Are you spending too much on your classroom?

Experts say teachers spend around $500 per year on their classroom, but many teachers spend far more than that.  Teachers are spending more than the couple hundred dollars the IRS allows us to deduct, which is far more than anyone should spend on their job–your job is supposed to pay you!

The Huffington Post surveyed teachers on Twitter under the hashtag #mymoneymyclass.  Teachers stated they did spend far more than the $500, some into the thousands.

Is this you?  If so, what can you do about this?

Consider a classroom spending freeze.

Spending on classroom activities is admirable, but over time it adds up.  This hurts you and your family as you pursue your financial goals.  You may be putting your family in jeopardy right now, or hurting your chances at saving for retirement or other long-term goals.

“But I need this!” you say.  I hear you.  Teachers across the nation feel the same way.

Here are a couple things to ask yourself before spending a ton and going into debt for your job.

  1. Is there any way to get what I need through the school budgeting process?
  2. Do I really need this item?
  3. Are all my bills paid?
  4. Am I going to put this on a credit card?
  5. Would I object to spending this much if I were making a charitable donation?

If any of these things are “yes,” then you should not be spending money on the item. In fact, I maintain the following:

You shouldn’t be spending your money on your job at all!

Most jobs I have had come with an expense account.  If I buy software, materials, or items for my job, I file an expense report.   This never happens in teaching, still we spend away.  This is because teaching is more than a job–it’s a mission.  It’s why we fund our classrooms when districts and schools do not.  I wanted to help every kid in my class–especially the ones who didn’t have a lot.  So, I spent–and went pretty far into debt.

Since then I’ve learned two things.

The first is a lesson from President Abraham Lincoln who said, “You cannot help the poor by becoming one of them.” Going into debt for a job is a very bad plan.  Jobs are supposed to pay you and help you get ahead, not ruin your credit score.  I’m not saying not to help students in need–I’ve been one of those students.   I can be helpful in non-spending ways.  Students appreciate my time, caring, and attention much more than things I’d buy them anyway.

Second, I’ve learned that just because some students may lack cash doesn’t mean they’re disadvantaged.  I recall one project I assigned where students made their own groups.  One group chose to meet outside of school.  There was one student who was really well off, “He has four bathrooms!” but another who wasn’t.  The biggest takeway wasn’t the “four bathrooms,” it was “Wow… her grandmother’s always home… and she cooks!”  It was the rich kid who walked away amazed, because the girl without a dime had the best family in the world.

The love and caring I give to my kids is my priceless gift.

Is your school being cheap?

Many are.  Teachers do things no business would ever do.  Imagine working in a law firm and having to limit the paper you used or having to bring your own ream to the copier then removing what you don’t use and taking it back with you for next time.

It’s ridiculous.  Jobs are supposed to provide employees with the things they need to get work done.

That’s why they are called “jobs” instead of “charities” or “hobbies.”

You might be getting frustrated with me now, or even thinking I’m a bad teacher.  I assure you I love my students.  I’m embarrassed, though, when they ask me about my financial affairs and I tell them I still have student loans.


“At your age?”  they ask.  They get even more brutal when I tell them what I used to make at my prior job.

“You cut your salary in half… and took loans… to teach?  Are you stupid?”

“No,” I say.  “I actually like you.”

What I’d like, however, is to set a good example.  If I’m teaching kids to get ahead, I must practice what I preach.  In order to teach students about long-term financial goals and success, I must demonstrate the habits that lead to success and financial security–things like paying down debt, saving for emergencies, and putting money aside for retirement.

These things weren’t happening until I disciplined myself not to spend on my classroom.

It’s harder to say “no” to classroom spending and work around deficits than it is to whip out the credit card and go into debt.  It takes more discipline.

It’s also more honest.  When communities see classrooms well-supplied, they don’t see that a teacher’s keeping a balance on a 15% credit card to do it.  That’s dishonest–showing we have what we need when we don’t.  The situation perpetuates.

I chose to stop spending on my classroom when the financial meltdown gave me a wake up call.  I paid off my credit cards and doubled down on my student loans so I’d have a shot at reaching my financial goals.  You should, too!  I still get treats and surprises for my students, but I budget them as I would for holiday gifts and extras and I make a conscious decision what to spend, when.

“Can we have hot chocolate today?” On Fridays, I pick a class and make them hot chocolate while they work.  I have 10 classes, so I rotate.  I spring for the good cups with the lids.

“I feel like I’m in a restaurant! Classy!” said one student.   That’s the idea.  I’ll buy you a drink, kid, so you can feel like a real person at a business meeting–which is where I hope you’ll be someday.

But other than buying the drinks, I’ve stopped spending on my class long ago.


Photo Credit: CC BY-SA 2.0 Flickr 401(K) 2012, “saving and spending”