George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Eight Ways to Save Money on School Supplies

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According to a study by the National School Supply & Equipment Association, teachers spend an average of $356 out-of-pocket on school supplies and resources (NSSEA, 2011).

Fortunately, there are ways to reduce these costs. If you're in need of supplies and the school year is either looming or already begun, here are some ways you can save money while supplying your learning environment with the (stunningly wide) variety of items that are needed over the course of a semester or school year.

1) Family/Community

Major retailers often run special promotions, offer bonus programs, and have in-store overstock that can be had on the cheap. The problem is keeping up with it all. Family and community members can provide you with additional sets of eyes and ears as they shop. One scenario could be using Facebook to "task" your friends and family with certain items to either buy for you, or alert you about when they find a deal. You could have your mother on the lookout for binder clips, your cousins for writing implements, your IT neighbor for old laptops, and so forth. Just as families come together for Black Friday each year, they can do the same for school supplies. They might also have extra supplies that they can part with as a gift or a swap.

2) is a website that "increases opportunity for student success by empowering teachers with community partners and funds to purchase resources for the classroom." The process is relatively simple -- teachers ask for assistance, and donors can choose to support those needs through the website.

3) Social Media

Twitter, Google+, Facebook, Pinterest and other blossoming social media sites are great resources to find out who's buying what where, who's saving money by reusing what, and who's found a better way to shop altogether. While searching through social media posts won't likely turn up much, if you're skimming them on a daily or weekly basis anyway, you can save time, money and a lot of hassle by keeping an eye out for what your PLN is doing.


Freecycle's mission is to "build a worldwide gifting movement that reduces waste, saves precious resources and eases the burden on our landfills while enabling our members to benefit from the strength of a larger community." It allows individuals, communities and organizations to get rid of their surplus "stuff" (like school supplies), and get other stuff they may need. It may not work well for binders and pencil pouches, but if you're an active member of the Freecycle community, you could stumble upon something much better for a comparatively small time investment.

5) Google

The downside to using Google to find school supplies is that they're probably not local, and search results can be old (this is part of what makes social media a better search-and-discover tool for supplies). But the upside is the versatility of a simple Google search. Not only can you use the "Shopping" search feature, but also Google+ and Image search, or simply search local results first, all the while leveraging the most powerful search engine in the world.

6) Fundraiser

If you want inexpensive -- or even free -- school supplies, holding a fundraiser is among the best ways to make it happen. If you can get the year started with basics like markers, paper and pencils, a "Back to School" fundraiser can be a great way to buy school supplies after you've met students, identified general technology and learning material needs, and then prioritized the actual needs of your classroom. It can also be a good way to get to know the families of students early on.

7) Use What You've Got

As every teacher that's ever had to switch rooms can attest to, there are usually far more supplies on hand that there seem to be. Closely going through your own supplies -- or better yet, having another teacher do so with fresh eyes -- could yield some interesting stashes you'd forgotten all about, like finding a ten dollar bill in an old pair of jeans. You can also organize a team, grade-level or school-wide swap after the supplies are in. This keeps the sixth grade teachers from hogging all the paper towels and folders while the eight grade teachers are left with paste.

8) Make More Than One Trip

Waiting until the last minute and trying to buy everything in one trip is not the path to thrift. If you are able to pick up items on sale here and there while shopping for other items, you'll be more likely to take advantage of sales and available stock.

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Comments (6) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Edcamper, Former @Edutopia, Founder of Social Media Marketing Consultancy aimed at helping educational orgs.

Thanks Terry for the resources -- I know many educators will find them useful.

Also, I just wanted to let everyone know that Edutopia is currently having a Back-to-School Supplies Giveaway that is giving up to 20 teachers $250 in gift cards for back-to-school supllies shopping. You can enter now until 8/26 on the Giveaway area on

ttrspks's picture
English Teacher from Queens, NY

I'm currently trying to compile a list of ways to save money and your article was a helpful resource.

Grant Lichtman's picture
Grant Lichtman
Author, speaker, facilitator, "Chief Provocateur"

Let me add one more, though some will balk at my liberal use of the term "supplies". Textbooks are one of the most expensive, and increasingly irrelevant, supplies in our classroom. In the past they have "supplied" knowledge, the acquisition of which has always been one of the core goals of school. We spend an enormous amount of money on textbooks when, in fact, the same knowledge can be accessed at vastly lower cost. Why? I won't go into the political/commercial arguments that drive reliance on textbooks. I will remind educators who have ANY latitude of two options.

First, encourage your teachers AND students to develop their own text and work materials and to self-publish. Use PD money to pay teachers a summer stipend to create a text that they and others can use. Set a goal at your school to reduce and replace traditional textbook purchases by X% each year.

Second, access and their enormous library of free, fully accredited content units. They are every bit as good as what you buy from a publisher, and it is FREE. You can even customize a book for your school from the units and the printed cost will be a small fraction of what you are paying for publisher textbooks.

Clay Boggess's picture
Clay Boggess
School Fundraising Consultant, Big Fundraising Ideas

School Tool Box is a company that allows teachers to create a "Teacher Wish List' of items they need for their classroom. Parents who purchase supplies on the site are directed to their teacher's wish list prior to checkout. More information can be found at

Also, another source commented on PTO Today that the company will even ship to people's houses. You can also customize the standard class purchase to leave things out that you don't need. Seems pretty convenient.

Clay Boggess

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