When it comes to bargain shopping, teachers are true experts. We’ve rounded up tips from fellow educators and other shopping experts to help you get the most for your money, every time you shop.
First, though, a disclaimer. Your school can’t pay for personal items like clothes, of course, but you should definitely ask to be reimbursed for classroom supplies. Many schools do give teachers a (usually small) yearly budget, so find out what you need to do to get repaid for your purchases.
Then, use our tips to make the most of whatever funds are available to you. And if you don’t have enough for all the extras, that’s okay too. Your students really just need your dedication and time.
What Items Teachers Should Look for When Bargain Shopping
Keep an open mind when you go bargain shopping because you never know what you might find! Here are some of our favorite teacher-recommended items to keep an eye out for when you’re bargain shopping.
Books, books, books
This is easily the top item on most teachers’ bargain shopping lists. Garage sales and thrift shops can be gold mines, but don’t stop there. “Check out a library,” urges Darryl B. “Ours has large shelves inside the front door with donated or rotated-out books they give away.” Adriane G. couldn’t agree more: “I will travel 2+ hours for a good library book sale.” Just check out Sara W.’s recent haul for inspiration!
You need someplace to put all those bargain books, right? If your classroom is always in need of more shelf space than your school can supply, watch for bookshelves you can grab on the cheap. “Sometimes when stores close, you can get display racks, sign holders, all kinds of unusual things,” notes Nancy M.
If you’d like to add some furniture beyond what your school provides, bargain hunting is the way to go. (Just be careful about upholstered items, which could harbor bedbugs.) In addition to the usual sources, Stephanie N. recommends stopping by Habitat for Humanity ReStores for items like furniture. Bonus tip: Carry a small tape measure so you can verify the items you love will fit your space.
Stock your classroom game closet with finds from thrift stores. Just check to be sure all the pieces are included (or are easily replaced). Sometimes it’s even worth it to pick up old games just for the extra pieces, like dice or letter tiles.
Art supplies like crayons and markers (see if you can test them first) are a given when you’re bargain shopping. But it’s also worth looking for yarn, fabric, googly eyes, beads, and other craft supplies.
We’re talking beads, blocks, keys, screws, nuts and bolts—anything you can make use of in your classroom. Loose parts make great math manipulatives or STEM project supplies, just for starters. See more ways to use them here.
You can find lots of thrift store clothes bargains for yourself, of course. But this is also a great way to find dress-up clothes for kids! Also, be on the lookout for oversized shirts to wear as aprons during messy projects or t-shirts you can cut up and turn into yarn.
Baskets, bins, crates, carts, filing cabinets, and drawers are just the start. Teachers always need more storage, and thrift stores can be a terrific place to find good options.
Yard Sale Bargain Shopping Tips for Teachers
Yard sales, garage sales, rummage sales—whatever you call them, they’re a great source for classroom and teacher bargains! Try these tips to make the most of them.
Find sales and plan in advance
Gone are the days of poring over the classifieds to learn about upcoming sales. These days, savvy shoppers hit sites like Yard Sale Search or check their local neighborhood Facebook or Nextdoor groups. You can even download an app like Yard Sale Treasure Map to plan your route.
The early bird gets the bargain…
Sure, you might look forward to sleeping in on Saturdays. But the earlier you hit a yard sale, the better chance you have of getting the good stuff.
…but latecomers can snag deals too
That being said, some people actually prefer to hit sales at the end of the day. Many sellers are happy to offer fantastic deals on whatever’s left, just so they don’t have to box it all up again.
It’s all about the cash
You probably don’t carry much cash these days, but most garage sales aren’t set up to swipe your card. Hit the ATM and try to bring smaller bills and even a handful of coins.
Negotiating is part of the game
Don’t be afraid to ask for a lower price, or offer to bundle a few items together for a discount. The worst they can say is no, right?
Announce your teacher status
People know that teachers have limited funds and are often happy to help out. “Always mention that you would use this in your classroom,” recommends Jennifer H. “Many people will offer a lower price!” Angela F. agrees. “I have had great luck at yard sales. I have dropped the line, ‘I’m a teacher,’ and they have been so generous. For example, a digital camera for 10 dollars.”
Snap up true treasures
If you see something you really want, don’t haggle or wait. Grab it, pay for it, and take it to your car. You can come back and browse more afterward, but if you leave it there, you risk someone offering a little more and snagging it out from under your nose.
Test out and try on
Bargain sales like these are generally final, so do a little due diligence. Ask sellers if you can plug in appliances or electronics to see if they work. When it comes to clothes, there won’t be a fitting room handy. If you wear a tank top, you can slip on shirts, blouses, or jackets quickly. Leggings make it easy to try on a skirt or pair of khakis. And bring some socks so you can give shoes a test run.
Harness the power of the internet
Before you buy any bigger ticket items, check prices and information on the web. You can also check Recalls.gov to make sure any item you’re considering doesn’t have any safety considerations.
Bring some bags
If you’re buying multiple items, head back to your car and grab some reusable grocery bags to hold them all. Even better—sling a big tote bag over your shoulder to hold your bargain finds.
Thrift Store Bargain Shopping Tips for Teachers
Thrift stores are kind of like garage sales that are open every day! Here’s what teachers need to know to make the most of bargain shopping at Goodwill and other resale shops.
Stop whenever you see one
Many thrift store shoppers make time to stop whenever they come across one, even when they’re traveling. Erin B. says, “I stop at thrift stores usually whenever one is already in my path of travel (and I have time/motivation).” You never know what treasures might be waiting!
Make friends with the staff
Chat up the staff or store owner, and they might be willing to call you when something cool comes in. Most people are glad to help others find stuff they really need.
Ask when they restock
While you’re chatting with the staff, ask if they have a regular day for restocking shelves. You can plan your trips to take advantage of all the new stuff that’s available.
Sign up to learn about sales
Yup, even thrift shops have sales! The best bargain shoppers sign up for email lists or follow their favorite stores on Facebook to learn when they can score even better deals.
Try consignment shops for higher quality
Sure, you may find a fantastic coat with the tags still on at your local Goodwill. But consignment shops are more likely to carry good quality merchandise, especially when it comes to clothes. “There are a couple of great consignment shops in my area,” Kendra N. says. “Over the years, I’ve purchased a lot of my school clothes there.”
Bargain Shopping on Facebook Marketplace and Other Online Groups
In recent years, many bargain shoppers have turned to eBay, Facebook Marketplace, and other local sites to find deals. Try these tips to get the best deals and stay safe.
Protect your privacy
When you use a site like Facebook Marketplace, check your profile first to make sure the folks you’re buying from don’t have access to information you consider private. This means taking a closer look at what you post and share publicly. Check out some tips here.
Visit your favorite sites often
Add the best local marketplace sites to your bookmarks, and drop by frequently if you’re on the lookout for something special. In addition to Facebook Marketplace, consider Craigslist, OfferUp, Poshmark, and ThredUp. You can also join local swap-and-shop groups on Facebook or Nextdoor.
Ask for details
Read the details of the item being offered closely, and examine photos too. If you need more information, don’t be afraid to ask. You can request additional photos, model numbers, or anything else that will help you make an informed decision.
The best deals go fast! If you really want something, message the seller or click Buy right away. For sites that require an account, be sure yours is fully set up in advance so you don’t lose time—and your potential bargain.
Know when to negotiate price
On the other hand, if something has been on offer for a week or more, it doesn’t hurt to ask if the seller would be willing to accept a lower price. This is where it helps to mention you’re a teacher, too.
Be safe during in-person transactions
Bargain shoppers can save even more by arranging to pick items up in person rather than paying for shipping. But it’s vital that you take precautions before meeting up with a stranger, cash in hand. Choose a well-trafficked, well-lit place, and let someone know where you’re going in advance (or better yet, take a friend with you). Some police stations have even set up special meeting spots for online transactions. Find more safety tips for marketplace transactions here.
Learn to Freecycle
“Even better than thrift is free!” says Sarah H. “Check out Freecycle and buy nothing local groups. You can offer and ask for things, no charge!”