding options like AdoptaClassroom.com, you can ask for monetary donations from people who want to help you education our nation’s children. If you’re trying to raise money for a specific event or class trip, consider a crowdfunding site like Go Fund Me, where students and their families can share the link with friends and family on Facebook. If 20 students each ask 10 people to donate $10, it doesn’t take long for money to add up.
3) Shop Sales
If you’re going to spend your own money on school supplies, it makes sense to shop the sales, getting the most you can for each dollar. During back to school shopping, notebooks can be found for under 10 cents a piece, and folders for less than a nickel. Check out your local stores to see if they offer educator discount programs. Many, including Kmart and The Container Store, have teacher specific discounts and rewards, keeping a few more dollars in your wallet. Also pay attention to tax-free shopping days, especially when you’re planning on restocking, and depending on where you live, this could save you up to 10 percent of total purchases.
4) Tax Breaks
If you’re spending your own money on classroom supplies, you may be able to get a tax break on some of the things you purchase. Although it’s not near what most teachers spend, there’s a $250 tax deduction offered annually for classroom supplies. This is an above-the-line deduction, which means it doesn’t have to be itemized, but still lowers the amount of taxable income. As an FYI, professional development expenses can also be included in this deduction.
While it may take some paperwork and time, if you want to find cash for classroom supplies, consider applying for educator grants. With a huge range available for all types of classrooms, you can find one that fits your needs. To see what types of grants and what makes you eligible, check out the US Department of Education database to get a list of open grant competitions. Also check with any national educational organization you belong to, as many offer grants exclusively for members.
6) Recycle & Reuse
Over the years, teachers gather supplies, many of which they no longer need. If there’s a teacher who’s preparing to retire, he or she is most likely looking for a place to donate unneeded supplies. Also consider bartering and trading with other teachers you know, whether in your school district or close by. Sharing supplies helps save money and exposes students to a wider range of books, programs, and educational material without the need for large sums of cash. Programs like Teachers Helping Teachers connect you with teachers across the country who are willing to share, donate, and trade gently used supplies.
7) Think Outside the Box
When it comes to saving money on classroom supplies, teachers need to think outside the box. These are some of our favorite ways to save, what are yours? Share your tips in the comments!