7 Tips for Classroom Set Up on a Budget

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Do you need to complete your classroom set up on a budget? Well you’re in luck because today I’m giving you 7 tips to do just that.

It’s that time of year again when I go on social media and see teachers giving tours of their totally tricked out classrooms. They have spent hundreds if not thousands of dollars buying everything in a matching theme. They’ve bought furniture, books, lamps, desks, bins, and more. I really enjoy watching those videos. I get some great ideas from them.

But I can’t help thinking about my first few years as a teacher. I had nothing like what I see on social media today. I could barely afford to buy professional looking clothes to wear to work let alone buy items to decorate my classroom or buy materials for my students to use. The pandemic impacted many veteran teachers’ families financially this year also. So, I know there will be many teachers completing their classroom set up on a budget this year.

So, today, I am here to give you 7 tips for setting up your classroom that won’t break the bank or your budget. If you are a brand new teacher or even a veteran teacher with limited funds this post is just for you.

Tip #1 Set your budget.

I wish I could tell you that the school will supply everything you need for your classroom but that just isn’t the case. You will most likely wind up spending some of your own money for various items that you need to get your room functioning at the outset.

All of the back to school sales, commercials, advertisements, and social media posts make it easy to get caught up in a spending frenzy. Knowing at the outset how much you can afford to spend will help you keep it under control.

You should pay cash for anything that is school related so you won’t be tempted to go over budget. Oh, and get a receipt, just in case you decide to itemize on your taxes and it is deductible or in case your school will reimburse you for it later.

Having that set limit in your head will help you not to get too carried away and complete your classroom set up on a budget.

Have a budget and pay cash.

Tip #2 Make a list of the essentials.

Make a list of the the essentials that you will need to be able to do your job. And make sure you include the little things because they really start to add up when you are trying to finish your classroom set up on a budget.

First, think of the essentials that your students might need and write those on the list. Since I teach middle school math, I am fond of saying that as long as we have paper and pencils, my students will be able to learn. Those two items are essential, especially when you have students that show up to school with nothing. I teach in a school with a very low SES. Buying school supplies might not happen if a family is behind in the rent or other bills. So, I like to have a supply of paper and pencils on hand. At the beginning of the school year most students, not all, but most, will have school supplies. But by Thanksgiving 5-10 students every period will need to borrow a pencil.

Also, consider any special school supplies that you are going to require parents to buy, such as composition books for interactive notebooks. You will have students that won’t be able to afford them so you might want to have a few on hand for those students.

Then write down what you will need in the way of office supplies in order to be able to get your job done. Pens, a stapler, highlighters, pencil sharpener, a hole punch, a binder or two, file folders, post it notes, etc.

Once you have all of the essentials on the list, then you can make a wish list. That’s the fun part and you never know you may be able to afford a few of those items or find another way to get them. However, when you are out shopping in the store or online remember the essentials come first.

Make a list of the essentials.

Tip #3 Ask for it.

Tip #3 is to talk to the school bookkeeper, the department chair, or another contact person at the school and ask if there is any money available to purchase supplies. I’ve seen different schools handle this different ways. Some schools have a set amount for each teacher to spend on supplies either from their central warehouse or one of the big office supply stores. Other schools do it by department and everyone submits a list to their department chairs. Some schools maintain a supply closet with basic items and teachers just need to submit a request to the office staff. Find out what your school’s procedures are and then ask for what you need.

If there is money available to spend through the school make sure you use it first. Don’t wait to use it either. One year, the district I was working in froze everyone’s money midway through the year and funneled it off to take care of a shortfall in another department. The teachers who hadn’t spent their supply money yet lost it for that year. This definitely didn’t do anything for morale that year.

Tip #4 Use what is already there.

If you are moving into a new school or classroom, there may be supplies left from the previous occupant. Check it out before you hit the stores or the computer. Also, look in the teacher’s lounge for that table where all the teachers put stuff they don’t want any more. Retiring teachers or transferring teachers like to give everything away.

Get to know your school’s custodial staff. Before you buy a book shelf, talk to the custodian. If he/she doesn’t have it they can probably get it for you from another school or the district warehouse. The same goes for kidney tables, rectangular tables, and any other sort of furniture needs you might have. They usually even have a supply of whiteboard cleaner so that you don’t have to buy your own. And nowadays the same goes for hand sanitizer and wipes.

Get to know your custodian.

Talk to the librarian/media specialist. Many times they have whole back rooms with interesting finds like class sets of novels, mini whiteboards, games, puzzles, etc. In the library at my school, there is a whole rack of bulletin board paper in various colors so why pay money for fabric when I get the paper for free?

Wouldn’t you hate to buy it and then find out later that you could have had it for free if you would’ve just explored a bit?

Tip #5 Shop yard sales and thrift stores.

Yard sales and thrift stores can be a great place to find some of the items on your list. If you are seeking bins, puzzles, games, and books for your classroom investigate these places.

Getting up on Saturday morning and scoping the neighborhood for a yard sale might not sound like fun. No one said classroom set up on a budget would be easy. And it is going to take some of your time. However, it could be well worth it in the end, especially if you can find a family that has/had children.

I have seen multiple news stories this past year about thrift stores being overwhelmed with all of the donations they received during the pandemic. Apparently, when people were on lockdown they spent their time purging their homes. So, there is potential for a big score for your essentials or your wish list.

Just remember to thoroughly sanitize anything that you bring into your classroom.

Shop yard sales and thrift stores.

Tip #6 Pick a simple color scheme.

You don’t have to have a fancy ocean or rainforest theme to make your classroom look great. The truth is, you’re going to get tired of that theme after awhile and you will want to replace it.

And you definitely don’t want to pick a theme that is related to a certain grade level because even if you were hired to teach 3rd grade you might be moved to 4th grade the next year if that’s where the higher student numbers are. You need your classroom decor to be flexible and applicable to multiple grade levels.

Pick two or three colors that you like and go with that. You can usually find back to school items on sale in primary colors or go with a basic black and white color scheme which can look very chic. One of my American History teacher friends does her room in red, white, and blue and it works.

Tip #7 Make it Yourself

There is no need to buy fancy posters or wall hangings from the craft store. You can make your own wall decor. Anchor charts and word walls are essentials in the classroom. All you need is chart paper and markers or a printer. Did you know you can actually print poster sized anchor charts from your own printer? Plus, you can personalize them with your own emoji which is totally cute.

Oh and some schools have a poster maker on site or the district office’s reprographics service might offer poster sized printing for you as well. You want know unless you check it out.

There are my seven tips to help you with your classroom set up on a budget. Hopefully, you found some ideas that you could use. Remember, the students are going to care more about how they feel in your classroom than how it looks.

Keep watching my website for more ideas and let me know if you want any future articles on certain topics.

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