Let’s face it: budgets are tight everywhere, and schools are no exception.

We are all fortunate to have a job, and if we get any money for our programs, we are almost pushing our luck.  So with limited (or no) funds, here are some practical ways to stretch your budget dollars without diluting your teaching:

1.) Virtual Tours.  Can’t go on a field trip?  Looking for something extra to enhance and connect to your classroom?  Virtual tours are here!  These world-class tours are FREE and only require an internet connection and a computer.  Take a look at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum or view one of the Kennedy Center’s daily performances.  While not a substitute for getting out and actually going somewhere, these are the next best thing.

2.) Use Your Own Resources.  Look around for your school’s very own experts.  There are people in your school who have fantastic reading teaching skills.  There’s a teacher down the hall that really connects students to math.  There’s another teacher who has great tricks for using differentiation.  Have these people prepare a short, 15 minute presentation to share their techniques during your monthly staff meetings and begin to see the value that is right at your fingertips.

3.) Bring in your Parents.  Parents feel stretched financially already.  They have so much to buy during the school year to help supplement classroom needs that asking for them to buy anything else feels imposing.  Instead, ask for their time.  See if you can have a parent come in as a guest teacher for something they are skilled in.  Many parents have valuable skills to share with students and are more than happy to come in.

4.) Forget the Fundraisers.  Parents HATE these.  They dread the wrapping paper catalogs and if they have to try to pawn off pizzas, chocolates or candles on their colleagues at work one more time, they will take some sick days.  Instead, set a number at the beginning of the year that you feel is fair for families in your community and ask parents to make a monetary contribution.  I have seen schools as that every family contribute $25, $50 or $75 at the beginning of the year and then make a pledge that they will not ask parents for any more funds for the rest of the year.  I know that I, for one, would be happy to write a check and be done for the school year.

5.) Grants.  There are plenty of easy grants to apply for each year with very little effort.  Many are simply one page documents that you, your administrators or even a member of your PTA can apply for.  Target has a great grants for $2,000 each year for schools in their communities.  There’s also plenty of small, local grants to apply for.  Check out your city’s local Department of Economic Development or your school’s budget office for grants that are focused on your community’s needs.

6.) Consider using Dropbox as a way to backup information.  Dropbox is a free program where you can store files (photos, documents, video, etc) in the cloud without having to purchase flashdrives, CD’s or extra hard drives.  This step alone could save your school thousands of dollars.

Stretching your budget doesn’t have to be that hard.  You just need to do what you already do best: be creative, persistent and think outside of the box!