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Classroom Budgets: The Best Buys for Your Buck

By Meghan Everette on February 15, 2013
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

Teacher allocation has diminished around the country, and teachers are spending more than ever on their own classrooms. A survey from the National School Supply and Equipment Association says that in 2009-10 public school teachers spent over $1.33 billion in their classrooms. Remarkably, that figure is less than previous years! I received teacher allocation money this year for the first time in three years, but even that comes with limitations on what vendors I can use and doesn’t arrive until well into the school year. I end up purchasing many items out of my own pocket so that I can get what I want, when I want it. With budgets at school and home pressed to the limit, spending wisely matters more than ever before. I polled my co-workers and we offer this list of the ten best purchases we’ve made for our classrooms.


#10  Circuit Snap Set From Elenco, Starting Around $50.00

Snap Circuits

This is a specific product for a specific need, but I absolutely love these snap circuitry sets. My own son received a kit for Christmas after playing with them at a science museum. They are sturdy, come with up to 750 different diagrams for making projects, include a comprehensive teacher’s guide, and are just plain cool! If you don’t teach electricity, don’t worry. Make this idea work for you by purchasing a good-quality product that can teach a skill far better than any textbook ever could. It will be worth every penny you invest and the engagement from your students is priceless.



VGA Cable for iPad#9  VGA Cable for iPad, $49.00 From Apple

Our librarian shared her favorite tech toy, the VGA cable. This simple little adapter projects programs open on the iPad onto the whiteboard so everyone can participate. Most of our classrooms have only one iPad, so “sharability” of the device is limited. While the functionality is still only on the iPad, the VGA cable lets the entire class see what is happening. Try projecting your Storia reading together on the whiteboard so everyone can join in on comprehension lessons, or use those fun little math apps for a whole group review.


#8  Door Signs, From $3.49

Classroom Signs

Last spring, our end-of-year celebration involved painting a vibrant door sign with supplies from a local “paint your own” company. Several teachers noted this as the best spent dollar ever! Whether you opt for a handmade canvas or purchase a sign that shows off your personality, a door sign is a happy greeting each morning. It says hello before children or parents enter your room and can put a smile on your face each morning. What could be better than that?



Classroom Fridge#7  Mini-Refrigerator, From $29.99, Depending on Size

Some days, you just need a diet soda to make it through that stack of papers to grade. Keeping water available keeps you hydrated while you stand and talk throughout the day. Dieting? Having a sugarless drink or healthy snack on hand can keep you out of the snack room. Samantha Laubenthal, a kindergarten teacher, said it best, “I often need a pick-me-up and my fridge is right there to allow me that option. It allows me to sip throughout the day and a cold drink can do wonders!”





#6  Premade Games, From $4.99

Premade Math Games

Pinterest might be around just to make us all feel inferior for not having handmade goodness at every turn. Why stress yourself out? Professional centers exist for a reason: to leave you free to manage your classroom in other ways. They are relatively inexpensive, well researched, and ready to go. The kids love them, and they can do double duty as small group activities that support or extend classroom learning. Getting a variety of topics from the same vendor will ensure that you don’t have to reteach the rules with each activity.


#5  Cute File Folders, From $0.43 Each

Any seasoned teacher has a filing cabinet full of file folders with assessments, standards, parent letters, saved projects, and just good ol' copies. Investing a little bit of extra cash into your folder stash may be worth it. Colored folders are usually around the same price as plain manila, but can help differentiate subjects. Letter jackets are pricier, but they can store little items, like concept board pictures and letters, without their tumbling out of the side. Christy Amick, our math coach, likes to use the funky files when she gives important information to teachers, such as pacing guides, math articles, or testing information, so that they aren’t lost in the fray. I’d have to agree — I know exactly where my red polka dot folder with math information is!



#4  Storage Baskets, From $1.00 Each

Classroom Baskets

One item mentioned again and again by my co-workers was storage. The type is as varied as the teaching: some prefer cute wicker baskets; others unify the look with identical sturdy plastics. I personally like the budget brand white baskets because I know I can go back and buy them year after year and they will match. Whatever the preference, putting a few dollars into storage that lasts will help organize your room, provide ways to level and display, and add your personal style to your classroom.



Classroom Ceiling Hooks#3  Ceiling Hooks, From $0.37 Each

Wall space is always at a premium. Students love to see their work displayed, and so often it hangs in the hallway where they can’t enjoy it. Ceiling hooks are a great option. Just $1.49 for a 4-pack at the local hardware store, they clip easily to the drop ceiling beams. An S-hook through the hole makes an easy place to tie work to and there is no fear about work springing loose and falling on a child. Educator stores offer different types, but whatever the design, a ceiling hook opens up a world of anchor-chart, student work, and holiday décor possibilities.




#2  Carbon Copy Notes, From $3.89

Classroom Parent Notes

Carbon copy notes come individually or as a notepad and allow teachers to keep a copy of what they send home. No longer can a child conveniently lose their behavior sheet, because you instantly retain a copy. Some pads give teachers a quick checklist of items, some have parent signature lines, and others leave plenty of space to create your own information. Remember to date each note for documentation, and file them into a permanent file for each student (maybe even a funky-colored letter jacket!).




My Prized Pencil Sharpener#1  Prized Pencil Sharpener, $74.99

One item used in every classroom every day is the pencil sharpener. I don’t allow students to have personal sharpeners, and I’m usually the one using ours, so I need something reliable. Who hasn’t had the sharpener that breaks more leads than it sharpens? What about the sharpener that rotates on the same schedule as the Earth? Everyone has had a pencil sharpener befouled by evil colored pencils. I recommend the X-ACTO Magnum Electric Pencil Sharpener. It is simply the finest, most reliable, and fastest sharpener I’ve ever owned.


What are your “can’t live without” items? And where do you shop for steals and deals? Grab your teacher allocation and share your best purchases!

Comments (30)

A small paper trimmer...it is so nice to have it on hand and not have to run down to the teacher workroom.

Anyone know where I can find the door signs? (Number 8 on the above list.) Thanks.

My mentor teacher ages ago told me to get a staple gun (for putting up bulletin boards), a bottle of Goo-Gone, a label maker, and an exacto-knife. I now can't live without them!

I love my label maker. An Exacto knife is a really good idea. I've been using a utility knife out of the science kit this week. I should get something smaller and more practical.

Thanks so much for your ideas! I agree with them...and do use all of them. I also relied heavily on an electric pencil sharpener...for teacher use only - if kids use them, they don't last very long!

No kidding -- I don't let my kids sharpen much of anything. Colored pencils are a killer!

I always shop the dollar bins at Target. My other fave is Dollar Tree. I seem to always find what I am looking for or at least all of what I need to make whatever it is.

Oh me too! I restock my prize drawer when they go on red-dot too!

Be sure to check Fire Code before you hang from the ceiling. Most cities will not allow certain material to be hung from the ceiling because it could allow a fire to spread from the ground to the ceiling above.

I like the file folders on the bulletin board. Great ideas.

Thanks! Those are in the math coach room. I think she keeps the lesson plan format for us in each one, but there are lots of uses I could think of!

I'm not sure the energy cost could be that great, could it? Sheesh! I actually don't have one myself, but so many of our teachers swear by theirs. I have to think there are so many other ways to conserve energy. That's truly unfortunate about the snacks. Being healthy is such a major issue!

you need a good quality hole punch! I can't live without mine!

No kidding! I misplaced my 3-hole punch and it killed me. I need to get one of those long-arm staplers too!

Refrigerators were banned at our school to cut back on the use of electricity..... many of us offered to pay $30-$50 to cover the cost, but was turned down. Would be so nice to offer healthy snacks as rewards. My fifth graders LOVE yogurt and cheese.... would be better for them than candy!!

The original reason given was conserving energy. Then we were told it was a safety hazard (I don't think anyone is going to climb in it!) Whatever the reason, mine is in my basement as an overflow for drinks.

Oh...and electric or not, get a GOOD stapler...and make sure it tacks (not all do, as I found out the hard way!)

Refrigerators were banned at our school because of the "extra" electricity it takes for them to run..... many of us even offered to pay $30-$50 a year to keep our fridge (less than it takes to run the mini fridge), but were turned down.....

The original reason given was conserving energy. Then we were told it was a safety hazard (I don't think anyone is going to climb in it!) Whatever the reason, mine is in my basement as an overflow for drinks.

Oh...and electric or not, get a GOOD stapler...and make sure it tacks (not all do, as I found out the hard way!)

We can't have fridges or hooks in our room =\

We are no longer allowed to have refrigerators or microwaves either. Our district is conserving electricity and there may have been a fire code concern.

I would add electric stapler and long armed stapler.

That's a great idea. I don't have one, but I'd love it! I should remember that when I get allocation money again... :)

why were they banned, that seems odd

I used to have a mini-fridge and loved it. It was nice to be able to keep our snacks (I teach K) in it too. (Cold juice drinks are nice to have in NM!) but they were banned from classrooms in our district. :(

They were banned in our corporation, too. It was a benefit to our baseball concession stand since they inherited mine.

Oh no! We can't have microwaves or any heating element. Normally that doesn't bother me, but it would be useful for some science experiments that need very hot water, or to explode Ivory in. I wonder why a fridge is banned? We sometimes have mice, so maybe it was a food issue?

I need to invest in a few of these. Thanks for the ideas!

Thanks for reading!

I agree with your recommendations. Great buys!

Thanks so much!

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