Classroom Decor - How To Look Fabulous Without Spending a Fortune

My first piece of advice is to pay attention to the amount of money you spend on your classroom. Seriously, money adds up - fast!

There will be so many activities and real needs that will 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 like a no brainer, 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.

Once you have your job, ask to see 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 have 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 should look something like this:

Organizers or bins to hold shared classroom resources
Fadeless paper, felt or fabric for bulletin boards
Desk tags
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
A large wall calendar
Die cut designs to indicate classroom jobs, centers, etc.
Classroom carpet
An easel
Fluffy pillows for your classroom library
Bins and bookshelves for your classroom library
Decorative anchor charts
Other knick knacks that are important to you.

4.  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 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.

5.  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.

6.  Check out eBay first for standard materials you'll need. Every year retired teachers post great classroom materials for sale on eBay. Often times, the materials have NEVER been used.  Take advantage of this!  Take your list and head over to eBay and see what you can find.  My favorite eBay classroom purchase was my handy dandy electronic timer.  I use it everyday, and paid so little for it.  *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.

7.  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.  Usually if you're purchasing enough materials it may be worth ordering online as well.  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.

8.   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 (usually stapled if it's from a teacher's store) it will be accepted as a return.

9.  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.

10.   Do NOT spend money on posters for your room.  The
best anchor charts are hand made, and laminated.  I've spent money on the fancy ones, and most of the time they go unused.  Using the resources from TPT you can create some beautiful anchor charts that will be tailor made for your class!  Here are two links to amazing FREE resources on TPT.
Free Insert Your Own Picture On Monthly Calendar Cards
Free CHAMPS Poster


  1. Thanks for all of the great tips and the checklists!!! It is so easy to get caught up in the spending and go overboard!

  2. Great advice for new teachers! It seems like yesterday it was my first year. Time definitely flies when you are having fun! :)



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