This week's Fun Idea Friday post is brought to you by Nicole, one of Snarky's content editors and the feature writer for Lovin' from the Oven.
It’s no secret that creating such a classroom environment is not always budget friendly, but I’m here to tell you from personal experience that it doesn’t have to be that way! With a little planning, some creativity, and a lot of bargain hunting, you can have a “cute” classroom that doesn’t break the bank!
This post contains affiliate links. Click here to learn more about our affiliate policy
plan before you begin
First, open cabinets, drawers, and cubbies and take inventory to see if anything has been left that you could use. If you’ve inherited a classroom from a retiring teacher (as was the case with both my classrooms), chances are that they will leave things behind. Some of it may be horribly outdated, so don’t feel obligated to use it, but don’t duplicate purchases on things that are already at your disposal. A beautiful Mary Engelbreit calendar was left in my room my first year, as were dozens of packages of border for bulletin boards, some baskets, and bins.
Next, think about how you want to use your classroom space. What kind of zones do you envision? How and where are students going to turn in their work and other papers? Will you have community supplies? Do you need spaces for students to work independently or with you in a small group? What about a library or reading corner/zone? Think about your vision for a school day, and plan which areas you need to account for. Then, think about the materials you will need to make each of these spaces functional and plan your shopping accordingly.
Also — and this is important — prior to spending any money, make sure the decor you want to use adheres to fire codes. Many schools require that any fabrics (such as curtains) be treated with a special fire-retardant spray, and their treatment must be documented. Some schools also prohibit the use of outside rugs, couches, and personal lamps due to fire or other safety codes. Before you make an investment in these larger items, check with your school’s administration (or your school handbook) to ask about policies in place.
10 tips for decorating your classroom on the cheap
1. Make use of the resources available to you at your school (or within your district).
Many schools have laminators, long rolls of colored butcher paper, and die cut machines available to teachers. There may also be community construction paper, poster print machines, color printers, etc. Anything you make yourself saves money, and lamination helps ensure that it will last a long time. If you’re making die cuts that are not going to be glued to paper or a poster board, I recommend that you laminate paper before you make cuts; you have the added bonus of durability, and it saves you from cutting, laminating, and cutting again!
2. Use what you already have.
When I was first starting out as a teacher, I had acquired tons of frog-themed tchotchkes and stuffed animals over the years. While they didn’t serve me well at home, they became the perfect, fun ornaments to give my classroom a bit of a theme without requiring me to spend any money. I also had acquired some bigger items from friends who wanted to get rid of them when they were graduating: a bookshelf, rug, and dish chair, as well as some smaller organizational items. All of these big and little things helped me make my classroom feel more cozy without my having to spend any money!
3. Take what is offered to you, even if it’s not what you’d choose for yourself.
It’s easy to get lost in a Pinterest-worthy vision of what your classroom will look like, but most of what you see online is the product of many years and a lot of money. If something is offered to you, use it if you can see it serving a purpose in your classroom. Then, down the road, you can decide to replace the items that no longer serve the purpose you wanted them to or find items that better fit what you need.
4. Think outside the box.
There are many items that are not “traditional” classroom items that easily be used in the classroom. For example, inexpensive flat sheets or tablecloths from Walmart (or anywhere you can find them on clearance) become colorful, long-lasting bulletin board backers. They can also be sewn into curtains and cubby covers, used to conceal ugly and broken tabletops, and more.
In addition to items that can be purchased, also think about items you can “upcycle” to serve new purposes in your classroom. Empty plastic containers make great storage; think coffee cans, frosting containers, baby wipes boxes, etc. I used large, empty tubs from chlorine tablets for pools to organize my classroom clip boards, and they were perfect!
5. Be a bargain hunter.
Teacher stores are great and have many wonderful resources, but they tend to be very pricey and you can often find items they offer elsewhere at much lower prices. For example, items like borders can be found at Dollar Tree, Walmart, and sometimes Target’s One Spot during back to school season. There might not be as good of a selection, but a $1 price tag vs. a $5.99 price tag is a big difference!
To be honest, bargain hunting can be very time consuming and sometimes frustrating, especially because you never know if you’re going to find exactly what you’re looking for. However, finding something you would spend $20-$25 on for $2-$3 can make the extra effort worth it! Check out Craigslist, local yard sale groups on Facebook, Goodwill, and hit up garage sales in your area.
In addition to shopping second-hand, scour discount stores and racks. Clearance end caps tend to be on the end of aisles at the back of stores, and you can often find some great deals if you’re willing to dig! If you’re looking for fabric, Hancock Fabrics is going out of business and has deep, deep discounts on everything in their stores right now.
6. Check online for coupons and discount codes.
Plan ahead before you go shopping! Especially during back to school season, many companies offer coupons for school supplies like crayons, markers, pens, and more. A quick search of “Bic coupons” or “coupons for Crayola” will link you to manufacturer's sites or resources like Coupons.com if there are any available.
Before you go shop, check the websites of the stores you’re going to visit to see if they have any in-store coupons. Many do! Also, don’t be shy about asking if a store offers a teacher discount. The worst they can say is no, and you’d be surprised how many do!
If you’re ordering something online, there are several sites that can help you make sure you are getting the best deal:
7. Take advantage of freebies!
If you do a quick internet search for “freebies for teachers,” you will get thousands and thousands of results. As you prepare your classroom, remember that there are TONS of free printables on the internet, both from blogs (teaching and otherwise) and Teachers Pay Teachers.
Just a few other suggestions:
8. Save wall space for teacher-made anchor charts.
There are so many cute posters and such out there for purchase, but — and this goes especially if you have limited wall space — think about what will be most helpful and useful for your students. A few packages of colorful markers (like classic Crayolas, Sharpies, or flip chart markers) and pads of big, spiral chart paper allow you to create anchor charts to go along with the content you’re teaching. Then, you can hang them on the walls for students to reference throughout the unit (or during the year).
9. Use grant sites like Donors Choose for large items.
There is no guarantee your project will be funded of course, but large items like rugs, furniture, and flexible seating are a HUGE financial investment. Using a grant site like Donors Choose allows you share the cost with donors — families of your students, community members, and sometimes large corporations — and save your budget for smaller incidentals.
10. Create an Amazon wishlist.
You’d be amazed at how many friends, family members, relatives, and others are happy to help by purchasing items you need! Be sure to add a link in your school email, and share with your classroom parents through a bit.ly link or a QR code on back to school night. I like to tell what the items are used for in the “add comments” option; it helps people understand how the materials will be used in the classroom (particularly if it’s a non-traditional classroom item).
Finally, no matter how many good deals you get, remember that building your dream classroom can take years. I felt so intimidated my first year by some of my co-workers’ classrooms, but most of them had transformed their classroom spaces over 5 or more years, adding a little something extra each year. Remember that the most important part of a warm, welcoming classroom is the community you create. Seeing your smiling face greeting them at the door every day means more to students than anything they see on the walls!
What other tips and tricks do you have for saving money as you get your classroom ready? Please tell us in the comments below!
Be on the lookout for upcoming posts about items you should buy at a discount vs. purchases worth the splurge, how to build your classroom library on the cheap, and #EdHack posts that will help you save time and money in your classroom!
The Snarky Schoolteacher is an education and lifestyle blog run by dedicated educational professionals. Our goal is to bring you relevant and fun educational content with a side of sass. Read more about our team here. Thanks for visiting, and we hope you will find these ideas and resources helpful in your classrooms and in your lives.