My Teacher No-Spend Challenge: Why I won’t spend my own money on my students

Simply Kinder recently shared on their Facebook page an article about how 94% of teachers report spending their own money on their classroom. The article was a tale as old as time, but what truly caught my attention were the comments. Simply Kinder had asked everyone how much they usually meant, and the answers were astounding.

Thousands. Thousands of dollars. By my reading the majority of teachers on the post said they were spending two or three thousand dollars each year.

I confess I’m not entirely sure how much I usually spend as I don’t always keep receipts and I have an addiction to TeachersPayTeachers, but at most I would say a couple hundred, if that.

I think I may be luckier than most. I have been in three different teaching positions over my career. The first, the bread and butter basics of pencils, glue, crayons, etc, were in a cupboard for the taking. The second, while there was a robust parent donation tradition, we usually just requested anything else we needed. The third and current, while placing most of the ordering burden on the teachers, is also quite nice, with accounts to order directly and urged use of Class Wallet for our legislature money. The PTO was also very good about taking teacher needs into consideration.

Oh, I still spent money. I still used Donors Choose for big things out of my allotted money. I still justified nickel-and-dime spending here and there on classroom supplies. But at the end of the day, I really did have sufficient money provided by the school/district/state that comfortably covered the basics.

But I wasn’t spending thousands of dollars and I didn’t ever feel I had to spend thousands of dollars.

So who is spending thousands of dollars and why?

Well, more than a few teachers I’ve run into online say they simply don’t have a budget. Supply money budget? Not a thing. The schools don’t provide anything, the states don’t provide anything. Therefore, it’s either rely on donations or buy it. Others have budgets in name, but not enough to do anything with. I have heard teachers speak of getting $50 for the year and any teacher knows that’s not enough to do anything of consequence. Indeed, many a teacher on that Simply Kinder post wondered just where these %6 of teachers worked.

Others find it happening out of accident. They love their jobs, they love their students, they love their classrooms. They want the best for them–Pinterest-worthy decorations, snacks, holiday gifts, wondrous projects. And the best costs money. Sometimes they are of the best of hearts and go above and beyond–one teacher confessed skipping her children’s daycare bill in order to buy a student a prom dress.

Others consider it just part of the job. In fact, the greatness and love of a teacher can be known by how much they spend on their students. In the words of one teacher, she “mentions not spending anything and the other teachers look at [her] like she has three heads.” You’re a teacher? You spend money on your classroom, darn it.

But I am a teacher. And I really don’t see why I should be spending money on my own classroom, especially to the tune of thousands of dollars.

I tried to think of some scenarios where it just didn’t make sense, but they all boiled down to one main question.

“What if I don’t want to spend thousands of dollars on my classroom?”

And if the answer to that is “Just do your job and spend the money for the sake of your studens!” I respond with the variation of

“What if I don’t have thousands of dollars?”

I can imagine the answers to that. Borrow it. Beg for it. Put it on a credit card. Do a fundraiser.


Now we not only want teachers to do the traditional and state job of teaching as well as extreme data collection and analyzation and act as liaisons for community services and in some cases personally provide for basic needs, we want them personally raising funds for basic school and classroom supplies. (Again, I’m not opposed to a wild Donors Choose project for something above and beyond, but I have seen Donors Choose campaigns for the bare basics).

No wonder so many teachers are bone tired and burnt out.

So this year I am giving myself a personal challenge and I hope others teachers will do the same: I’m not going to spend my own money on things the students use. My own Teacher No-Spend Challenge.

I will use the few hundred dollars of my budget to buy what will be useful for my classroom. I will consider what I did last year and what I plan to do this year in order to decide what to buy. I will be prudent in my purchases with focus for the year and what’s important rather than frivolities. This includes paper, crayons, pencils (though the universe seems to provide these to me) and other such. I will find the best bulk option for dry erase markers I can. I may even create a teacher wish list.

And that’s it. Once my hopefully thought-out budget is done, it’s done.

Any for-my-desk-only teacher needs I just gotta have? I will purchase those for myself.

But while my school, district, and state are good about making sure I have some funding, I will still not fall into the trap of just paying of pocket for classroom necessities. Not after reading the account of one teacher who had $200 in funding last year and none this year.

It has become an expectation that teachers pay for supplies and this is a dangerous expectation. How many teachers have lost budgets for the simple reason they seemed willing enough to pay out of pocket? 

Teachers generally get into the profession due to a certain tolerance and maybe even love of youth. They are giving and caring by nature, and this is wonderful quality has been abused. Enough teachers have been willing enough to see to it their classrooms have what they need no matter what, and the powers that be have used that to their financial advantage. Again, why give teachers money for their classrooms when they can just use their own?

For some teachers this pouring out of money has become a feather in the cap. The more a teacher spends, the more devoted they are to their students.

So what of the teachers who can’t pay? What of the teachers on strict household budgets? Do they care less of their students for not finding thousands of dollars of personal money?

What would happen if a teacher absolutely positively could not purchase materials?

My question is why the powers that be don’t care enough about the students to find money for classrooms.

Allow me to wax potentially cruel here. It is not my job to see my students have everything they need and it’s shameful teachers have been put in that position. I should not be the one paying out of pocket for their school supplies, let alone the food and clothing some teachers purchase. My purpose is to teach. It is the school administration’s job to make sure I have what I need to teach, whether handing it to me outright or giving me the funds to buy it. It is the job of parents, and in greater hardships other agencies and charities, to provide food and clothing to their children.

Ah, some of you might say. If I put my foot down this year, the students will suffer.

Yeah, well, my brother contributed to helping students in Liberia and let me tell you he has seen them learning with a lot less. My point is, sticking a bandaid on the problem by using our own money is going to make the problem even worse.

On a teacher forum an administrator confessed that there is almost always money, just that it is discouraged from being used. Again, why use it if teachers will spend their own? 

Teachers need to take a stand, to stop the martyrdom, and behave as professionals who expect other professionals to do their job. A message needs to be sent that classrooms need supplies and it should come from official sources, to fulfill the duty of educating our children.

Which is why I would love it if more teachers also refused to spend personal money.

But how to survive?

Indeed, some of this may mean some level of suffering. But also imagine what would happen if an entire department or school just up and demanded some money for basic supplies? What legal danger is there if administration actually officially instructed teachers to buy their own supplies without contracted responsibility?

So, group together if there’s a strong culture in your school. Explain simply and professionally and with expectation that you need money for supplies. Ask if it’s in the contract to do so.

Pool resources. Not all teachers use all funding. Help each other out.

If the norm in you area is families buying supplies (though I also have some issue with this) work with it.

Be prudent with any funding you do have. Look for good deals.

If you’re helping out a student on a personal level with food and clothing, do it from the place of a good person, not a facet of your job.

Use grants or fundraisers for those big extras. That’s what they’ve always been for.

Avoid overdecoration. That means different things to different people, but the focus should be on learning. Don’t blow money on superfluous décor.

Don’t be anything but practical about the matter. Most businesses provided what is needed for the business to run. It’s a professional norm. There is no need whatsoever to feel guilty for not shelling out for the classroom.

I am a mother and wife as well as a teacher, and certainly before I am a teacher. I have a duty to help provide for my family. They come first always, even before my students. By putting my family first I set an example of a healthy family attitude for my students. My family knows I care for them. This is why I won’t spend thousands on my students.

The school districts have a responsibility to see the students are taught. That means they need to do so and put forth a good face for the community. This goes for any and all government officials responsible for budgets. I will not shield them from the responsibility of doing their job. This is why I won’t spend thousands on my students.

I am a professional. I love my job, but it is a job that is supposed to pay me, not a hobby I throw money into. It should be treated as a professional job. This is why I won’t spend thousands on my students.

I will begin this year. I vow to do my best to avoid purchases of pity or desperation, to be more responsible with the money I am given.

Next time that question of “How much do you spend on your classroom?” rolls around, I’ll be ready with $0.