17 Teacher-Tested Ways to Find Free or Cheap Stuff for Your Classroom

Whether you are a brand-new teacher, moving to a new grade or just need to replace used-up or worn-out supplies, here are some great ideas for how and where to get your classroom supplies without going broke. (Thanks to all […]

Whether you are a brand-new teacher, moving to a new grade or just need to replace used-up or worn-out supplies, here are some great ideas for how and where to get your classroom supplies without going broke. (Thanks to all the teachers who contributed!)

1. Two words: dollar store. The dollar store is your new best friend. You can also try online at dollartree.com to order in bulk. And don’t forget about Oriental Trading and Really Good Stuff. —Amy Lee Garner

2. Don​’t ​spend on posters. Stock up on school and art supplies, but skip the decorative posters and charts. I have my students make everything, including the alphabet letters for the wall. In the first few days and weeks as you decorate together, you​’ll build community and be able to assess students’ motor skills, their ability to follow directions, stay on task, and attention to detail. It’s a great way to start the year. —Erika Solis

3. Salvage and reuse. At the end of the school year, as your current students clean out their desks and cubbies, get salvaging or everything imaginable will be tossed—crayons, loose-leaf paper, pencils. Have students put anything and everything even remotely worth saving into a rubber storage bin to be sorted over the summer. —Leigh Ann Averett

4. Hit the ​yard​-sale circuit. Summer is the perfect time to go to garage sales. Stock up on books, baskets, containers and even furniture. I once bought books, baskets, lesson plans and a collection of seashells at a garage sale of a retired teacher looking to clear out her house. Library used-book sales are a miracle. Think creatively. You never know what you’ll find. —Barbara Senenman

5. Make ​your own. I use poster board and a projector to make most of my decorations. First, find an image that you like and then project it onto a sheet of poster board and trace the outline. I color it with Cray-Pas pastels, then spray it with hairspray and laminate it. This has been the cheapest way I​’ve ever found to make posters for my classes. —Lydia Baker

6. Hit up your friends. Don’t be afraid to ask friends, family and even stores if they have anything they can donate for your classroom. If you have friends with older children, they may have lots of books and other things they​’ve outgrown. You​’d be amazed what you can get for free when you explain it’s for your classroom! —Susan Applegate

7. Spread the word. Place an ad in your neighborhood or church paper or post on a local listserve asking for book donations. I did it and received so many books that I gave many to my colleagues. When you explain that a  “teacher needs donations of books for low-income elementary students,” people will respond. —Karen Trivino

8. Shop ​back-to-​school wisely. Really watch sales at the beginning of the school year. I often found crayons for a dime a box! Buy as much as you can afford because when you run out in the middle of the year, the prices to restock are much higher. —Susan Applegate

9. Get started with Donor​’s Choose now. Often they have grants that will match the amount you fundraise dollar for dollar. And give yourself a break. It will take time. Don’t feel like you need to have a perfect classroom in day one. —Betsy Carter

10. Ask retiring teachers. Find out if any teachers are retiring or leaving the school district, or whether teachers are changing grades, who might loan or give you classroom supplies. Teachers don’t like to throw away anything—they’d much rather give it to another teacher. —Barbara Rice

11. Use the ​book clubs. Get started with Scholastic Book Clubs at the beginning of the year. It has helped me get tons of free books by stocking up on bonus points. I work in a low-income school, so my orders are never very large, but even a couple of orders each month will help you stock up on books big time! —Lindsay Ann

12. Shop ​your ​recycling bin. Always look for uses in what others consider garbage such as egg cartons for sorting, plastic milk tops or bottle caps for math manipulatives, plastic containers for storing supplies, or paper towel rolls for crafts. —Stacy Bonino

13. Talk to the manager. At Office Depot and Office Max, some of the managers will override the sale limit and let you buy a class set of spiral notebooks instead of limiting you to 5 or 10. Target often puts school supplies on clearance as the supply diminishes. I’ve seen their last few boxes of notebooks go for as little as 10 cents each. Watch the end caps on the aisles about one to two weeks after school opens in your area. Try speaking to customer service in advance. They might be willing to call you when they are ready to clear things out. —Cathe Dreher

14.  Try Half Price Books. Half Price Books donates books to classrooms and school libraries. Make a request online and cross your fingers! —Shannon DaSilva

15. Boldly ​ask for donations. Do not be afraid to ask for donations from everywhere. Ask stores that sell school supplies if you can have the things they will throw away. For example: The slanted cardboard boxes that hold folders are great for files. The cable company has boxes with dividers that hold about 12 cable boxes. I had two of them, lined the outside with contact paper, and I still use them for papers after 15 years. At casinos, they have to throw away dice and cards after one use. They usually punch holes in them or cut a corner off. Tell them you are a teacher and ask if they will donate some for math lessons. —Stacy Bonino

16. Go on eBay. You might be amazed what you can find on eBay. Try bidding on lot offers for children​’s books, teaching supplies and craft supplies. I got a set of 16 word family books for $5.99 recently. Score! Also check Craigslist, search the “For Sale” section using teacher or classroom as a key word. —Holly Warren

17.  The best price is free! Join local Freecycle groups. People give away lots of great stuff! Put up a “Wanted” post explaining that you are a teacher and listing what you need. Also​, travel posters, college posters and lots of other posters can be free for the asking. —Myriam Godfry

Posted by WeAreTeachers Staff

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