Paying Out of Pocket: Tips for Teachers With Classroom Supply Shortfalls

July 21, 2014

With hours bleeding outside the normal workday, a multitude of tasks to juggle and classrooms not always equipped with needed supplies, teachers know a thing or two about sacrifice. But many teachers will tell you it’s a calling, not a profession, and these sacrifices are just a part of the teaching landscape.

According to the National School Supply and Equipment Association, public school teachers spent $1.6 billion of their own money on school supplies during the 2012-2013 school year. This amounted to an average of $945 per teacher.

That’s a massive expense for teachers who might already be struggling with tight budgets themselves.

So what can teachers do to reconcile their classroom’s needs with their own budget constraints? Read on for one retired teacher’s tale and a few tips for cutting those costs.

Be Aware of Local Sales

Gwen Vann, a retired teacher and PERA member, knows firsthand the budget constraints teachers face in the classroom – especially after 30 years in the profession.

So when she retired in 2011 and looked around at all of the supplies she acquired over the years, an idea was sparked.

“One day, after turning in all the necessary paperwork, I looked around my classroom and was struck by the amount of personal teaching materials I amassed. Like many retiring teachers, I decided I would have a ‘retired teacher’s garage sale’ to see if I could recoup at least some of the money I invested.

Before I knew it, two years passed. Finally, after receiving yet other notice about the annual community garage sale, I mustered up the energy and went to work preparing my materials for sale. It was important to me to share them first with classroom teachers, so I opened my garage for a private ‘educators showing’ the day before the community sale began.

Never could I imagine the number of teachers who arrived, or the enthusiasm they felt. How excited they were about being able to buy high quality educational materials at affordable prices (through the years, I consulted for several educational publishing companies, and the in-depth knowledge I gained allowed me to select high-quality classroom, instructional and supplemental teaching materials).

I had a great time helping the teachers make their selections, especially the first and second year teachers. Their squeals of delight truly touched my heart. It reminded me of how I felt when I purchased my first resource and classroom library books, math manipulatives, bulletin board sets and so much more.

When it was over, I looked around my garage, and thought about the retired teachers I knew who still had their educational materials in storage. Then I thought about teachers who purchased several sets of varying grade level materials; home school parents who need to buy new materials each year; tutors who are constantly buying new materials; and parents who go to retail teacher stores only to find the cost of the items beyond their household budget. That’s the moment ‘Teacher 2 Teacher Educators Consignment Sale’ was born.”

The first annual “Teacher 2 Teacher Educators Consignment Sale” will be August 1-3, 2014, at Front Range Community College in Westminster, Colorado. This three-day event is open to classroom teachers (K-12), homeschooling parents, Montessori teachers, early childhood educators, tutors, parents and anyone interested in buying or selling gently used—and, in many cases, new–educational materials .

For those buying, the discounts can be as much as 50-80%.

For more information, go here.

Take Advantage of the Expense During Tax Time

Did you know these out-of-pocket expenses could be used as a deduction at tax time?

This deduction permits eligible educators to deduct up to $250 of unreimbursed, qualified expenses. This deduction can be claimed on line 23 of IRS Form 1040 or line 16 of IRS Form 1040A. Ask your tax professional for more information, or see IRS Publication 529, Miscellaneous Deductions, and IRS Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax for Individuals.

Find Free Resources

There are plenty of ways to find classroom supplies for free -- everything from classroom decorations to lesson supplies – if you know where to look.

Donor organizations allow members of the community to donate to your classroom, or help pay for one classroom project in particular. Pinterest serves as a collecting place for lesson plans and awesome organizational ideas. Freecycle can connect you with someone who might be just giving away something your classroom needs.

We created an extensive list of resources here.

Know Where the Discounts Are

Some stores offer a helping hand just by extending discounts to teachers and educators – some quite substantial.

For instance, Barnes & Noble offers 20% off the publisher’s list price on books for classroom use, and 25% off during Educator Appreciation Days. The Container Store offers similar discounts through their Organized Teacher program.

We created a list of teacher and educator discounts here.

Do you have any tips for saving on out-of-pocket classroom expenses? We’d love to hear them!