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Frugal Classroom Tips

Guest post by Karin at More Than the ABC’s

Teaching can mean lots of supplies. Whether it’s home school or a classroom at a school, if you find yourself responsible for teaching something and organizing it all, but don’t want to break (or touch the bank) here are a few tips:

Keep it Simple

Space, storage, and too many options can be overwhelming. Plan ahead so you aren’t making more work for yourself in the future. Look for multi-purpose equipment. I have a good number of the exact same sized box so they’ll stack, fit, and work well together.

Don’t start buying specialized learning tools if you can achieve the same results with something much simpler. Check out teacher supply catalogs with a frugal eye. Look for what you can make yourself, modify or re-purpose to get the same effect.

Think Outside the Box (or in it…)

Re-purposing ordinary materials for classroom use can be a huge money-saver. Use paint sticks as pointers and unmatched socks as white board erasers. Enlist family members or classroom parents to keep an eye out for everyday items that can be useful in the classroom.

A teacher I work with had the great idea of making salt dough geography maps — in pizza boxes. A local pizza company was happy to donate the boxes, and with a box for each student to create, store, stack and dry the maps the lesson was a huge success!

Think about the goals for your lesson. Evaluate if available technology or online resources might satisfy a need and save you a purchase.

Frugal Meets Practical

Decide what your real needs are, and how to meet them without going shopping. Pie pans and large yogurt tubs turned out to be the perfect solution to pass out supplies. Empty tissue boxes trimmed, stapled, and taped become universal storage systems. After 25 students use something, it’s bound to show wear and tear quickly. I don’t blink an eye when a tissue box shows wear, but sure would be frustrated if pricey containers cracked and broke!

Check Out Yard Sales

I love a good yard sale, and have made a list of things (at the right price) to look for. Ask if they’d reconsider the price for a school purchase, negotiate if appropriate, and keep your eyes open.

At a yard sale or thrift store I keep my eyes peeled for:

  • zippered fabric pencil pouches
  • high quality rulers or scissors
  • items to use as counters (decorator flat marbles etc.)
  • giant bags of fun writing tools
  • fancy notepads, decorative paper
  • craft supplies (pipe cleaners, tissue paper, yarn, stickers, beads)
  • hard back picture books

Be picky. Keep in mind how you will use it, store it, and if it is a high quality product. Spending ten cents on scissors that don’t cut isn’t worth it!

Frugal but Fashionable

A hodgepodge of supplies doesn’t mean it can’t look good! Come up with some unifying themes and keep it simple. Donated paint, simple colors, contact paper and a little work can do wonders transforming your learning space!

Karin is a 4th grade classroom teacher interested in classroom blogging, technology, and continuing to be a life long learner. She hopes to instill a love of learning in her students, and encourages them to pursue their interests whole-heartedly! Visit her blog, More Than the ABC’s.

Note: If you are teaching somewhere besides your house, check with the powers at be to make sure your great ideas don’t go against any policies or codes.

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  • angela r says:

    love your ideas… I home school so I also buy lots of diff supplies and then need organizing ideas to go along with them. Can add up! My idea is also use old empty wipes containers to hold crayons, markers, etc…

  • Yes! Yard Sales are an EXCELLENT way to find classroom materials for super cheap! From regular school supplies, books, toys, educational handbooks, to crafts, you can find just about everything you need at a yard sale. I find things all the time for teaching my girls and save a ton of money every year–I can’t pay retail anymore for any of this kind of thing!

  • Yes! Yard Sales are an EXCELLENT way to buy teaching materials for your kids for cheap. From regular school supplies, books, toys, puppets, to crafts, I buy things every weekend to use to teach my girls for literally pocket change. The savings from shopping yard sales can really add up!

  • These ideas are excellent! I am about to start my second year of homeschooling (1st grade for my little boy) and I hardly had to spend anything for kindergarten. I was wondering how I was going to do that this year since 1st grade is a little more involved. These tips will definitely help!

  • I love looking for teaching materials at yard sales and thrift stores. Many common household items can be repurposed into educational toys and materials. Also kids craft supplies are really easy to find for inexpensive at yard sales. I just have to make sure I already have a place to store all the great things a find 🙂

    Dollar stores have lots of great educational materials, too.

  • I taught 2nd grade for 3 years and loved searching thrift stores and yard sales for my classroom! I found so many gretat items!

  • Loriann says:

    I went to a yard sale yesterday (Sunday) and found a children’s easle, where one side was a chalk and the other side a white board, complete with paint holders and clips for $3 dollars. It was in great condition, only one little sticker on the chalk side that needs to be removed! Last month at a yard sale, I was looking at children’s books and she wanted something like $.25 each. When my mom told her I was a teacher she then said take the whole box for a dollar. I find people are more than willing to help out if they know the cause is good.

  • Heather says:

    excellent post!! Thanks!

  • Loriann says:

    I was at a yard sale Sunday and got a great easel for $3. One side had a chalk board, the other a white board, and it came complete with paint buckets and clips to paint with. Also, at another yard sale about a month ago while going through $.25 books my mom let the lady know I was going to be a teacher and she let me have the whole box for $1.

  • Lindsey Carl says:

    Something that I found as a great useful tool when teaching younger kids were the free magnet advertisements that you find EVERYWHERE. Whenever I would see them, I would grab a handful. I would then use colorful paper to cover the front. They then work great on metal cookie sheets. Great for kids who are learning to put the alphabet in order, spell, simple math, etc. Easy manipulative for kids, and it literally costs pennies!

  • Christine says:

    Glass baby food jars are great for storing paperclips, pencil top erasers, thumbtacks, etc. If you don’t feel safe using the glass jars in the classroom, use the clear plastic baby food tubs that come with a lid. 🙂

    • I had a wonderful mom who had saved TONS of glass baby food jars from when her kids were young, and we did find so many ways to use them, including a special history day which included making butter!

  • What a great post! The summer before my first year of teaching, I went to TONS of garage sales. I would look for puzzles and learning toys for indoor recess too. 🙂

  • mejaka says:

    Good ideas–I’ve seen many of them used in the classrooms I’ve worked in.

    But it all begs the question, especially as my state faces more budget cuts: I wonder how many politicians scour yard sales and re-use margarine containers to organize their offices?

    • Meredith says:

      *presses like button* (for the comment, not for more cuts)

    • Heather says:

      So true!
      I taught at the secondary level, and so there was less need for supplies than the younger grades. After a few years, though, I was tired of spending my own money on such things, and just STOPPED. If I couldn’t get it from the school, I didn’t get it. It was a relief in a way. I made do with what taxpayers were willing to pay for. I don’t think my teaching suffered any for it.
      But I understand how it’s different for elementary teachers.

    • Ally says:

      Yes! I totally agree. As a teacher I have spent so much of my own money.

  • Krista says:

    Another frugal idea for white board erasers… used dryer sheets. My students think they’re funny to use as erasers, they work great and for multiple times, and they’re something I’d throw away.

    • B says:

      Might want to be careful with that in the event you have a student with bad asthma/allergies. A school I taught at before had two children that had a hard time with asthma. The littlest scents would flare theirs up.

  • Heather says:

    Slightly off-topic: My favorite tip ever I like to share with teachers, although it’s not necessarily frugal: Puff’s Plus with Lotion are the best things ever for erasing chalkboards! Keeps that nasty dust down, and the board is left so clean. One tissue lasts a good while. I’d go through 2 boxes a year, although I wasn’t a heavy chalkboard user.

  • I love this post! Not only does it touch my “frugal” heart, but I’m going to be starting this new school year as a substitute teacher. I also do a lot of freelance art classes in schools and galleries, so this information is just what I need! Thank you!

  • stephanie m says:

    I am a public school teacher- 2nd grade-


    people want to help teacher/students out .. this is one was I am able to get GREAT supplies for my class!! I hope this is helpful to some of you!!!

  • Stasia says:

    I use Crystal Light containers for color pencils/crayon holders. They work GREAT for students who forgot theirs in their locker.

  • Lindsey says:

    I use oatmeal containers and frosting containers to hold supplies. I also put magnets on old Scrabble tiles for my students to use to spell words, write messages, etc. In addition to thrift stores and yard sales (both of which are great for school supplies), I also love craigslist, freecycle, and auctions for classroom material. At an auction I was able to get three 48-slot office mailbox units, which are fabulous for my middle schoolers to keep them organized. If I had purchased them from an office/school supply catalog, I would have paid at least $120 each, but I got all 3 for $30 and they have been worth every penny. I generally spend about $300 a year on school materials, plus $100 to serve breakfast to all of my kids one day each year, but this year I’m switching from 6th grade to 8th and 11th grade, so I need a lot of new books and materials, so I’m sure I’ll be spending about $500+ this year. One cheap place to get books if you’re looking for particular titles is PaperBackSwap. If anyone is interested in joining, I’d appreciate you helping out a poor teacher and signing up through my link so I can get referral credit. I need “new” novel sets for my kids, and the school has no budget for it, so I’m buying all of them.

  • Wow! This is getting me excited about my first year homeschooling coming up! I LOVE to organize things! One thing that I have done is use movers paper for big fun projects. If you know someone who used movers to move in your area – go bring a batch of cookies then ask for some of their paper! They probably use 500 trees worth with every house they package and most of the paper can EASILY be smoothed out and used for big art projects! I have enough paper to last til my kids are 20!

  • L says:

    I like to keep the caps from laundry soap bottles. They are great to hold crayons and markers on the tables as the kids are working. Also good for holding paints, googly eyes, cotton balls and tons of other craft stuff for the kiddos.

  • Megan says:

    This was fun to read. Teachers – ask all your FB friends and relatives and neighbors to help you out! Make a list of items you are wishing for and let them know. Most people have no idea what resources would help you out. Also I read a great book called Teach Like your Hair’s on Fire by Rafe Esquith. He had very good ideas on how to get needed items for your classroom. And hopefully you are all using swagbucks to save up some Amazon gift cards!

  • Seema says:

    I’m a teacher and I start looking for the office and school supplies in July. Last year, I had my sister and a couple of friends buy me reams of copy paper at Staples that were a penny after the rebate. I also have a wish list for parents at Back to School Night. Knowing the state budget crisis. some of them are happy to contribute a box of tissues or wipes for the class to use.

  • Diane says:

    Googly eyes – my favorite counters ever. Cheap. Flat on one side. Fun to use. Easily replaceable if lost. Just make sure you get the large ones.

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