What Kinds of Things DO Teachers Buy for Their Classrooms?

After swinging through Target and dropping another $10 bucks on supplies that I need for an upcoming science lab, I decided to pull out my envelope o' receipts and see how much I've spent on school purchases so far this year. 

Grand total: $875 — and that only includes the stuff I remembered to save receipts for.

It also doesn't include the money that I've spent on registrations and travel to conferences — another $535 that had to come out of my own pocket after the state of North Carolina gutted the teacher professional development budget to pay the bills.

Here are five spending highlights I thought you might get a kick out of:

The most expensive single purchases: A Livescribe pen ($122), a subscription to Poll Everywhere ($50), and a wired router to get my classroom's three computers up and running ($42.46). 

The most common purchases: Science lab materials including 9 thermometers ($57), mineral oil ($19), milk ($4.82) and spaghetti ($10.58).

The purchases that I probably could have lived without: New books for my classroom bookshelf ($113).

The purchases that are the most direct result of slashed #edbudgets: Cleaning supplies including a mop and mop bucket to clean my lab floors ($42.48) and the rental of a carpet cleaner to clean the carpets in our team's other classrooms ($36.91).  

The cheapest purchase: A kickball ($6.53)

What's REALLY CRAZY is that the $875 that I've spent so far — which works out to roughly $73 per month, y'all — is actually LESS than I've spent in the past few years. I've intentionally cut back on my school spending because I'm as broke as everyone else!

Now let me be perfectly honest with you:  If I worked hard enough at it, I probably could have gotten SOME of my purchases covered in other ways. 

The parents of my students, for example, are pretty terrific at sending in lab supplies when I remember to ask for them with enough advance warning — and my principal can be pretty creative at finding spare change to squeeze out of his budgets.

I need all y'all to know, though, that teachers ARE subsidizing public education in America by purchasing needed supplies for their classrooms out of their own pockets– and those subsidies are becoming more and more important as districts struggle to find ways to balance budgets in difficult economic times.

Are we okay with that?




10 thoughts on “What Kinds of Things DO Teachers Buy for Their Classrooms?

  1. Megan Carter

    I’m a teacher. I need to buy necessary materials like worksheets, cards and illustrations and lobby for photocopying of hand outs so that I and my students could have something together. But I don’t count it against my salary. I find joy and happiness in the profession I am now.

  2. Donna Phillips

    I am still blessed to have this administrator who doesn’t allow us to spend much of our personal money for our supplies in the classroom. Good because we have stable budget. I am hoping that one day this thing would not be a problem anymore to any other teachers.

  3. VocabularySpellingCity Mayor

    I run an online word study site. 90% of the people use it for free, 10% pay for it. It’s $49.99 for a classroom for a year. I suspect way over half of the teachers pay for it themselves.
    As a vendor, I’m really amazed and deeply appreciative of the fact that do this. There are also, btw, many parents who but it for their kids classes.
    I believe that in some states, the teachers are given $200 to spend on discretionary items (Florida)

  4. IronHorse

    We should not be ok with it, but it does come with the territory. And let’s not forget the all important pencil sharpener ($25-electric). 20 years as a business professional and I spent plenty on office supplies. Of course the biggest difference was that the impact on my bottom line was a small percentage against my income. Much bigger impact today. Hopefully the upfront costs of preparing for a school year allow for mitigating the expenses that will most certainly follow. I’m grateful for parent involvement but there is no escaping the fact, as you state, teachers ARE subsidizing public education. This is not acceptable.

  5. Sabrina

    I am currently a K-8 teacher candidate and am appreciative to know the realistic expectations of teachers. I’ve always known that teachers pay for a lot of classroom items out of pocket, but was unaware that the amount can number close to $1000! This is good information to have when I prepare to set up my own class and teach my first year. Thank You.

  6. Suzanne

    I have had to pay for paper, pencils, tissues, Xerox copies at Staples and other basic supplies. Otherwise my students wouldn’t have had anything to work with.

  7. crazedmummy

    Time for soliciting other people to pay for things is also coming out of your “pocket.” I have even less time than money: it’s much more sensible to cough up $50 than spend 3 hours persuading someone else to give me $50.
    p.s. You should have taken your own advice and got a refurbished livescribe pen. Don’t put people off with your fancy purchases. It was a great $60 for me, and I even bought another for my parapro. Kids borrow them and make pencasts. Another time-saver.

  8. Susan

    I’ve gone to using multi-student manipulatives, that way my costs may be high at the start, but I can re-use these manipulative over and over again during the year and the following years as well. teachers have to keep students interested, but that doesn’t mean spending a lot of money every year or semester

  9. Keelygriffiths

    Not just the US.
    Not even just public schools.
    I work in a private school and buy loads of things that should be provided.
    My husband has got to the point that he doesn’t even comment anymore!
    I guess its in our nature – and why we became teachers in the first place. EVERYTHING we do is for the kids. Not us; not admin; for those who we have dedicated our lives (and wallets)

  10. Ginnyp

    How about $50 to cover my part of a substitute when I take a personal day? Seeing off my son to Afghanistan, visiting my mom on her 90th… Could I have been “sick”? Yeah, but we’re supposed to be teaching honesty and integrity, right?

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