Do you know how much money you spent on your classroom last year, or is school a financial vortex? A black hole that sucks away your paycheck and leaves you scrambling to pay your bills? Teachers don’t make a lot but we sure know how to spend. Sometimes, it borders on downright hoarding. In order to defeat it, first, you have to know why you’re spending in the first place.
“I’m spending because I need these notebooks.” Nope! it’s not that simple. There are reasons behind each purchase. The “I needs” are real, but the reasons behind them are what we must uncover if we want to win.
Knowing the reasons behind “teacher spending” is the first half the battle. Once you see the reasons, we can call out teacher spending for what it is and take back our wallets.
Here are some of the main types of teacher spenders. Which type are you?
Spoiler alert: You may be a little bit of all of them. Once you’ve identified your teacher spending style, for fun, think of all the teachers you know and give them a label, too, to see how you compare on the range and spectrum. Who’s the worst offender for each category for all your teacher friends? If this a big issue among your teacher friend circle, you might want to consider making this a secret professional development topic
TYPE ONE: “Chronically Underfunded School” Spender
YOU SAY: “They need this”
You’re the type of teacher who picks up a little of this and that for students because you want your kids to have the best of the best “like the other kids do.”
Your school always says, “Sorry, no funds,” when you ask for so much as a scrap of paper. So, you get it yourself.
I have a former college who lives in this space. She is great filling out the requisitions, but when school says no—and it often does—she hits Staples, BJ’s (Cosco), Walmart, CVS, Target… she has color-coded stickies, highlighters, art supplies… all of this make her classroom the best, but her budget—not so much.
TYPE TWO: “Tough School” Spender
YOU SAY: “They have it rough. They deserve a treat.”
If you’re in an economically-challenged area, or in a space that’s been through an emergency—storms, violence, or community stress, chances are you’ve got a touch of this.
This is a guilt-based spending that starts with trying to fill emergency needs, but ends with you trying to fix a situation that’s out of your control and way above your pay grade.
My friend who makes the pancakes, brings holiday gifts for every kid, send cards and has seasonal decorations for her class is a clear example of this category.
TYPE THREE: Self-Funded Innovator
YOU SAY: “I have an idea…”
You *always* have an idea, and it’s usually fabulous. Unfortunately, it takes money to get the supplies together, and no principal is going to pay for… “What did you say you needed again?”
Even if you have a school leader who will, it takes time and bureaucracy to get all the stuff and you need it now.
I’ve done this for many projects. One example: “World War II Victory Gardens.” I bought planting stuff, seeds, cooked ration food, and recreated wartime conservation connecting it to environmental movements today—sustainability, healthy eating, locavore, and zero waste. It was a memorable unit the first time and something students talked about for years, meaning I had to recreate it every chance I got—on my dime.
My friend Sheena funded an entire school food ecosystem. She got grants for some but paid for a ton.
There are two types of “self-funded innovator” projects. Projects that you fund once and the equipment keeps working for you for years. Raspberry Pi (cheap coding supplies) is in this category. Sadly, most of our creative classroom ideas are in the “resupply” category, requiring consumables we need to plan for every year if we want to go that route. So, we buy them.
TYPE FOUR: Doormat Spender
YOU SAY: “Sure, I’ll buy that…”
You cannot say no to a kid, a colleague, a church bake sale. You can be carb-free and you’ll still buy their brownies. You’ll contribute to everyone’s “thing” regardless of whether it aligns with your values. You cannot say no to a GoFundMe.
And, you’re going broke in the process.
You know you need to declutter your school spending, and you don’t want that fundraiser’s cookie dough, overpriced cancels, or wrapping paper, but you feel bad saying no. Maybe you struggled as a kid and imagine yourself in the place of that person.
I was one of these for years. I had to tackle it head on. The good news is this… you recognize it every time you say “yes” when you mean to say “no.” Now you just need the courage and techniques to act.
TYPE FIVE: Zero-Patience Spender
YOU SAY: “If you make me fill out one more form in triplicate…”
The main reason you’re spending your fortune on your job it this—you simply don’t have the patience to deal with the bureaucracy it takes to get the supplies you need. Your school has the supplies you need—and will say yes…if you persist.
But you won’t persist, because it means a million forms in triplicate and you’ll have to dot your i’s and cross your t’s on every one individually, and each one has a different deadline. I was one of these, too.
We used to get $20 worth of supplies a year. To get that $20 requisition filled we had to do this:
1. Order from the approved catalog.
2. Fill out requisitions for the items—this included order number, total, quantity, and exact reason we needed each item.
3. Get the paper forms where they needed to go.
$20 would’ve gone a long way if we could’ve just submitted a stack of receipts from back to school season when everything’s doorbuster free. I got a million items with $20.
But to look in a thousand-page catalog for items not on sale meant that I was filing out an hour’s worth of paperwork for a few pencils or six Sharpies. Then, I’d have to leave my class, walk the forms somewhere, and wouldn’t get my supplies for weeks anyway. We’re programmed to wait the two days for Amazon Prime, but any more than that…no dice.
Not worth my time.
Besides, I haven’t used a paper catalog since I was a teen. These days, we go to a website, search, and if checkout is longer than three clicks, we abandon cart. Ordering (except in schools!) is easy. If you’re a 20-something teacher, you’ve probably never used a paper catalog.
So, you get cranky and just got out and buy things yourself.
“I’m all five!”
Most of us fall into one of these categories, but have a little bit of each in us. It’s important to recognize our primary school spending types if we want to defeat them.
And, when one of our subtypes creeps in, to pick that off, too. You can only defeat teacher spending if you can identify the reasons behind it.
Here’s what we’re trying to become…
OUR GOAL: The Good Spender
“I buy a treat or item for school intentionally, once in a while, and I am completely out of personal debt. I buy what I want when I want it for my family or myself because I’ve cut out wasteful and school spending so I can afford quality when I do buy something. I am not chasing sales all summer. I’m relaxing, doing things I enjoy.”
If that is you (and you are the very small minority of teachers…) it’s you that we’re trying to be. You are the shining example of teacher financial wellness. We salute you. Little by little, we will all work to be you:)
What type of teacher spender are you? Were you always that way, or did it creep up on you? Think about this–and take action. You’ll be glad you did!
I hope you’ll commit to the No-Spend Summer Challenge. If this is the norm at your school, put together a secret professional development or coffee club dedicated to the no-school-spend lifestyle.