It’s happening. Stores are stocking up on backpacks, notebooks, and pencil boxes. Commercials are showcasing their back-to-school sales. Summer is officially ending.
For teachers, this can be an expensive time of year. Education is one of the only professions where employees are responsible for purchasing their own supplies. As a teacher, I know the financial strain this can bring. Use these 6 tricks to get ready for school without breaking the bank!
1. Have a Realistic Budget
Let’s face it; teachers could spend hundreds of dollars on classroom supplies and still not even scratch the surface. Whether you’re looking to improve your organization, or trying replicate those photos you saw online, back-to-school time can quickly get out of hand.
The best thing teachers can do is have a plan. Look at your personal finances and decide on a reasonable budget for your classroom supplies. While this needs to be a number that you can comfortably afford, it’s important to be realistic. If you’re needing to buy a bunch of furniture, a budget of $50 isn’t going to cut it. You either need to budget more money, or decide if the furniture is that important.
Once the budget is set, stick to it! Write a list of everything you want in order of importance. Put the thing you want the most at the top, and start there. Buy the items at the top of your list and move down. If you run out of money before you get to the bottom of the list, you’re done. Those remaining items will have to wait until later in the school year.
2. Ask Before Buying
It’s ok to ask for help. I’m not saying to go stand on a street corner with a cardboard sign saying, “Furnishing classroom. Anything Helps” (although that may not be a bad idea). There are a lot of resources and people around you; use them!
Before going to the store, ask someone in the front office at your school if they have any of the items on your list. My first few years teaching I was buying my own plastic page protectors and chart paper. It wasn’t until a fellow teacher told me that the office had that stuff on hand that I realized I had been wasting my money!
There’s no harm in asking your school if they already have the things you need. Also, don’t forget about your classroom parents. I often felt guilty asking for them to buy me things, but I learned that a lot of them were looking for ways to help. They weren’t going to read my mind. I had to tell them what I needed in order for them to assist me.
If your school has a PTA, talk to the president about any classroom reimbursements. Often times it’s as simple as filing a form with your purchase receipts and you'll be reimbursed for every penny you spent.
3. Snag Those End-of-Year Freebies
The end of the school year is the best time to stock up on classroom essentials. I know the last thing any teacher wants to think about in June is the next school year, but planning ahead can save you tons of cash.
When the school year ends, there are tons of teachers purging their classrooms. Some are retiring, others are making a career change or grade level change, while some are simply trying to get rid of the clutter. Whatever the reason, this is your time to swoop in.
Most of the time this stuff is free to whoever is willing to haul it off. Talk to teachers at your campus that are leaving and ask what they’re going to do with their stuff. Most of the time they’ll tell you to help yourself.
You can also scavenge Craigslist for deals at this time of year. It’s common for retiring teachers to sell their items for next to nothing. Be ready to jump on these deals as soon as they're posted. If you want the good stuff, you have to strike fast.
4. Be Patient
I know you’re going to think I’m crazy after saying this, but your room doesn’t have to look perfect on the first day of school! It’s ok if you don’t have all of those plastic organizers or those exercise balls for chairs when the kids arrive.
The thing is, those things will still be just as useful in October… or November… or even December! A lot of times we feel like we need it all right away. Remember that list you used when budgeting? Decide which of those items are time-sensitive. If it’s not essential for day one, then consider buying it later.
5. Forget the Pinterest Boards
Your classroom doesn’t have to look like the rooms on Pinterest.
Just let that sink in for a second…
As teachers, our job is to create relationships with students and inject a sense of a safety so that they can fully engage in their learning. Whether the border on your bulletin board matches your decoupage nameplate is irrelevant.
It’s ok for your classroom to look good. Every teacher's budget is different. It's important to stick to what you can afford and not get too caught up in keeping up with the teacher next door.
6. Save Early
It’s a little late for this year, but start looking ahead to next school year. School starts around the same time every year. Saving money earlier can make the financial transition a lot less painful.
Figure out how much money you typically spend on your classroom at the beginning of the year. Then, divide that number across a set number of months. For example, if you’re going to start saving in January, take your budget and divide it by 8. This is how much you should be saving each month. Then, once August hits, you’ll have that cash ready to go!
Back to school time is an exciting time for students. We want to create an environment that is warm and welcoming. Just remember, those kids are more excited about seeing you than they are about seeing your classroom décor.
Need some one-on-one help with your personal finances? I'm passionate about helping fellow teachers take control of their money. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free consultation!
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