As if there weren’t enough consumer markets for lenders, here’s another (and slightly unexpected) one to add to the list: teachers in need of school supplies. It’s no secret that teachers are suffering due to budget cuts in education. Consequently, the pressure to buy teaching tools has led to many teachers paying for classroom supplies out of pocket. This financial vulnerability is exactly why some lenders have created programs aimed at lending money to teachers feeling the financial pinch of filling their classrooms with supplies. These lending programs are implemented by certain credit unions and boast loans from 0% APR – 1.99% APR.
While the idea of providing opportunities to teachers in need of a financial boost could seem well-intentioned, any cash on loan carries the potential for consequences that far outweigh the initial financial relief. As with most professional loans, these teacher targeted loans are still based on a lending system that requires minimum monthly bills and penalties for late payments.
So what can school employees do when they need an extra financial boost for their classroom enrichment material? Here are a few options and alternatives that can help teachers keep their student’s best interest in mind… without paying interest:
Some second hand stores collect everything from old paper towel rolls to bins of mismatched crayons. Do some research to see if your area or neighborhood has a store that has a particular abundance of recycled or reusable materials. In the Bay Area, there’s a store with bulk bins of every imaginable material – mostly donated items that would have otherwise been recycled or thrown away. These are gold-mines for art supplies that come at a low expense. Stores like that are the perfect place for a teacher to stock up.
Divide and conquer costs
If you have a fellow teacher who’s also feeling the pressure of costs, team up and see where you might be able to split costs or save by buying in bulk. The one good thing about school supplies is that they don’t have an expiration date! Extra paper, pens, and pencils can be stored until you need them in the future.
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Check out online resources
There are several online shopping sites where you can find discounted school supplies. They may provide relief from some of the pricier, brick and mortar stores offering materials at a higher cost. The Dollar Tree even has an online store for some of your thrifty notebook shopping, most prices coming in (as you might have guessed) at a dollar.
Loyalty Membership Programs
If you frequent a specific store for your school supplies, check to see if they have a rewards program available. Important to note: this is different than a store credit card! Whereas store credit cards will act in much the same way as the lending programs mentioned in the intro, a loyalty membership is often a free service that tracks your purchases and offers deals or cash back when certain spending thresholds are met. Office Depot, for example, has a loyalty membership program that gives teachers an instant 5% discount on school supplies and other benefits.
This, admittedly, isn’t for all teachers. Depending on your relationship with your students’ parents, your comfort level with asking for fundraising support may vary. But if school regulations allow, class fundraisers can not only be a great way to raise money for classroom supplies, they can also be a great teaching tool for your students. They can learn the importance and impact of interacting with a community and actively participate in adding value to their own classroom or the classrooms of others. There are several ways to go about fundraising so if the idea of collecting monetary donations from parents makes you uncomfortable, you can always ask for specific donations instead of money: materials such as paper, pens, or other teaching resources.
Keep your receipts
In past years, teachers’ personal spending on educational expenses (books, supplies, etc.) made them eligible for a tax deduction of up to $250. Unfortunately, the tax break (called The Educator Expense Deduction) looks like it’s nearing the end of its run. If you’ve spent on supplies for the 2013 year, you’re still eligible and should make efforts to collect the deduction if you qualify. As for the future, consider keeping your receipts as a way to cover your bases in case a similar tax break is created. We’re crossing our fingers that those saved receipts will still be of use come next tax year!
Non-teachers can step in to make a difference in classrooms as well. Here are a few great programs created to help teachers afford and obtain the supplies they need in their classrooms, and subsequently take the pressure off of their wallets:
- Adopt a Classroom - this is a great way for donors to connect with a teacher, maintain contact, and receive updates on how your money has helped students.
- Class Wish – an excellent resource for connecting teachers to a variety of low-cost items and potential donors.
- Donors Choose – a site that takes you through an easy-to-use selection process so that your donations go exactly where you want them to go!
If you’re a teacher who’s already struggling with personal debt, taking on more loans will only add to the red in your financial picture. By focusing on your repayment and using resources to pay off current debt rather than adding to it help you to reach financial freedom sooner rather than later.
Ideally, you’ll receive enough initial funding to fill your classroom with supplies and teaching tools. But in the event that you find yourself depleting your own personal budget, make sure to check out other every last option to save on school supplies instead of taking out a loan to supplement your spending. Implementing a spending strategy when filling up a classroom will save you in expenses and protect you from financial strain in the future!
Image Credit: Robert S. Donovan