School-Supply Savings for Teachers


Students aren’t the only ones getting ready to go back to school. Teachers preparing for the new school year also need to stock up on classroom supplies … and it’s likely to cost them.  

“I wish I knew how much I typically spent, but so much falls under the category of ‘school supplies’ that goes beyond pens and notebooks,” Carrie Higgins, a second-grade teacher in North Carolina, says. “Food for lessons, bins for organizing, art supplies, books … you name it, we had to pay for it, out of pocket.”

Higgins estimates that ultimately she spends $200-$300 on supplies each school year. However, depending on a school district, costs can come in much higher than that. A survey by the National Education Association show that teachers spend an average of $1,200 of their own money every school year on supplies such as paper clips, construction paper, markers, crayons, staplers and scissors. And, with many states cutting school budgets to alleviate cash flow problems, that figure isn’t likely to head south anytime soon.

In an attempt to help teachers save a few dollars, MainStreet has rounded up some educator-specific deals and discounts available on classroom supplies.

Office Depot

Office Depot (Stock Quote: ODP) offers several programs of which educators can take advantage. The company’s Star Teacher Program, in general, offers 10% back in “rewards” on ink, toner and paper, plus 1% back in “rewards” on almost everything else. Rewards are paid quarterly in the form of an Office Depot Reward Card. The actual dollar amount of the card will vary depending on how much and how often you visit the store. The good news is, you can never max out on reward points. Check here for more specific details on how you earn rewards.

Teachers enrolled in the program also get a 15% discount on all copy and printing purchases. You are also eligible for various discounts with the program’s partners, which include 1-800 Flowers, Avis, Boston Market and Pearle Vision.

Membership to the program is always free (you need to show a pay stub to prove you are a teacher), but if you enroll during your town’s “Teacher Appreciation Week,” you’ll be eligible for a 10% discount on your initial purchase, plus 50% back on all products made by the for the week’s sponsors, which include Crayola, Papermate, Expo, Scotch and Sharpie. Event dates vary by location, but the week is generally being held around the time teachers will be going back to school.  You can check here to find out when your Office Depot is celebrating.


Staples (Stock Quote: SPLS) similarly, offers a  Teacher Rewards Card that entitles educators to 10% back in rewards on teaching and art supplies. These rewards are issued monthly if the value of the reward is at least $10. However, be aware that purchases entitling you to rewards credit exclude software, writing supplies, general office supplies, easels and dry erase, bulletin and chalk boards.

Teachers who enroll (membership is free) are also entitled to Staples General Rewards Program incentives, such as free delivery for orders that are $50 or more and 10% back in rewards credit on ink and toner, case and ream paper and Copy & Print purchases.

To celebrate the start of the new school year, Staples is holding a Teachers Appreciation Day on different days in August/September depending on store location. The first 100 teachers to show up will receive a free gift, so you should check the dates for the store near you.

Staples doesn’t require that you show proof of employment, but does reserve the right to terminate your membership (and charge for any credit received during it) should they determine your application to be fraudulent.


This year, Target (Stock Quote: TGT) is offering $4 million to educators nationwide to continue funding field trips through the company’s grant program. According to its website, the retail giant has already awarded $9.8 million in grants to teachers in all 50 states so students could have a chance to learn outside of the classroom. Starting Aug. 1, interested educators can apply for grants for this school year. However, while you’re waiting to see if Target is going to fund your class trip, you should do a little supply shopping. Many teachers swear by the store’s low prices.

“I think the best deal I ever got was at Target... a box of 25 notebooks was $5,” Higgins says. “I bought so many of those boxes I still have notebooks hanging around.”


Created specifically to prevent teachers from paying for supplies and classroom initiatives out of pocket, this website, started by nonprofit ImportantGifts Inc., allows educators to put together a “wish list” of needed materials. This can include anything from basic supplies, such as pens and paper, to more advanced course materials. One New York teacher, for example, put a model human torso with removable organs on his wish list. Parents, alumni, neighbors, local businesses and corporations then go online, see what the teachers in their areas need and donate it to their school, which, in turn, qualifies them for a tax deduction. also purchases school supplies from vendors directly and sends them to schools, depending on what appears on their teacher’s wish list.

National Teacher of the Year Sarah Brown Wessling advocates for the site in a press release, saying “this nonprofit is a swift and inventive way for communities to unite in support of the tools that make learning more accessible for all students.”

Commendation notwithstanding, this is definitely not a bad way to get your hands on a model of the human skeleton.

Tax Refund

Teachers who overspend now can get back some of the money used for school supplies when they file their taxes in April.  The Internal Revenue Service’s educator expenses deduction allows school employees to claim up to $250 of expenditures on their tax return. The parameters for the deduction are fairly broad. You don’t even have to be a teacher; you can simply work in a state-approved public or private school system that services grades K-12. Purchases that apply to the deduction can include a variety of course materials: books, supplies, computer equipment, etc. Check out this article for more information on how to file for the deduction.

However, be aware that this deduction is set to expire this tax year, meaning that, at least as of right now, you might not be able to get reimbursed for your 2011-12 school supplies.  “That may change as Congress often extends that deduction in various end-of-the-year tax laws,” Gene King of H&R Block points out.

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