Sunday, June 24, 2012

Classroom on a Budget

This is a post I've been meaning to do for quite some time now, but I just haven't...  As I'm just beginning to  have time to think about next year, I thought this would be a great time to share with you some of my tips for  putting together a classroom on a budget!

One thing that I'm really big on is creating a comfortable classroom environment for my students and I to enjoy. After all, it's where we'll be spending the majority of our time for nine months! I don't have the perfect classroom by any means, but overall I am pleased with how it comes together year after year.

I've had a few people ask me (most recently my student teacher) how I put everything together and if I spend a lot of money on my classroom. I'd say the money spending comes in waves. My first year I was trying to put together a classroom after not having a real job for about 8 months. (I was babysitting on the side and had graduation money to help pay the bills, but I pretty much had no extra cash for my classroom.) I will admit that during that summer before starting school I used my credit card to make a lot of my school purchases that I felt I needed to make before school began. I was actually able to pay all of it off with my first "big girl" paycheck, so I really don't consider that to be a bad decision. They key was to get creative and to prioritize what I needed immediately and what I could wait on.

Keep it simple and organized!

My best advice for new teachers (particularly those straight out of college) is to work with what you already have. (Sound familiar?)  I brought a lot of my old dorm storage, decor, and furniture into my classroom. Decor items like area rugs, shelving, lamps, chairs, and pillows are super cheap during back to school time and really make a classroom feel like home. After having spent 2 years in the dorms and 2 years in a little college apartment, I already had pretty much all of those items on hand. Most of those items I already had and didn't want in my home anymore (I was trying to grow up in my home decor). The custodians in my building are super awesome and shampoo my area rugs each year so they've stayed in great condition over the years! No extra money spent!

A chair from my college dorm days, clearance pillows, and a spray painted  Goodwill side table help to create a little reading area.

If you don't have that kind of stuff laying around, back to school sales are the time to get them. Dorm decor is pretty much ideal for a classroom and is already starting to pop up in stores. The stuff is really cheap (kids can be hard on stuff) and honestly most of my stuff has survived 5 years in my classroom. I also love the bright colors and that you can very easily coordinate your decor. It's also good to get creative with the items you find. For example, I use those plastic shower caddies for extra writing supplies.  Stores like Bed Bath & Beyond always have coupons that are great for grabbing these sorts of items.  Target and Wal-Mart also tend to have really good prices and colors on these sorts of items.

$3 plastic cubes make great shelving!  
Thrift stores are also great for classroom supplies. They're definitely hit or miss, but I've had some good success finding small furniture items and books there. If you have a Goodwill or DAV in a nice neighborhood, hit it up! (Rich people tend to donate nice items to their local stores!)  I have one Goodwill store that I always hit up first because it always seems to get the nicest stuff. I've stocked up on chapter books in like-new condition for as little as 10 cents each and have also found brand new educational posters for 25 cents a piece.  At another Goodwill, I found that furniture and large items tend to be very cheap.  Remember my $2 chair?  

More college dorm decor...  This was all stuff from my college roommate's room that she now uses in her 2nd grade classroom!

Garage sales are also a good place to look for items for your classroom. Once again, children's books can be picked up for very low prices and if you're buying large quantities you can always try to negotiate with the seller. Sometimes you have to look at the potential an item has and think about easy fixes that can make it work in your classroom.  You never know when you might hit the jackpot and end up at a teacher's house.  (My principal gave me the green light to take the leftovers from our giveaway table at school and I ended up selling TONS of teacher stuff in my garage sale last summer!)

Toy bin from the children's furniture section at  Target!

Depending on the type of posters you want to have up in your classroom, making your own is always a great option.  Now, this can get expensive, especially if you're a perfectionist like me...  If you add in the cost of poster boards, colored paper / cardstock, printer ink, etc. it may not necessarily be cheaper, but at least you can customize things to your needs and wants.  I searched online for posters from stores or ideas from other teachers and then made my own.  Certain things I prefer to make myself because I want the content to be specifically tied to our state and grade level standards.

Making your own posters is a great way to customize the look and content to your needs.

If you want to do a classroom theme, choose something that can translate easily to another grade level or that can be used from year to year.  My first few years I did a star theme in my classroom.  I chose this because I figured it would still be appropriate if I moved up or down grades and it was super easy to incorporate this theme on a budget.  My school has done building-wide themes the last 4 years and I've also tried not to go overboard with theme decor.  I try to limit my spending since I lot of this stuff is just used for the year and then ends up in storage.  

If you're just starting out, remember that putting together your classroom is a process.  Throughout my first year I was constantly changing things around and buying new items as I figured out what worked.  Figure out what your priorities are to get the year started and then make a list of other things you may want later on.  Some stuff that I thought I needed or wanted, I ended up not needing after all!

Do you have any suggestions or tips on how to put together a classroom on a budget?  

Please share in the comments below!


  1. I love this post!!! My first year I spent tons of my own money! Thanks for the tips!!


  2. This is wonderful advice for new teachers and great reminders for the more experienced. I have a nice Goodwill near my house that I definitely need to check out before I go back to school!

    :) Nicole
    Tadpole Tidbits

  3. I have a lot of stuff from my dorm room in my classroom too! And I graduated 5 years ago!

    Sara :)
    Smiling In Second Grade

  4. Great ideas!! I love the crates on their sides to create shelves. I have also found that just looking at what you already have opens up plenty of resources to work from. Sometimes just a bit of paint will take something worthy of the trash heap to an awesome classroom focal point. :) Love your blog!
    Leah @


Comments make me smile! :)