Teaching on a Budget

I was thinking back to my first year of teaching and how absolutely terrified I was. I remember so vividly walking into an empty classroom on a sticky hot August day and thinking “What the hell am I going to with 8 kids with autism all day?” It’s funny because now I think that there aren’t enough minutes in the day to get everything done. That first year was all making materials, making materials, making materials. I brought home bins of stuff every weekend to make work tasks. The hardest thing was to not spend my entire paycheck during this process. I didn’t have much to work with. I didn’t take over another teacher’s classroom and get passed down materials – I started a whole new room and pretty much just had some desks and tables, a boardmaker CD, and a few random curriculum sets. I had to get a little creative. Dollar tree became my best friend. Here are some cheap work task ideas with things you can easily find around the house, in your school’s supply room (if you have one), or at the beloved dollar store:

Match clothes pins to note cards.









Sort pens and pencils.









Sort office supplies (rubber bands, paper clips, colored paper clips, binder clips, eraser heads, etc.). I think these cups are the juice cups we get for lunch that I cleaned out.









Sort coupons by grocery type. Sometimes you can find these note card holders at dollar store. Buy a Sunday paper and clip away! This is also a great life skill.









This task has probably seen it’s better days but I still like it and it has really lasted! I took a leftover Crayola marker box (one of those big ones where there are a ton of each color) and cut one piece of cardboard out. I put random manipulatives in the side (batteries, screws, washers, – whatever you can find would work in here). Then store the items on the right long side and sort the items into compartments. Everything is one box for the task!









Collate note cards. Use tupperwares or washed out lunchmeat containers. The container for the paperclips was a washed out baby food container.









Most dollar stores sell ice cube trays. Use colored beads – hot glue one of each in each section of the tray. Keep beads in a tupperware.









Velcro checker pieces to cardboard.









Everyone has old CDs laying around. Put covers into CD cases. I made CD covers from construction paper. You could also add a label on the inside of the CD cover of a color name to match color words.









Match colored paper clips to note cards. Great for fine motor and matching skills!









Sort lids ands containers for a variety of containers. This task can go either way – either put lid on container and put in finished or take apart sort tops and bottoms.









Washed out baby food containers. Put one of each colored chip into container and cover with lid. Great assembly task for following multiple steps in a sequence.










Other money saving tips and tricks:

  • I really hate to say this but you need to become a little bit of a hoarder. Fine, be a picky hoarder and be organized about it – don’t get crazy about and end up getting an intervention on the A&E show. Start saving containers – you can use those for sorting tasks, assembly tasks, and to store manipulatives. Great containers are plastic baby food, applesauce, yogurt, juice cups, plastic take out containers, lunchmeat, etc. Just wash it super well, let it soak in hot water and  I promise – it’s not disgusting. I like having a variety of sizes to use for different tasks. I store all containers in one big bin or the bottom of one cabinet to use as needed.
  • Raid your supply room (if you can!) get extra boxes of paper clips, binder clips, envelopes, pencils, etc. – all great for sorting and assembly tasks.
  • Think about what things you can get from your school for free. My school uses styrofoam lunch trays – an easy sorting station – also I made a work task to match velcro pictures of food in the correct spots on the tray. My best things I can get from my school for free is milk crates! I used milk crates EVERYWHERE. My favorite organization idea was stacking (I’ll get a picture of this when the school year starts because I LOVE it) 3 rows of 3 crates on their side (so the opening is face you) on a table. I labeled each crate to sort my work tasks (sorting tasks, assembly tasks, fine motor, easy matching, hard matching, etc.). I know where everything is easily, my stuff isn’t smushed and getting ruined, and it cost me $0!
  • Hit up your friends to help you in your picky hoarding endeavour – if you frequently use certain containers see if your friends buy those things and take theirs when they are done!
  • Things don’t have to look perfect. I’m such a hypocrite for even writing those words because it absolutely drives me nuts when things don’t look nice. But when you are a money saving path – try and be more okay with some imperfection. I like to use colored tape or thick paint to paint over labels (I do this a lot with yogurt containers) so it looks better.
  • Talk to your principal – since some self contained classrooms don’t get grade level textbooks for all the students so you may be able to get “text book” money for your class since the money allocated for books for your students is not being spent. You could use that money for laminating, velcro, ink, etc.

My best money saving tip = Grants!! Tomorrow I will post about grant writing suggestions!

Also check out my Teachers Pay Teachers store – pre-made and ready to go materials all less than $5 a piece!


  1. Hi Sasha, I am a long time reader of yours. I am going way back looking for a website that I think you purchased the red tray (pictured above) from. I have a very early learner this year who is working on put-in type tasks with large objects (can’t be a chocking hazard). I remember you had some big work tasks that you used in “factory” and you had mentioned a website that you can purchase sorting trays and such, but I can’t recall the name of it. It’s gonna drive me crazy! If you have a minute do you mind letting me know where that red tray if from if you still remember. Thanks.

  2. I got these from eNasco. I think they still have something similar!


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