How to Cut Costs in the Classroom

December 9, 2012

It’s no secret that a lack of adequate school funding has led many teachers to pick up the slack when it comes to supplying their classrooms with everything they need – even with a lackluster income themselves.

A study conducted by the National School Supply and Equipment Association concluded that teachers in the United States spend $1.3 billion on out-of-pocket classroom materials, averaging up to $1,000 each year per teacher.

Another study conducted by determined that 2 in 3 teachers go even farther by purchasing  food to meet the nutritional needs of their students.

So how can you ensure that your students’ needs are being met without bankrupting yourself in the process?

Here are a few ways that you can cut costs in the classroom.

#1 – Enroll your class in the database.

Created by former acquisitions lawyer James Rosenberg, this innovative program offers members of the community a chance to donate money to be used for anything from computer software to markers. The idea is that teachers know where their needs are, therefore they should be allowed to decide how the donations are utilized.

After registering, parents, friends, or other members of the community can look up your classroom and decide the amount they would like to donate. So the key here is spreading the word – send out a newsletter, utilize social media, make a few phone calls – anything to let people know how they can help you.

#2 – Go used.

Building a classroom library can be a huge financial feat when you consider the cost of each individual book. This is the perfect time to go used.

Start with your students -- ask them to bring in books they’ve already read and no longer want (with permission from their parents of course).

Visit your local used book store or your local library’s used book sale (Denver Public Library hosts at least two every year).  Colorado has a large selection of independent book stores that carry used books to fit your budget – The Bookworm  in Boulder, Park Hill Community Book Store in Denver, and Old Firehouse Books in Fort Collins are just a few.

#3 – Find companies that want to cut you a break.

Stores like Staples, Barnes & Noble, Office Depot and Michael’s all have programs that can help you save anywhere from 10-25% -- an amount that can add up over time. Don’t hesitate to ask if a store offers a teacher’s discount before paying, this information isn’t always touted on their website or in their store.

Check out an extensive list of retailers that offer discounts here.

#4 – Reuse, recycle and cut down on unnecessary waste.

If you send out letters or announcements to parents regularly, chances are you are using a fair amount of paper. Instead, consider creating a blog that parents can check periodically for updates on classroom happenings.

Also, encourage your students to turn all paper scraps into a centrally located bin. These scraps can be creatively reused for art projects – i.e. collages. Getting your students involved can, in turn, lead to brainstorming about ways to cut back on waste in the classroom.

#5 – Team up with other teachers.

Chances are other teachers in your school are struggling to save money on classroom supplies just like you are. Consider teaming up with them so you can buy in bulk and share the costs, or simply to alert one another about any sales or deals you see while shopping around.


There are a long list of creative ways to save money while supplying your students with the tools they need to succeed. Just remember to save your receipts and carefully document your purchases so, come tax time, you can receive at least a small portion of the payback you deserve.

Share Your Ideas: How do you save money while shopping for your classroom? Share your tips below.

Other articles you may be interested in:
10 Positive Teaching Actions to (Re)Consider
What a Student Teacher Needs from a Mentor Teacher