9. It never hurts to ask. I could easily spend at least half of my paycheck on classroom materials each month. In fact, looking back on my first year teaching, I probably did. There were so many books and supplies that I just had to have, and I felt like my classroom would be inadequate without them. As my credit card balances grew, however, I was quickly forced to reevaluate my spending habits and get creative about how I acquired things for my classroom.
First, talk to your principal if ever there's something in particular that you need. For example, during my internship I'd used a Calendar Math program that I really liked, and I wanted to use it with my students at my new school. The kit cost almost $300, so it was too expensive for me to get on my own, but my principal was able to find the money in her Title I budget to cover it. She couldn't accommodate every request, and maybe I just lucked out, but if you have a compelling need for something that could benefit your students, it never hurts to ask your principal.
Second, befriend your school librarian. Most school librarians have a healthy budget and a lot of discretion on how to spend it. I started every year with a list of books that I wanted to use in my classroom for some unit, and I could always count on her to add at least a few of those to our school's collection. Librarians want to get books that will be used and not sit on the shelf collecting dust. Your input can be powerful in facilitating those decisions.
Third, ask parents. I made a wish list at the beginning of the school year of assorted items that I wanted for the classroom. I was sure to include items in a wide range of price ranges – anything from a box of Ziploc bags to a magazine subscription or a gift card to an office supply store. Then, I wrote each item on a separate hand cut-out and created a display for the classroom open house at the beginning of the year of ways parents could "lend a hand." Parents could pick what they felt able to give and take the hand with them as a reminder. Items would trickle in over the first few weeks, and I often got a good supply of items that I would otherwise buy out of my own pocket. Other times, I would request an item through my class newsletter. For example, Scholastic book orders often have a book each month that costs $1, and it's usually one of their better titles. I would sometimes plan to use that book for a novel study and ask all of the parents to contribute $1 to buy the book for their child. Even in low-income communities (which is where I was teaching), it's unlikely that they won't be able to come up with $1. Instead of paying $30 for a class set of books, I usually only had to cover a couple students. The savings add up quickly.
Finally, take advantage of websites like Donor's Choose and Adopt-a-Classroom and write grants for classroom materials you want. Even in a bad economy, there's a surprising amount of money available to help teachers who are proactive about finding it. I wrote three different grants for children's literature that supported my social studies curriculum and got about $1200 worth of books for my classroom library as a result. It doesn't take much effort to ask, and the worst case scenario is that no one steps up to help. Usually, though, someone will answer your call, and that's far better than spending what little money you make starting out.