While teachers often disagree on topics such as classroom management, whether or not homework is important, or if it’s a good idea to eat in the teacher’s lounge, one thing we can all agree on is that teachers’ budgets are tight (and no, we don’t mean that in a 90's slang, “cool” way) and often require creative financial strategies. Not only are teachers trying to stretch their incomes to cover their personal budgetary needs, but many teachers also find themselves having to spend their personal money on classroom supplies.
USA Today reported that in 2018 teachers spent an average of $480 a year out of their personal budgets on their classroom needs, not to mention buying food, supplies, and clothes for their students. That same year, EdWeek reported that 13% of teachers spend between $501 and $1,000 while 7% spend more than $1,000. An article from The New York Times went on to discuss how some teachers have turned to donors to meet the needs of their classrooms.
While many teachers have found ways to supplement their income (see our series of blogs on seasonal and side gigs for teachers), here are some ways teachers can find funding for school-related projects or save money in their own personal budgets.
Wal-Mart Community Grants
Many school districts have education foundations or other community-based funding programs. There are also countless programs and organizations that have funds available to schools through grant programs. However, many teachers find the grant-writing process intimidating and/or tedious.
Wal-Mart has a local community grant program that awards grants ranging from $250 - $5,000. Schools (and other non-profit organizations) can submit and even receive up to 25 grants a year. Applications can be submitted online.
A very basic way to save money when grocery shopping starts with not going to the store hungry and always going in with a list.
Start by planning your meals. Then check your kitchen for what you are missing and create a list. It is helpful to create a digital list of items you purchase most frequently (group them by category then order the list according to the aisle in your grocery store).
Saving money while grocery shopping used to involve buying multiple Sunday newspapers and signing up for coupon mailings with weekly investments of hours upon hours of clipping and organizing coupons. Extreme couponers would even go so far as finding storage to stock up on items when they were on sale.
Saving money this way was easily confused with having a part-time job.
Things are much easier now.
The manufacturer coupons you used to only be able to find in the Sunday paper are now available online at websites like www.coupons.com (you can print them or get them digitally - some of our writers actually use particular this site weekly).
Most grocery stores have also gone digital with their coupons. Many of their apps have both manufacturers’ and store coupons
Some stores even have reward points for frequent shoppers and/or for purchasing store brand items. Points can be used for different things. For example, Kroger’s points can be used to reduce the price of gasoline at the store’s gas station.
While every store seems to have its unique gimmick or sale’s pitch, Target allows for multiple discounts to be stacked upon each other; whereas, most stores only allow one discount to be used at a time.
Target is one of the few stores that allows customers to use both manufacturer coupons and store coupons on the same item and at the same time. They also often have coupons on their app, website and circular for either a certain amount off or a Target gift card for a purchase of a minimum amount or of specific items.
Target also has discounts and coupons available for customers who sign up for Target Circle (formerly known as Cartwheel). Target Circle also offers customers opportunities to provide feedback on their products and services(by the way, we also learned recently that if you accidentally leave your card at home, you can just sign in with your phone number and still get all your savings).
In addition to all of these, customers at many Target locations receive $0.05 off for each reusable bag that they use at checkout and 5% off their total ticket if they pay with the Target Red Card. The Red Card can be either a credit card or a debit card linked to your bank account, regardless of the bank.
The great thing is - all of these discounts can be stacked on top of each other, saving you more money each time you shop
Kellogg’s Family Rewards
Many teachers purchase snacks for their students, like: Austin sandwich crackers, Cheez-it’s, Club crackers, Nutri-grain bars, or Rice Krispies treats. By simply scanning your receipts that contain these items, you can earn points at www.kfr.com.
These points can be redeemed for Highlights magazines, storybooks, mini-mission booklets, coloring pages, and gift certificates to national retailers. They even have heart-shaped braille stickers with inspirational quotes and donations to Feeding America. You could make it a class project and invite students to scan and submit their families’ receipts then vote as a group what to do with the points.
You can also get points for items you may purchase for your family, like: Kellogg’s cereals, Pop-tarts, Pringles, Eggo waffles, Morning Star Farms vegetarian products, or Town House crackers. On a personal level, points can be used to purchase coupons for these products (it’s like free money!).
Ibotta, Shopkick, and Checkout 51
There are some great apps out there that will reward you just for shopping! These are legitimate - several of our writers have used these.
Ibotta will send you cash (well, actually a check) just for buying groceries!
Each week they have items featured on their app, and all you have to do is upload a picture of your receipt to the app after shopping. If you purchased any items on their list for the week, you will be rewarded with money. You can review the list of featured items before heading to the grocery story or simply scan the items you are buying with the app to see if they are on the list before putting them in your cart.
Checkout 51 is very similar to Ibotta, but many of their items are generic (like apples, milk, etc.) while others require you to purchase specific brands. You can also earn bonus points by shopping at featured stores.
Shopkick works a little differently. Not only do you not have to scan and submit receipts, but the great thing with this app is that you don’t even have to purchase anything. You earn points just by walking into specific stores and scanning the barcodes on items in the store!
While their hope is that you will make purchases while in the store and while scanning items that you just won’t want to put down after making the requisite scan, it can be just a scavenger hunt if you have the time. One other difference is that Shopkick’s points are redeemed as gift cards to popular retailers, not as cash.
There’s nothing stopping you from using all three of these apps on the same shopping trip. It might take time and some serious focus and planning, but there’s also nothing wrong with just winging it and gathering a few points here and there - it all adds up eventually.
We are getting closer and closer to income tax season, and even though tax laws have changed recently (*see the note below), in 2017 educators tax deduction of $250 was made permanent. According to the IRS.gov: Qualified expenses are amounts you paid or incurred for participation in professional development courses, books, supplies, computer equipment (including related software and services), other equipment, and supplementary materials that you use in the classroom.
Unfortunately, this deduction does not apply to homeschool, preschool, or post-secondary expenses.
There is also a trend spreading throughout state legislatures to propose bills for additional tax deductions for teachers. At least 6 states have already passed such legislation. Be sure to thank your legislators if your state is one of them!
Just Give It a Shot
One of the great things about teachers is that we are resourceful! We know how to stretch our pennies, but we also don’t have time to spare. Most of these are pretty simple and require very little time and effort.
These tips can help you whether you are making your pennies stretch at home because your salary just isn’t quite enough to cover your basic needs, you have found yourself working in a school that doesn’t provide the funds necessary to buy classroom supplies, you are buying food and clothing for students who aren’t getting their needs met at home, or maybe you want flexible seating that doesn’t come from garage sales or resale shops (although don’t overlook the finds you can manage from those resources!).
*The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, had the two houses of congress debating the tax deduction for educators’ out-of-pocket expenses. The Senate proposed increasing educator’s tax deduction to $500 while the House of Representatives suggested eliminating it all-together. The result was a compromise in which the deduction stayed the same.
Also as part of this tax reform bill, where teachers were able to deduct unreimbursed work-related expenses that totaled more than the $250 as an itemized list if they exceeded more than 2% of their gross adjusted income in addition to the standard $250 non-itemized deduction, this was suspended through 2025.