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Paying to Work

I love what I do – but it is kind of a love-hate relationship with teaching.  I just finished my first year as a contracted teacher and it was a rollercoaster.  There are some things about my work that some people just don’t understand…Ninja especially.

My job costs money.  Like really, lots of it.  The costs are not ALWAYS necessary, but definitely worth each penny.  It’s a job of many titles when you teach kindergarten.  You are nanny, custodian, counselor, mommy, interior classroom designer, researcher, and of course, teacher.  I found that spending money on certain things helped with my organization, shortened certain tasks, and just made things easier.  Unfortunately, these things cost money.

In my eyes, the benefits outweigh the cost.  Ninja, on the other hand didn’t (and still doesn’t) always understand how a job can actually cost us money.  Simple things like a headphones for the computers, a book stand for my library, or even a GLADE scent plug-in made HUGE differences. Each purchase either solved a problem or made me more efficient.  Dividing my list of things to buy into “have to haves” and “wishes” and knocking out small things one at a time is our perfect compromise.

Now, starting a new school year…after a 1,200 mile move mind you…I’m on the hunt for filling my new classroom and making it ready for the 20 little crazys I will get to meet soon. Craigseasy, Pinterest, eBay, and Sunday paper ads are my new addictions.  Bookcases, rugs, books, folders, pencil boxes, bulletin boards, chart stands…the list goes ON and ON and ON.  BUT, being married to a budget nazi, I have found a need to compromise.  There are things that I want, but understand how backwards it is to pay out my pocket for my job and therefore I carefully pick out things that are worth paying for and then find them on sale.

As I’m reminded everyday, communication and compromise are the ingredients for a successful marriage.

Does your job cost you money? How much would you be willing to pay for work?  Am I crazy for doing what I do? How do you decide what to buy and what to keep wishing for?

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  1. Generally if you’re employed, your employer is expected to provide the supplies and materials you need for performing your job. I don’t know if there are any laws governing this in your state(s); however, I have indeed heard of cases where public or private school teachers pay for their own materials. I think it is a regrettable and unfair practice on the school’s part.

    You might see if you are truly considered an employee or an independent contractor. If the latter, you could make the case that you can file a federal Schedule C and recoup your expenses as business deductions.

    That was all just off the top of my head, and I’d like to ask the tax specialist in my office his opinion on the matter.

  2. I can totally relate. I’m an ECE in a kindergarden classroom, so my job has costed me some money, but I’ve been able to be reimbursed for the purchased; since they were just photos of the kids which were being given to the kids.
    I don’t make a lot, so I’m not willing to spent a lot for work. It’s hard enough with all the other expenses. My suggestion is to keep a wish list of what you want and make sure that family/friends/co-workers know about the wish list. Maybe someone will be getting rid of an item that you want.

  3. I’m floored that you have to spend so much money for the types of things that should be readily available to you, but I did once work for a school board (eons ago) and I do remember all the red tape school staff had to go through to get various supplies…. if it were me, I’d probably buy all the stuff myself as well!

    My job doesn’t cost me any extra money, but I’m *this close* to going out and buying my own chair to replace the VERY uncomfortable one I current use!

  4. Teachers sacrifice a lot in order to give their students the time and attention they need to be successful. With our budget problems, teachers are given 25 to 30 kids, and are expected to maintain high standards. In order to do their job well it will cost them money out of pocket. I don’t like it, but I understand why my wife has to spend money on her classroom. I appreciate the hard work and energy that you give to your kids 180 days a year.

  5. I agree with Matt. Teaching is one of the few professions I know of where spending your own money is the best way to do your job well. Many of my teacher friends spend lots of money (and time!) outside of teaching hours to make sure their students get what they need to succeed. They should not have to – but I sure appreciate the effort!

  6. It’s always blown my mind that teachers have to put so much of their personal (LOW!) income out to make the classroom function. I don’t think this has anything to do with your contractor status, as I know several teachers who have all told me the same thing – there just isn’t enough to go around, and everything is underfunded. It’s a shame that we, as a society, have put that burden on people like you who are willing to take a job that already pays pretty low, and expect them to basically fill in the rest.

    For me, I thankfully don’t have to spend personal money for work. We manage our section of the budget in the ways we need to, and if there’s anything I can get reimbursed for, I do. I do sometimes pay for things like lunches out for my coworker’s birthday, but I see that as more of a relationship development opportunity than being completely work related (although I know that plenty of companies let people charge that stuff to the corporate card).

    I do have one question – do you think you could do this without Ninja’s financial support? Meaning, if you were just a single gal living in Seattle, could you even manage to afford to work as a teacher & do all this?

  7. I think you want to buy probably more than the average person because of how much you want your kids to have a great time. Broninja went to private kindergarten and on his first day all parents wer given a list of wants for the classroom, it was amazing how many people had that bookcase or storage bin just sitting idle in the garages. On the list was also 1 assigned item to bring in mine was 12 boxes of kleenex – I did this happily. The teacher said she found by doing it this way she could go out and get some of her wish items.

    As for DN – he works for the government – he will never understand having to buy supplies as they are all provded. The big differance here is he provides a service, where as you provide an safe place for children to learn and you will see these children everyday for a school year. DN is truly lucky to be in the situation he is in.

    Last thought quote DN “Happy wife, Happy life” sounds like you guys will be shopping in no time.

    • Ps I saw on my nieceninja’s facebook page a link to adopt a classrom – pretty cool idea check it out!

  8. Don’t forget about Freecycle. Also, setup an account on–it’s made for teachers! And yes, you can deduct up to $250 each year. Definitely also add some of those smaller items to your class list as MN has suggested–Kleenex, hand sanitizer, Zip-Loc bags, paper towels, Clorox wipes, etc. If you know anyone in the healthcare industry, they’re a good resource for building free 1st aid kits, too! Feel free to email me if you want more ideas–I used to be a Classroom Ninja myself 🙂

  9. I’m not a teacher, but I do have to pay my company for a parking space at my job ($912/year), which i always thought was completely ridiculous. If I was in a city with a great public transportation system, sure, then I could think about alternatives. But I live in LA–the land of cars and terrible public trans! There’s just no way to get around without a car. It irritates me to no end that I have to pay my company to work for them and that the salary they are paying me is actually almost a thousand dollars less than it seems.

  10. The fact that the tax credit exists for teaching expenses shows how much this type of expenditure is basically expected of teachers. I haven’t been in kindergarten in a long time, but I do remember a supply list to bring in, and every other article I see about education these days is about how tough a time classrooms and families have in making ends meet in this economy. So kudos to you for being committed to your students and to being a caring and thoughtful teacher.

    In terms of investment in my own job, I have bought technical books for myself in order to perform my job better, but similar ones are available in our technical library (but they’re often out of date). About once every two months, my manager will hold a half-hour or so lunch meeting to inform us on management info from the department, which they provide lunch for us but don’t allow us to count as part of our workday. My biggest investment is probably in my gas bill, maintenance to my car, and time commuting. My car is older and I’ve spent well over $1200 in tires and maintenance in the last year and am currently spending ~$200 month on gas. But that was my choice to make in the company I chose to work for, where I lived, and how I spend my time. In pretty much every other way, however, I think my company treats me very well, which I’m thankful for.

    • She’s gonna have to make a second account under Girl Ninja so she can share it. I’ll get her on top of it!

  11. I’ll mirror what mom ninja said. I was given a list of things for the classroom on the first day of school. It included kleenex, dry erase markers, glue sticks, etc…

    My spouse is the same way. He used to get irritated when I worked from home but before I had an official “home office” job. He’d be like, why am I paying for the company to use my phone and my internet. I’m in sales so I don’t have an office anymore. For home offices, the company used to pick up the tab for an office phone and internet. Now they pay for neither. Our company car used to be free, now I have a $180/month “personal use fee” that I have to pay which is almost the cost to lease the stupid thing. They used to pay for carwashes, now you can’t expense them. So far the cell phone is the only thing they haven’t cheaped out on. Yeah, there is a lot that I pay out of pocket for work related expenses.

  12. Can you deduct your purchases for your classroom in your taxes? Don’t most teachers get some form of tax break?

  13. I was class mom for my son’s 3rd grade class last year. I helped his teacher set up a account and it was my job to keep it updated. We paid for a lot of very nice things for the classroom and students this way. We got all the materials for math kits for each child, which included multiplication and division flash cards, manipulatives, a calculator, a stop watch, a metric conversion chart, a ruler, measuring tape, protractor, estimating jar, and other stuff and cost about $1200 for 20 students. That was the most expensive single project I did, but we did lots of smaller ones. I just looked up the account and was surprised to see that we received over $5000 in donations! There are a lot of creative ways to get the things our classrooms need.

  14. A good friend of mine’s mom is a teacher and she once told me she gets a $200 allowance from the school (board?) every year and any additional purchases come out of her own pocket. I also know that Staples Business Depot gives teachers a discount (I’m about 95% sure).

    I’m off to teacher’s college this fall and have already started to stock up on baskets and boxes to use for organizing. I’m also really lucky that I have a mentor who has told me to call her if I need anything once I’ve graduated. I plan on calling her up and seeing if she’s got any materials she’s no longer using. But I’m really nervous about books. My understanding is that most of the classroom books are owned by the teacher and in some of my volunteer classes over the past couple years the teacher has had literally thousands of books.

    I really think that creating a needs/wants list and slowly knocking one item off at a time is the best way to go. Especially over time the needs will decrease giving you the ability to buy lots of fun stuff too!

  15. […] are costs involved with almost any job – quite a lot if you’re a teacher, as Ninja’s wife […]

  16. Hi. I’ve student taught in 2 very different schools – one in a rich district and one in a poor district. One art teacher had a huge budget and the other had one so small she had to ration supplies and plan only the most inexpensive projects (AND the other teachers were always coming in to help themselves to her art supplies, which is ridiculous). Schools SHOULD pay for all the supplies necessary to do a good job but in reality it depends on the district/school.

    I like the idea of sending out a Wishlist to the parents, it doesn’t have to sound greedy or anything but if I knew my kids’ teacher needed supplies I’d be the first to go out and pick something up. And people often have things-like bookcases– stored in their basement they would be happy to get rid of.

  17. My fiance’s mom is a kindy teacher and have been so for the last 30 years – she goes well above & beyond what is expected too. Buying supplies, art projects and most of all doing more work outside of her working hours especially for art shows, parents night, report writing etc. When we have time, we even help her with the printing, laminating & cutting – there’s just endless stuff to do. I think she saves most of the receipts though and claims it as a work-related expense which she should be doing anyway. She also has this amazing collection of children’s books & toys she’s amassed over the years which she also brings to school.

  18. I had jobs before that had me spend too much for transportation. I had one fieldwork after the other so many times in a month and although the expenses get reimbursed, you can’t really see how you’re gaining income. But, you know, in the end, you get to enjoy the travels.

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