Friday, July 31, 2020

5 Back to School Shopping Tips from a 25 Year Veteran


    It's nearing the end of summer.  For some, those back to school dreams have started.  You know, the ones that make you wake up in a cold sweat... Sorry to tell you, but they never fully go away. You're ready to spend your whole summer savings on school supplies. STOP!  WAIT!  I've got some tips you're going to want to read before you spend all of your hard earned money.

Back to School Shopping Tip 1:  Make a List

  This list actually starts during the school year.  Did you find that your supplies were running low? Were you begging teammates for pencils, paper, or a new spiral notebook for that new student who came in May? I know I have. Write these things down.  Maybe it's some new plan that just popped into your head to try for next year that you will need supplies for.  I write them all in the July section of my planner.  That way, I always know where to find it when it's time to shop for school supplies.
    Plan out a piece of paper for your back to school shopping list.  Some categories might be student supplies, bulletin boards, teacher desk, and new projects.  

Back to School Shopping Tip 2: Shop the Back to School Sales

    It keeps getting earlier each year (like Valentine's candy coming out December 26), but back to school sale ads generally start showing up in mid July.  By the end of July, the sales start getting really, really good. 

    Check those sale ads each Sunday when they come out.  (Where I am, the Washington Post actually delivers the sale ads on Saturdays.  Lucky me!) Some of my favorite back to school shopping sale ads to shop from include Staples, Target, and Office Depot. Walmart's prices are always good, so if you're shopping there, you won't have to wait for a rock-bottom-price sale.  Same thing with Dollar Tree and Amazon.

    By shopping sale ads, you can get a box of 24 Crayola crayons for 50¢ each. (That's a whole class set for $12.) A couple of the stores have Crayola markers and pencils for 99¢ right now.  I bought a class set years ago and have kept them year to year. Then, I can buy one or two packs per year to supplement. A ten pack of Staples pencils have been 10 cents in years past!  During the school year, they are over $2.  Even if they are 25¢ each, it's still amazing savings compared to buying them when you run out in January.

    What I am always on the lookout for on my back to school shopping list:
1.  crayons and colored pencils (yes, Crayola, I'm looking at you)
2.  pencils (Ticonderoga and store brand are always on sale this time of year)
3.  markers (thick and thin)
4.  spiral notebooks
5.  composition books
6.  glue sticks
7.  folders
8.  lined paper
9.  scissors

Some stores have purchase limits, so watch for those.  I've been known to go to 2 different Staples in my area. (shhhhh....)  But I like to do it, and it saves me money, so it's worth it.

Back to School Shopping Tip 3: Utilize Online Shopping

    Want to save even more?  Try shopping with an online site like iBotta, RetailMeNot,  and Rakuten.  Shopping at Target with Rakuten can get you 1% back.  Shopping at Office Depot or Staples via Rakuten can get you 2% back. (08/20) Those little bits of savings can add up!

Back to School Shopping Tip 4:  Shop During Those Tax Holidays

According to CNBC, 16 states offer tax holidays on clothing, shoes, and school supplies.  Check to see if the state you are living in participates, and when it is.  Every little bit counts.  Having said that, since I spend so little on back to school supplies now that I've stocked up, these tax holidays really only save me about $3.00 if I spend $40 on supplies.  So if a great sale shows up before the tax holiday, I'll shop the sale and not wait for the holiday.

Back to School Shopping Tip 5: Save Your Receipts

    If you're lucky, you might get reimbursed for what you've purchased for your classroom.  If not, save those receipts for filing taxes.  In fact, save your school receipts all year.  You can write off $250 in educator expenses for your classroom.  Many teachers spend much, much more, but I don't. 

What if you are a new teacher?  What are some new teacher must haves?

    You'll get a kick out of this sad story.  When I was first interviewed in 1996, school had already started. After the ten day count, this particular school found they needed three more teachers to bring class sizes down to 28. My interview was on a Sunday afternoon.  The principal and panel asked all of the typical questions during a normal interview.  Two questions stick out even 25 years later:  What would your perfect class look like (I talked about stations and the room abuzz with kids learning) and this one:

    What if you had nothing, no supplies, in your room? How would you teach?

    I thought this was more of a philosophical question.  So, think about it.  What would you do if it happened to you this year?  I told the interview panel that all I needed was a telephone book and I could teach anything. ABC order. Math. Reading. Author's purpose (ads). I was eventually hired.
    Little did I know that last question was was not meant to be a philosophical one. My first two months were crazy.  My class of 3rd graders was placed in a portable that I shared with the Title 1 office, and the school's tv studio.  Those two things took up about 1/3 of the portable.  The rest of us were squeezed in to the rest of the room,  with only a few books, and no chalkboard.  But I did have an overhead and white butcher paper (and some markers). Our "class library" was in milk crates.  We had no bookshelves, so our reading and math books were in stacks (we didn't have enough desks, but we did have some). 

New Teacher Must Haves

Thinking back to my sad-no-supplies story, what things should you buy if you are a new teacher, or you have nothing? Or if money is tight? Hopefully you have some desks and bookshelves.  If I had to do it over again, here are some necessities I would want to have in my own classroom to start the year off right.
  • A vase. Weird, right.  Kids will bring flowers.  It's okay to put flowers in a cup or mug, but wouldn't it be nice to have a vase already?  The shorter ones are more versatile.  I found that I get shorter flowers more often than ones with long stems.  
  • Make some labels for your library.  We level our books and our bins at my school.  You can grab some square labels here and some circular labels here.  They can be printed on any color card stock (or paper) and placed on a bin. Or you can make genre labels with Powerpoint.
  • Plastic shoebox bins to hold stuff.  I bought mine at Dollar Tree.  They look like this. I have ones for scissors, glue sticks, Expo Markers, wet glue, sticky notes, crayons, markers, colored pencils, highlighters, and a few extra.  These are great and they hold up great for storage.  I've also seen something similar at Target for about the same price.
  • A printer/scanner.  I have one at home and at school.  Need an extra copy?  Scan one and you've got it.  No need to go to the copier.  I don't use mine for class sets of copies.  I use it for individual copies, or when I make something in color that I want to print. Both of my schools (In FL and VA) were apprehensive about me having an inkjet printer, both saying that it couldn't be hooked up the the ethernet nor wifi.  They also said they wouldn't fix it if it broke.  Fine by me.  I didn't want it online and if it broke, I was planning on fixing it.  I don't use my printer every day, but when I do use it, I'm so thankful for it.
  • Student whiteboards.  I bought these from Amazon.  They are double sided and come with erasers and markers. They seem pricey at almost $50, but they save a lot of paper and copies.  We play Jeopardy and I post task cards on the overhead. They use them as scrap paper. (You know how reluctant kids can be to show their work). The students write their answers on their whiteboards and I can see what they've written from where I sit.  They are great for formative assessment.
There you have it, my back to school shopping tips.  I hope they've been helpful, or at least given you something to think about. I know my 25th year will be different than any other year, but some things just don't seem to change.