Welcome to part 2 of my teacher organization series! Today we will be talking all about organization on a budget. Believe it or not, you don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on large storage items or fancy containers to be organized. You can easily create a functional, organized classroom on a teacher’s salary!
As you are planning out your classroom, think about what items you need. Remember – you want to use what you already have first! You probably don’t need to buy as much as you think you do. Once you have things organized as best as you can without buying anything, make a list of the items you still need. Then, decide on your budget, and figure out how to stretch that budget to get everything on your list.
Not only am I a teacher, I am also very frugal by nature. So, in my years of teaching I have become very resourceful when it comes to finding affordable organization solutions. I do think it is well worth your time and money to invest in some good storage items that are multi-functional and long-lasting. However, many items can still be obtained for free or cheap. Here are some of my best tips for teacher organization on a budget.
Classroom Organization on a Budget
Disclosure: For your convenience, some of the links in this section (marked with an *) are affiliate links. This means that, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Tip 1: Free is best!
My first tip is to always see what you can get for free first! This will allow you to maximize your budget on other items. The best way to get things for free is to reach out to friends and family.
Talk to your close friends, family, and coworkers and let them know what certain items you are looking for. They can keep an eye out or let you know if they have something they are willing to give you. If you know of any teachers at your school that are leaving the classroom, check with them and see if they have any items they are getting rid of. This can be a great way to get items for free!
Also look into local non-profits in your area that benefit teachers. You may be able to find an organization that can get you just what you need for free! If you are in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex in north Texas, The Welman Project is a great non-profit that collects unwanted and surplus materials and gives them FOR FREE to teachers. I have gotten many items from them over the last two years, including this filing cabinet.
Another great resource you can use is DonorsChoose*. This non-profit allows teachers to write grants for items they need in their classrooms. If your project gets funded, you receive the items you picked out at absolutely no cost to you. I have also received some of my larger storage items this way.
*Make sure to check with your school before starting a project, as some districts do not allow teachers to use DonorsChoose.
Tip 2: Expensive is not always better.
Some people like to spend more money on things because they are getting a higher quality item. I am a firm believer that you can get high-quality items for an affordable price. I’m also a firm believer that quality doesn’t always matter. Here are some of my favorite places to shop to help with my classroom organization on a budget.
I am a big fan of Dollar Tree for all. the. bins. Some people are not thrilled with the quality of Dollar Tree baskets/bins, but I have had very few issues. I prefer their bins to their baskets since the baskets are much more fragile. If it is simply storage for you that students will not have access to, then the quality should be just fine. If it is something students will be using regularly, you definitely want something a little sturdier. However, I have still been able to get away with Dollar Tree bins just fine.
You can also get folders and binders at Dollar Tree. No, the quality is not the best, but like I said, sometimes quality doesn’t matter! I got these poly binders at Dollar Tree and used them to store the teacher manuals for our math curriculum. I labeled the spine with the number of each module using vinyl number stickers that I also picked up at Dollar Tree. Since I was the only one using them, I didn’t need fancy, expensive binders.
My other favorite Dollar Tree purchase is these poly pouches! They came in packs of 3 (3 for $1) and are perfect for storing games and centers. I’ve only had a few issues with them tearing/breaking, even when my students have used them.
Thrift Stores and Garage Sales
I looooove thrifting!! Some people find it overwhelming, which I understand, as it can take some time to really find something good. But it’s always worth it to me when you snag a great deal!
I recommend checking your local thrift stores for larger furniture items you may need. Bookshelves, filing cabinets, desks, and tables can often be found at thrift stores. Even if they aren’t in the best condition, sometimes a little paint and ribbon is all you need to bring some life back into a piece.
I personally haven’t needed to purchase any large items, but I did find this green storage cube (on the right) at a thrift store. It’s a little bit dirty, but I mean, it’s going to get dirty in an elementary classroom anyway. After I bought this (for about $5), I showed my best friend who had a similar one that she didn’t want anymore. She gave me hers (left) and now I have two!
I don’t frequent garage sales as much, but they can also be a great resource for organization on a budget.
Facebook Marketplace or Buy/Sell Groups
Another great option is to buy things from people off of Facebook. Facebook Marketplace and buy/sell groups often feature GREAT deals, and sometimes even people just giving stuff away for free. I personally have not purchased anything for my classroom this way, but have for other purposes and it is great. They even have teacher buy/sell groups! Check Facebook to see if there are any in your area.
Target Dollar Spot
I suggest heading to Target last, because you know you’ll always spend more there than planned! Target always puts out their back to school line in the Dollar Spot right around July 4th. You can find lots of fun games and activities here, but a favorite for a lot of teachers are the bins. These are more expensive than those at Dollar Tree (usually $5 each), but they are sturdier. So, if you aren’t a fan of the Dollar Tree bins, check out Target because $5 still isn’t that bad!
A lot of teachers also really like the clear adhesive pockets Target puts out each year. These are great for labeling! I used them on my tables to store student name tags, but I’ve seen them used to label libraries, bins, supplies, and more. The best part is since they are pockets, you can easily change out the label anytime you want.
Tip 3: Amazon and Ikea for larger pieces.
Before you head off to Pottery Barn or The Container Store for your larger storage and furniture items, check Amazon and Ikea. Both of these places offer great and affordable options! Sure, some assembly is required, but I think that’s worth the savings.
I’ve seen many teachers use this set of drawers from Ikea which is super affordable for the size of this piece! And here are some of my favorite items to get from Amazon*:
*These images include affiliate links (see disclosure at the top of this post).
Tip 4: Coupons and sales are your best friend!
It drives me crazy when people pay full price for something that could have been much cheaper. This is especially true at craft stores, like Hobby Lobby, JoAnn’s, and Michael’s.
First of all, if you ever shop at any of those stores, there are ALWAYS coupons. Download their apps, because at the very least you can get 40% off of one regular-priced item.
Also, they ALWAYS have sales. Especially at Hobby Lobby – if it isn’t on sale right now, it probably will be next week. I have a theory that Hobby Lobby actually prices their items 50% higher than they should because they have half off sales so often.
Michael’s also has great sales, typically at the end of each season. However, there are some items (like the 3 tiered cart and 10-drawer rolling carts) that NEVER go on sale, and aren’t eligible for coupons. For those items, check Amazon before you purchase, because they may be cheaper there.
Also, know your store’s policy on stacking coupons. A lot of these stores offer teacher discounts, but some locations won’t honor it if they are already having a sale or you are using a coupon. Check with your local store to see what their policy is. (In fact, always ask stores if they have a teacher discount! Many do, and that can be another great way to save a little extra money!)
But please – always check for sales and coupons before purchasing anything!
Maximize Your Budget
Organizing your classroom does not have to be expensive! Please utilize these tips and exhaust all these options before spending a lot of money on your classroom. I highly recommend going in order, too – start with getting what you can free, and work your way up to spending more money. This will allow you to get the most bang for your buck and maximize your budget!
Don’t forget to check back on Thursday for another guest post with some more amazing organization tips! Then on Tuesday, we’ll talk about how to get all that paper clutter under control!
View the other posts in this series:
Part 1: Organization Basics
Part 2: Organization on a Budget
Part 3: How to Organize Paper Clutter
Part 4: Teacher Storage Ideas
Part 5: Teacher Time Management
Part 6: Teacher Organization Tips