Parent group leaders and committee chairs often have big ideas and lofty goals, but they still have to work with limited budgets. In the 2020-21 school year, many groups are working with even smaller budgets because of the impact of COVID-19 on their fundraisers. We asked PTO and PTA leaders to tell us the ways they’ve saved money for their school parent groups.
Be a Savvy Shopper
Avoid buying new items. For durable items like furniture, check online classified ads for gently used pieces or ask the school district if it has old furniture in storage it would like to be rid of. For items you’ll use only occasionally, like bingo cards, ask around to see if you can borrow them from another parent group.
“We share carnival games with another school. We partner on a lot of things through the year so we have a good working relationship.” —Christi S.
Look for wholesales auctions, store closeouts, and sales. Visit clearance sales (50 percent off or more) to pick up student prizes or items you can sell in a silent auction. For items you need to buy a lot of, like hand sanitizer or bottled water, search online for sales or use an app like Google Shopping or Slickdeals to alert you when they go on sale. Don’t overlook retail sites like Groupon, which often sell gift certificates to local businesses at a discount.
“We bought our Santa’s workshop items and other things needed for our school at wholesale auctions. Saves us a lot of money through the year and gives kids a lot more of a choice while shopping.” —Megan C.
“During the summer school supply sales, we purchase items in bulk that we can sell in our school store for a fraction of what it would cost if purchased any other time of the year.” —Cheryl B.
Compare prices. Every year, shop around to get estimates for events and other expenses. The company that was the least expensive last year may not be the least expensive this year. Run the numbers before committing to buying a popcorn maker—might it be cheaper to buy discounted popcorn from a local theater or candy store?
“Renegotiate all of your contracts every year and require three quotes for everything over $250.” —Nikki G.
“Stop buying from [warehouse clubs] just because it’s bulk. We get better deals on soda, water, and juice on sale at the grocery store.” —Lynn S.
Use coupons, rebates, and discount codes. If your PTO buys its own copy paper, stock up when big retailers offer rebates. Recruit a parent who’s good at couponing to make purchases for the group.
“My president and I are couponers, so we try to use coupons to buy anything we can for a fraction of the cost.” —Kristy M.
“[Do a] Google search for discount codes for online stores or use the Honey browser extension to automatically search for discounts.” —Sarah L.
Check your inventory. If your PTO closet or storage area is a mess, clean it up and organize what you already have. You might find that there are enough paper plates for the school year and you only need to buy utensils, for example.
Ask Parents for Donations
Have a school drive to collect things your group would typically buy, such as drinks for events or hand sanitizer during flu season. Use a sign-up website or even a shared electronic document to keep track of what items people have pledged to bring.
“Get as much donated as possible. Ask parents where they work.” —Shannan A.
“Ask for specific items. We’ve found parents want to help (within their budget), but they want to know exactly what we need, and the more advance notice we can give, the better!” —Crystal S.
Create an online wish list on TeacherLists.com or a retail site to save parents a trip to the store. If your group is a registered 501(c)(3) organization, you can use Walmart's Registry for Good to ask for the specific items you need.
“I love Amazon wish list. Parents easily click and ship stuff right to the school to donate it....I always add the link to any newsletter, event info, fundraising info—all of it.” —Jamie D.
Use social networking. When you post about an upcoming event that needs donations or sponsors, tag family members, friends, and other volunteers who might be able to help—or who know someone who can. Make posts on your parent group’s account, too—and if there’s a PTO or PTA council in your area, ask whether that group can post, as well.
“We post online when we need something specific (coffee machine died and we wanted to replace). We get donations for those kinds of items often through Facebook requests.” —Sarah D.
Ask Businesses To Help
Shop local. Although locally owned companies might not offer coupons or rebates publicly, you might save money there in other ways. Locally owned companies like stores and restaurants can usually give you a yes-or-no answer more quickly than national chains, where managers more often have to ask higher-level supervisors for approval.
“We use local vendors for bounce houses, photo booths, etc. They’re usually cheaper than bigger companies.” —Vette W.
While you run errands, ask businesses you frequent to donate a gift card or goods or services. Be ready to share a few facts about your students or your school in case the businesses don’t know the reach their donation will have. For example, our school serves 500 students who live a short drive away from the store.
“Ask businesses to pay for events. All events! No matter how small....Stuff we normally have paid for in the past, we have managed to get donated this year. Just by asking.” —Jessica B.
“Hit up businesspeople in your community. They are often willing to help, especially for being called an ‘event sponsor’ to your parents.” —Malia M.
Reduce the amount of event decorating you do (or skip it entirely). This saves money and volunteer time.
“Stop the decorating of everything to the nines. We stopped decorating for events, and no one cared.” —Katie B.
Use less paper. When possible, make flyers half-size so you can print two to a page. Print information sheets as two-sided copies. Share information through emails or text messages and on social media as much as possible.
More Ways To Save Money
Repack bulk snacks into smaller servings for family nights.
Reuse decorations from past events.
Make your own banners using inexpensive bed sheets and spray paint.
Make your own lawn signs from old campaign signs.
Serve water in cups, not bottles.
Encourage BYO coffee for PTO meetings.
- Pick up meeting refreshments from the local bakery's discounted, day-old items.