With rising prices, increasing demands and tighter budgets, educators need to find creative ways to make the most of their money. It may not be possible to increase your income, but you can stretch the dollars you do have by buying more for less.
If you know where to look—or what to look for—you can buy things for less than their face value.
“I search the web all the time,” says Melissa Vera, a Pikeville, N.C., elementary school substitute teacher and mother of three whose blog, Adventures of Frugal Mom, is full of tips for frugal living. “Blogs are great for finding deals and freebies,” she says, “and government websites are a great source to find classroom materials.”
Use these five tips to maximize your dollars:
1. Find teacher freebies
For free preK-8 materials and creative activities, says Julia G. Thompson, a ninth-grade English teacher and author of The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide. Thompson suggests abcteach. And SchoolExpress has “thousands of free worksheets, games and awards of various types,” she says.
Thompson also recommends searching the phrase “teacher freebies” to uncover hundreds of different types of freebies that teachers and students can use.
2. Shop with discounted gift cards
Gift cards aren’t just for other people. If you’re planning a major purchase or if you know you’ll be shopping soon at a favorite store, buy discounted gift cards for that store before you shop.
Sometimes multipacks are on sale (e.g., three $10 iTunes or Starbucks cards for only $25) at grocery stores and big-box stores. Or you can find deals at online gift card hubs.
Let’s say you’re planning to buy some supplies from The Home Depot soon. Search a website like GiftCardGranny.com first. You could buy a $50 gift card for only $45.50 (discount amounts vary), meaning you’ll save 9 percent when you use that discounted card to pay for $50 worth of merchandise at Home Depot.
GiftCardGranny.com sells gift cards and e-cards from hundreds of retailers and restaurants, including Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, Cold Stone Creamery, Disney Store, iTunes, JCPenney, Lowes, Nike, Old Navy, Red Robin and Starbucks.
Sign up for the site’s Gift Card Alerts to be notified when cards you want to buy go on sale. And if you have a gift card you can’t or won’t use, sell it on that website for up to 92.5 percent cash back.
3. Use restaurant certificates
One of the most popular retailers at NEA Discount Marketplace is Restaurant.com. NEA members can find amazing bargains on dining certificates through the NEA Member Benefits program, plus earn cash back on purchases. Simply sign into this website, click through to NEA Discount Marketplace and start typing Restuarant.com in the search box. Click the Restaurant.com offer box to make sure you’ll earn your cash back. Once on the Restaurant.com site, type your city or ZIP into the “find a restaurant” box to search for cost-cutting certificates for local restaurants. Discounts and certificate amounts vary. A typical discount is a $25 certificate for $10, but sometimes the prices can drop to $4 for a $25 certificate. (Read more about buying and using these dining certificates here.)
You can ask your favorite restaurants when they’ll be offering special bonus deals on gift certificates or cards online or in the stores. During the holiday season, for example, Red Lobster, Texas Roadhouse and other chains offered a $5 bonus with gift-card purchases.
Stay in the loop by signing up for your favorite restaurants’ free member rewards programs. You should receive special deals and discounts that aren’t available to non-members. The Red Robin Royalty program, for example, gives members a free burger during their birthday month, every 10th item free and special offers throughout the year.
4. Buy in bulk
Bulk buying can lower the unit price of products you buy regularly, and it saves the time and gas you would’ve spent in multiple trips to buy smaller quantities at a time. Grocery stores and big box chains often have a row of bulk products such as snacks, laundry supplies, paper products and more.
Ask local merchants if they’ll give you a deal if you buy in bulk, blogger Vera suggests. Local businesses are more likely to work with you on deals, but it can’t hurt to ask bigger chains, she says.
5. Join a warehouse club
There’s bulk, and then there’s bulk. If you need huge quantities of cereal, toilet paper, frozen food and more, then joining a warehouse store club makes sense. Costco, BJ’s and other warehouse clubs offer tremendous discounts compared with retail prices, says Kristen Hagopian, Brilliant Frugal Living author, columnist and syndicated radio talk-show host.
Check local warehouse clubs to see which one best fits your needs. “Management should be happy to let you look around before you commit to a membership,” she says. NEA Member Benefits partners with Costco to help NEA members save money on thousands of brand-name items, plus you’ll receive the latest membership deals from Costco when you log in through our website.
Hagopian strongly recommends investing in memberships because “if used correctly, they’ll easily pay for themselves in a month” and potentially pay back thousands within a year.
However, she cautions, if you tend to impulse buy, plan to shop with a buddy—at least on your first few trips—to help you resist the urge to splurge. “Many times I’ve heard the tale of those who ran into a warehouse club to buy bread and emerged dazed and confused an hour later with the bread, 10 bestsellers and a leather sofa,” she says.