My first piece of advice is to pay attention to the amount of money you spend on classroom decorations. Seriously, money adds up – fast!
There will be so many activities and real needs that come up during the school year that will be important. You do not want to put yourself in a situation where you can’t afford to pay for something you truly need for your class down the line, because you splurged in August.
With that in mind, here are some tips for having a truly FABULOUS classroom on a budget.
1. Go into your classroom and see what’s there. I know this seems obvious, however, once you see that first back to school commercial, it is so easy to get caught up in the excitement. I’ve been teaching for years now, and I still have to stop myself from spending too much money when I go into a teacher’s store. At the end of each school year, I make it a point to write down the number of desk tags, etc. that I have left, so that I don’t purchase materials unnecessarily.
If you’re new to a school, grade, or classroom the first thing you want to see is your classroom. Inspect the cabinets, drawers, and closets. You will truly be surprised by all of the little goodies teachers leave behind when they retire, or move to a new school. The alphabet wall chart I currently use was a gift from a retired teacher, and less money that I had to spend. I received metal mailboxes from a teacher who moved to a new district. Sometimes soap, a bucket, and a little elbow grease can restore materials you think are unusable to almost new condition.
* If you are filling in for a maternity leave, please contact the actual teacher before you begin using any of her materials. Most of the time she will want you to use her materials, because it means less work for her when she returns later in the school year.
2. Find out what the school provides. Be specific in your questions – ask if a school supply list was sent home with families already, and if so get a copy of it (you do not need to buy classroom scissors, if they are on the list as a school supply for families to provide), ask the school if they provide fadeless or background bulletin board paper, borders to decorate your board, or a supply room which you have access to. Find out if the school has die cuts, or even better, a computerized machine which will cut images and letters for you. Finally, find out if your school has a laminator (with paper, that works) that you have the ability to use. It never hurts to ask, because you do not want to spend money on items, or services that the school will be purchasing or providing for you.
3. Make a list of actual decoration and classroom supplies you will need. Do NOT head to the store yet, simply make your list of everything you want. A good back to school list for a first year teacher (or teacher moving into a new room) should look something like this:
Organizers or bins to hold shared classroom resources
Fadeless paper, felt or fabric for bulletin boards
A large wall calendar
Name tags for the first day of school,
A welcome back to school poster or sign
1 or 2 pocket charts
Alphabet letters in print or cursive (depending on grade level)
Die cut designs to indicate classroom jobs, centers, etc.
4. Create customized classroom resources for half the cost. There are so many fabulous customizable resources available online now, and many of them cost less than the traditional versions in teachers stores. I love these editable classroom calendar cards, and my students feel so special when they see their pictures on our calendar each month.
5 Write a DonorsChoose grant for large items your school does not provide. If you find yourself in need of a classroom carpet, or a kidney table – do not stress. Go to donorschoose.org and write a grant. It’s a lot simpler than it sounds, and by writing a grant today you could very well have the product in your room this fall. I LOVE Donorschoose and have written and received many grants over the years. This is a must for all high ticket items, and great for bundling many medium priced items as well.
6. Talk to teachers and retired teachers you know. Things like felt and fabric can be used in place of bulletin board paper and can often be found in grandmother’s closets, basements, etc. The best pillows I’ve used in my classroom libraries have been old throw pillows people in my family no longer used or wanted – garage sales are also great for items like these. You never know what you might find.
7. Check out FREE Recycling centers for Teachers. In the Chicagoland area (Glen Ellyn to be precise) we have the FREE SCARCE center and they have everything from crayons to sets of textbooks. Schools, and teachers donate materials they are no longer in need of. I have found books there in like new condition. Last year, I needed new science books and found a complete set for my classroom. All that you need to use this facility is your teaching ID card. Other cities and local teachers’s unions have similar resources – it just takes a little digging to find them. It pays to ask around. A low cost alternative to this is eBay. Every year retired teachers post great classroom materials for sale on eBay. Often times, the materials have NEVER been used. Take advantage of this!
*hint: Avoid shipping directly to the school – boxes have a way of being misplaced or disappearing especially over the summer when the building has less traffic.
8. Identify what is left, and comparison shop online. Getting a room ready your first school year is exhausting. Save money as well as energy. You know what you want – use the internet to find out which stores offer it, and who has the best price. Determine where you are going to shop. Finally, look into free shipping options and discount shopping codes. My worst first year shopping story: I researched the specific item I wanted online. Drove for over an hour to get to the specific teacher store which offered it and . . .you guessed it, the item was out of stock. I drove over an hour to get back home and ended up ordering what I wanted online anyway. I don’t remember what the shipping fee was, but I know it was less than what I spent on gas that day.
9. Once you begin purchasing items – Save all of your receipts! Keep items unopened, or retain the original packaging until you absolutely know you are keeping them. Usually the weekend before the children return, I have 3 or 4 items I purchased and never used. I push myself to return them, and am always surprised to see how much money I saved. Here’s another tip – if you open a product you’re not sure will work in your space – do it carefully. I find that by carefully placing an unused item back into the original packaging and securing it as it was originally, it will be accepted as a return.
10. Start a file for your receipts. Your district will reimburse you up to a certain amount for items you purchase, and your PTA may even pitch in for some of it. Both, however, usually require you to make the purchases first and submit your receipts later. Finally, next year you must remember to deduct any non-reimbursed materials from your taxes. If you can’t find the receipts that is literally money thrown away.
Happy Shopping! If you have any back to school saving tips, please share them in the comments section below.