Teaching on a Budget
Last year I shared a story about a teacher that stopped me during an in-service presentation on building, developing, and organizing your classroom library. I had just shared the number of books we should have in our room when this teacher blurted out, "How can you afford that?!?" My response was, "How can you not? They're the tools of our trade." And although I still believe this to be true, I have also reached a point in my teaching career where I cannot afford to spend a lot of money. It's called a budget, and I am being monitored by a friendly spouse who means business and a financial guru named Dave Ramsey. With that said, here are some methods I am using this year to teach on a limited budget.
The Question You Probably Don't Know the Answer To:
How much do you REALLY spend on your classroom every year? I honestly couldn't tell you about previous years, and I'm sure many of you are in the same boat. I think it is because I was too embarrassed to share that number/reality with myself or anyone else. I mean, who wants to admit that you personally purchased four hundred dollars' worth of laser jet cartridges so you could have colored newsletters for your students? Yeah. That was not a good idea, looking back. I am curious to see how many teachers keep track of all money spent. This year is my first attempt ever, and it has significantly curbed my spending habits.
The "Change" Is A-Coming
And things are different now. I can tell you, down to the exact penny, how much I have spent on my classroom this year. Would you believe me if I told you that it is only two digits long, and this includes moving to a new school? Yes, I am that good. Here are my four tips on making teaching feel like a lucrative paying job. I might have added five, but that's only because glee is coming on shortly!
1. Plan Ahead! Create a Zero-Based Monthly Budget and Stick to It!
For those of you who have not heard of our local financial guru, Dave Ramsey, he has significantly changed our lives for the better and is helping my husband and I stay motivated to eliminate our nasty student loan debt (which is in the five digit category). His common sense approach has us creating a zero-based budget every single month. So before the month begins, I sit down with my husband and we plan out every penny of our monthly paychecks. To quote Ramsey, we strive to live like no one else so that, later, we can live like no one else. We save an incredible amount of money each month now, and it's because we are making our money work for us. This includes purchases that fall under the teaching umbrella.
As a result, this has required me to critically think about and plan for school materials and projects. No more ordering owl pellets on a whim. Just because. And with expedited shipping. If I know something is coming up that will need to come out of my own pocket, it gets planned for ahead of time. No more late night trips to Walmart, and if so, that consequence of poor planning comes out of my limited fun/blow money for the month ($50.00). It's as simple as that, and it's printed and hanging on our fridge like a contract of trust. So now, necessity is the mother of all inventions and has multiple meanings to me. I have exchanged several expensive lesson plans for new, free versions over and over again. To date, I have only dipped into my personal fun money once. It was less than twenty dollars, and I was mad at myself for not planning.
New addition (10/24/09): Here is a sample budget form that you can use and adapt. This is the form our household uses each month.
2. Use Your School Money and Parent Resources Wisely
Now, I am fortunate enough to have a school that has done away with fund-raisers for the entire school year. Instead we opt for a check at the beginning of the year ($40.00) from each parent at registration time. It is not required, but most parents do write that check out because they appreciate not having fund-raisers. My room account was nearly $900.00 at the start of the school year, causing great excitement in me. This is the first year that I haven't blown through my account, and I am charging every penny wisely, knowing that when it is out, I am going to be left out in the cold. If your school hasn't discussed this possibility, you may want to talk to your administration to get the idea started.
Depending on your school community, you may or may not be able to ask for parent help. I have carefully asked for cleaning supplies, Kleenex, and pencils one time this year. Considering the fact that I have a significant classroom account, I plan on providing a printed list of items purchased this year for parents because it will run out before the school year is complete. Parents may wonder where it has gone and how I might be asking for donated supplies again. When I discovered that my husband didn't know we lacked a supply closet as at his job (where you just grab staplers, chart paper, markers, tape, etc., freely), he was shocked. This was my husband. Married to a teacher. Most parents don't know that we purchase simple items frequently. And, for the record, I once taught in a school where the supplies were so limited you had to provide your own paper for copies. My school account: $250.00.
Photo: Free bookshelf found in the hallway.
3. The Internet Is Your Friend (Well, Most of the Time)
This is a no-brainer, but it is like cutting coupons. It's a time-consuming job finding great resources to use in the classroom for free. Sometimes it can be pretty frustrating "Googling" around for your next math lesson. Don't you wish there was one magical location to find everything you need?
Starting here at Scholastic, we are fortunate enough to have some awesome resources geared for teachers. And the teacher advisors usually add Internet links that will help in the room, saving you time and effort in the process. If you haven't read Megan's blog on turning a Wii remote control into a highly efficient SMART Board tool, you are missing out. Or have you read Stacey's blog on grant opportunities for your classroom? She has managed to snag some amazing resources for her students, including a class set of GPS devices. Internet links can be found at the bottom of this blog. (And while you're there, would you mind sharing some jackpot sites that you have found this year?)
One recent find, eMints.com, made me very happy. Trust me: you want to check this out.
Here is a list of other sites I enjoy. It includes Into the Book, Scholastic's Book Leveling, and Storyline Online, to name a few.
4. Used Is Good, but Quality Counts
Yes, it looks like my room cost some money to decorate, but most of it came from downsizing to a smaller house: our extra furniture found a second home in my classroom. Several items, however, come from garage sales and Craigslist. I have heard great things about Freecycle.org, but I haven't used it myself. The vast majority of our classroom books came from McKay's Used Bookstore. Used is not only good, but necessary in this business. A site I have not ordered from, but that has a great concept is Sprout, where a former classroom teacher collects and sells used teacher supplies.
So used is good, but quality counts, too. For some items, investing in higher quality pays off in the long run. I really support Really Good Stuff because every item I have purchased from them seems to last forever and withstands the beating of children, year after year. This includes the book bins and baskets Beth mentioned in her last post. My meeting area carpet still looks brand new and this is after two years in a portable classroom!
Photo: Carpet and bins from Really Good Stuff. Bookshelves built by my father.
5. Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate
Photo: Striking a deal, I was able to swap chairs with another teacher. Interesting storage idea! Free storage solution for our room.
And this is where you come in. Help me help you, and help others . . . including me. On a local level I have borrowed resources and swapped another resource in exchange. My teaching neighbor is an avid science collector, and her room resembles a science laboratory. Science stuff for reading stuff. That's how we work. Or last year my teaching neighbor would buy one educational CD, such as Rockin' the Standards, while I bought one like Songs of Higher Learning. Let's work together!
And don't forget the most important thing about teaching on a budget. Your students are going to love you regardless. They are not keeping a record of how much you are spending on them. Try a personalized note to each of your students (this is my homework tomorrow night) or those one dollar popsicle sticks that come in packs of 50. It doesn't matter. If you find ways to show your students that you care for them, it will all work out. As I heard from my favorite educational speaker, Lester Laminack, "Give me a stick and some mud outside and I can teach." And yep, Scholastic is offering FREE videos from one of his fantastic books, Cracking Open the Author's Craft.
Here is my collaborated list of Scholastic sites recommended by me and our hard-working editor, Amy:
This is our top-rated activity. We’re updating it with new, exciting activities this year, such as a fact hunt, vocab quiz, and a readers theater script — and we’re doing two live chats with a Pilgrim interpreter and a Wampanoag Native American from Plimoth Plantation on November 19!
Word Wizard Dictionary
Make your own mini-dictionary — includes lots of photos and video, as well as audio pronunciations.
Fun way to get students writing — perfect for a daily writing prompt.
Writing With Writers (with online student publishing)
Step-by-step genre writing workshops with authors; culminates with moderated online publishing.
Safe, vetted resources for popular research topics.
Rich with multimedia and primary sources, this history activity invites you to experience the journey to freedom though the eyes of one slave.
Scholastic News Top Story
Leveled current events stories with paired activity sheets. One of our most popular news stories was on the discovery of a tiny T. rex fossil. See the fact/opinion article at the end of the article.
Please feel free to share resources, sites, and ideas that have helped you save a few dollars (and time) this school year!