Just as office employees shouldn’t be expected to finance their own work computers, teachers shouldn’t be expected to spend their earnings on classroom supplies. And yet, this has been the norm for years. According to a federal Department of Education survey published in 2018, 94% of public school teachers said they paid for supplies out of pocket, without reimbursement.
That the vast majority of teachers have to pay for what their school’s budget should be covering is not only wrong, it’s insulting — especially when you consider that the average public school teacher earns $63,645 on an annual basis — less than what the average U.S. household brings in ($68,703 in 2019).
Until the government steps in to alleviate this burden for teachers (and while they’re at it, for parents and children, who often struggle to cover the cost of back-to-school supplies), teachers have to get crafty and implement ways to save more and reduce spending on their own. GOBankingRates consulted real teachers and other experts to learn seven ways they can do just that.
Last updated: July 23, 2021
“The best way to save money on supplies is preparation,” said Shaun Morgan, a full-time teacher and personal finance blogger at Simply Know Money. “If you know what you're going to need you can look for the best deals. I know a teacher who found pens she needed for literally a penny each. She was prepared and looking for the supplies and when the opportunity came she took it.”
2. Take Advantage of the Year-End Locker Clean Out
“Every year students are told to bring reams of paper to school, hundreds of pencils and so much more,” Morgan said. “Many of them will put it in their locker then never open their locker again. I ended up with a cupboard full of unopened paper and a drawer full of pencils by just asking students that were about to throw them away to give them to me instead.”
3. Buy From a Business Supplier
“Before the summer break I would visit a business supplier,” said James Barron, an IT teacher at Start Teaching. “I would purchase in bulk essentials items such as pens, paper, USB sticks and batteries. Over summer, classes would run, normally for foreign students, as these classes are extra, the budgets are not normally as tight and claiming for supplies is easier.”
4. Track Expenses for Possible Tax Credits
“Make sure you are keeping your receipts, so that at tax time, your financial advisor can let you know if you are able to receive a credit for those items,” said Xavier Epps, finance expert at Finance Guy X. “Credits are great as they can increase your chance of receiving a refund and lowering your taxable income.”
5. Use Store and Rewards Credit Cards
"If you shop for school supplies at a place like Walmart or Target, it might be best to get their retail credit cards because they’ll save you the most money at those particular stores,” said Mason Miranda, credit industry specialist at Credit Card Insider. "If you shop at a number of locations, you may want to consider an all-around cash-back card.”
Miranda adds to redeem your earned rewards for a statement credit, which usually gets you the most bang for your buck.
Research: The 6 Best Store Credit Cards
6. Reach Out to Your Community
“As a teacher, you have a village of supporters, from students, to parents, to other teachers and faculty,” Epps said. “Reach out and see if parents are willing to donate items for your classroom, such as paper and pens, so that you aren't using your personal income to fund these needs.”
Epps added that there are also many organizations that hold back-to-school drives. “Check to see if you can receive supplies for your classrooms,” he said. “Also, within your teacher network, see if you all can pool together to purchase items you all need that can be shared. This will save you money and also grow your workplace relationships.”
Helpful: 20 Ways to Pay Less at Costco
7. Take Advantage of Teacher Discounts
"Some retailers, such as Discount School Supply and Michaels, offer discounts during the back-to-school season and year-round for teachers that show a valid school ID," said Rebecca Gramuglia, consumer expert at TopCashback.com. "Simply do a quick, online search to find out which retailers offer such discounts and cross-reference prices with other stores to make sure you’re getting the best deal."
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