Average American Teacher Spends $511 Out of Pocket on Classroom Supplies Without Getting Reimbursed: Study


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Dipping into teachers’ own pockets to pay for classroom supplies is nothing new. Many American teachers have become so accustomed to spending money to purchase items for their jobs that they just fold this spending into their regular household budgeting.

Interestingly, the phenomenon has been studied even by the U.S. Department of Education, and the majority of Americans (85 percent) believe teachers should not have to spend their own money on classroom supplies.

A recent study reveals that few teachers expect to complete the school year without spending money that’s never reimbursed. Savings.com recently conducted an online survey on 299 U.S. teachers about whether they spend their own money to provide items for their classrooms and whether they are reimbursed for these expenses.

The study reveals the following key findings:

  • The average amount teachers spend without getting reimbursed is $511. One in four teachers spends over $750 on supplies.
  • A quarter of teachers say their schools don’t provide any funds at all for classroom supplies.
  • Only 25 percent of students are sent to school with all or most of what’s requested on back-to-school supply lists given to their parents.

Average out-of-pocket spending reaches $511

The survey found that eighty-nine percent of teachers spend money on classroom supplies that’s not reimbursed by the school. Only 11 percent have no out-of-pocket expenses related to outfitting their classrooms.

The overall average spent out of pocket, meaning money that’s not reimbursed by the school, was $511, and about one in four teachers spent upwards of $750 they didn’t get back on classroom supplies. A quarter of teachers say their schools don’t provide any funds at all for classroom supplies.

How much are teachers spending out of pocket on classroom supplies per year?


Teachers spending


The study found that teachers who spent their own money outfitting their classrooms shell out an average of $19 per student, while their schools budget about $11 per student. That means teachers are spending nearly double per student than schools are to cover the cost of supplies and other items that fall outside the school’s budget.

Private school teachers are in a slightly better position, though 79 percent of them still pay for supplies without being reimbursed. Among the 90 percent of traditional public school teachers with out-of-pocket spending, the average spent over what the school reimburses is $946 vs. $323 for private school teachers with non-reimbursed spending.

Almost half of the teachers don’t benefit from parent-supplied lists

In recent years, teachers have turned to parents to help share the cost of necessities for the classroom. But items on back-to-school supply lists for parents don’t usually cover everything teachers need to purchase. For about 55 percent of teachers, parents’ back-to-school shopping lists do include items specifically for the classroom, but the study said that leaves just under half of the teachers without that boost.

And even in classrooms where parent-provided supplies include items specifically for teachers’ classrooms, three in four students arrive at school without everything on the list. According to the report, one potential reason for so few students to arrive at school with the requested supplies is that, according to the latest census data, about 17 percent of U.S. children live below the poverty line.

What percentage of students provides ALL of the supplies on the school supply lists?

Percentage of students bringing all required supplies











Where the money goes?

The average teacher spends about $120 per year on classroom decor, but the most expensive category on average is non-consumable classroom supplies. This is a broad category that includes books, curriculum, equipment, and software but excludes consumable supplies like pencils or notebooks. The average teacher spends more than $135 per year on non-consumable classroom supplies.

Average teacher spending per category

Non-consumable classroom supplies (books, curriculum, equipment, software)


Classroom decor


Consumable student supplies (pencils, notebooks, facial tissue)


Food and snacks


Prizes and rewards


Cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer



While items like classroom decor may feel optional or like a luxury, the fact that teachers are spending the most on books, curriculum, and other necessary equipment means students may be at risk of not being adequately served if their teachers can’t afford to buy what they need.

Studies have shown that teachers with access to high-quality instructional materials are better equipped to ensure the best possible educational outcomes for students.

And for some students, equipment, technology, and other materials are necessary not just to achieve the best possible outcome but to have any success at all in school. This is particularly the case in special education classrooms and for students with physical disabilities, and, unfortunately, too many schools are unable to provide what students need.

And while some teachers in the survey indicated that they feel they spend too much of their own money on their classrooms, many others find the costs necessary to provide adequate instruction to their students.

Out of the surveyed teachers, about 81 percent of respondents teach in traditional public schools, 10 percent in private schools, 7 percent in public charter or magnet schools, and 2 percent in other types of schools.

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About the Author

Author: Stephen Soulunii

Stephen Soulunii No more a student, but love to learn. Not a teacher, but care about how students are taught. Not an educator, but want everyone to be educated. Not a social worker, but desire to see change. Not a reformer, but always want to see a better world. The author believes that only sound education can bring a better future, better world and technology can help achieve a lot in this field.

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