3 Tips for Classroom Set-Up on a Budget

Setting up a classroom can be a daunting task, for new teachers and veterans alike. One stressor many teachers face is they typically have a long list of things they need for their classroom and a small budget available to purchase it all. So, here are my top tips for stretching a budget and getting things that you need.

1. Rely on different departments and related service providers to get necessary items.

Do you need adapted seating for students in your room? Ask PT. Need different sensory input options? Talk to your OT.  Are you looking for visual schedule cards printed out? Consult with speech. Is there another item that your students honestly need to be successful? Reach out to your admin or your sped coach.

Related service providers or admin sometimes have larger budgets to order from, know which teachers have extra items in their rooms, or have the ability to call in items as needed. And if they don’t have a resource, they’ll likely be able to suggest someone else you can ask.

Reach out to them and ask for their help. This is part of your job as a special education teacher to advocate for your students and make sure their needs are provided for! It’s best to have these conversations and get a list to them early so that they have time to plan and prepare, ideally before summer if possible!

2. Buy things that are used.

Buying used items from different sources will really stretch your budget! Brand new, a bag of Legos® for your break area will cost you almost $20. But, the same bag used from a garage sale or your local thrift store may cost as few as $2, which saves you 90% and allows you to buy WAY more for your room.

If you have a very specific item you are looking for, consider using an online resale platform like Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist so you can search for what you need. If you’re looking for more general supplies, check local thrift stores and garage sales.

Bonus tip: You should always mention that you are a teacher. People love supporting education and it’s possible if you mention it at checkout you’ll score an even steeper discount.

3. Make a plan!

Look at your classroom and think critically about what it is that you truly need. Think through your classroom routines and which areas you want to improve, then make a strategy for things you can buy that will directly help you work towards your goals.

There are so many things you can buy for your classroom and so many things in the aisle of a store that look like they will be helpful (and they will be), but that doesn’t mean you need them. You have to prioritize items that are necessary to reach your classroom goals.

Make a list of what you want to buy with your budget before you even begin looking. That way, you’ll be less tempted to add additional items to your cart.

So, there you have it – three of my best ideas for stretching a small budget. Now, good luck setting up your classrooms!


Kelsey Smith is a special education teacher for elementary students on a modified curriculum in Nashville, Tennessee. Prior to her current teaching job, she spent one year teaching in an inclusive Kindergarten classroom.  Kelsey completed her bachelors degree in Special Education from Peabody College at Vanderbilt University and is a proud commodore. Although she is still a newer teacher, she is looking forward to sharing her insights and classroom experiences with the CEC community. She also shares more ideas on her classroom Instagram account @exceptionalelementary. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time outside and eating Mexican food. 

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