Vanguard Teaching

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Penny Pinching Plans for Teachers to Save Money on Pencils and Pens

close up of woman working

Let’s Put a Permanent Pause to the Pencil Money Pit

Stop it.  Yes you, stop it.  You educators who are giving away free pencils at the expense of the school or your personal budget, stop doing that.  I know you want to help our students.  But giving them free pencils like you are the writing utensil Oprah (You get a pencil, you get a pencil, and you get a pen!) will not help the academic masses in the long run.  I am fully aware that there are students who are not able to afford pens/pencils and I know there are some who are really unorganized and I certainly know the ones who are unmotivated.  But I strongly contend that a behavioral economic approach to the “because I didn’t have a pencil” situation will help mitigate your classroom headaches, minimize the draining of your pocketbook, and add a life lesson for your students – our future society. There are plenty of proactive methods to prevent your students from approaching you for pens/pencils in the first place (like making a materials preparedness grade) but in the event that you are now the last line of assistance for equipping them, let’s explore these options.

Most modern economists contend that “there are no free lunches.”  In nerd and business speak, it means that you do not get something for nothing.  There is some price to pay for consuming something of value, even if it is gifted to you.  Through giving our students free resourceful items, in this specific case pencils/pens, this adage and life reality is undermined.  If we are truly preparing our students to be responsible, thriving entities in today’s society, let’s level up our pencil and pen distribution game.


Charity, lending, and purchasing are important concepts for students to learn. Set rules for these actions when dealing with students who need classroom materials based on the values you want to instill.



If you want to teach accountability, create definitive rules if students are materially ill-prepared. Have a system that holds students accountable for returning borrowed items.  Have a ledger handy for students who need to borrow a pen and make sure it is returned in a timely manner and in good condition.  If you are too busy to do this, there is a very high chance that there is a student in your class who would love to take on this role.  Making the teacher-to-student pencil experience a lending transaction can open up the doors for teaching about the value of one’s word, reputation, collateral (if you want

generic ledger

The ledger method could be a great opportunity to get students to be in charge of a responsibility.

to add that component) and the credit system in general.  In fact the word “credit” means “believe” (from “crede“) in Latin.  To help mold our students’ characters into believable, trustworthy individuals, we can start with making a simple pencil loaning program to help them honor their word.  It is up to you when you want to cut their credit off when they fail to return your items.  But there must be a cutoff line.



Selling pencils and pens is tricky because many districts prohibit teachers from doing so even if it is at a break-even point.  However, if your school allows it, then do it.  You can even reinvest profits into your classroom.  But I enjoyed the supply and demand aspect of this venture.  The price-gouging ruse has not failed in my fourteen years of teaching when a student needs a pen for a test or some other activity and they ask me for one.  Conversations would go like this:

Student: “Mister”

Me: “My name is not…”

Student: “Can I have a pencil?”

Me: “I can sell you one.”

man wearing pink polo shirt with text overlay

The high price for a pencil never fails, lol!

Student: “How much?”

Me: “$7.”

Student: “What!  Man, never mind.  I will find one myself.”

Somehow the price-gouging gambit helped my students procure a pen every time.  Also, in this situation a great mini lesson on supply and demand opens up.  Money (and the lack thereof) talks my fellow educators!

Furthermore, students do not have to pay for the pens with cash.  Keep mind that time is money as well.  Set up a payment through labor system where they must clean the room, spend time helping you move materials, etc. to pay for their pencils.  The main thing is that they are paying with time or money for something they wish to purchase.



monk surrounded by children

Charity goes a long way. And through our teaching, it should be appreciated and paid forward. 

If you wish to provide charitable donations of pencils to your  students, then make sure to invest a heavy amount of time and energy to teach students how to respect a gift and how to pay kindness forward! Make sure they fully understand and are able to enact the concepts of reciprocity, empathy, humility, and other charity-related emotions and actions to appreciate charitable gestures. Role play and discuss the subject of charity and its importance to society.

In my opinion, if you give something for nothing (charity) and the student is appreciative of the item and takes care of it, then that is truly a blessing.  This child understands the value of kindness and does not take it for granted.  If that same type of grateful student forgets or loses that gifted item and is remorseful, allow them to save face and work their way back (they will probably suggest doing so before you even bring that up).

But if a student deliberately disrespects or mismanages your charity, let them know that you have taken note of this and make them pay/work for the item next time they ask (or even refuse to give them anything and remind them of their past ungrateful situation). Teaching youth the value of kindness and thoughtful charity is key, but if they are not grateful or responsible, provide them a transactional exchange (see the “purchasing” section) and explicitly teach them why they have found themselves in a quid pro quo or even a “denial of service” situation.


I have seen too many teachers lament and vent about all of their pencils that they purchased being gone in the first month of school and finding many of the pens strewn across the classroom or hallways.  In situations like these, we lose our students’ ability to value the personal characteristic of honor, and we diminish our teachers’ self-worth and sanity.  Setting up a teacher or student-run pencil loan center, establishing a pen purchasing process, or investing heavily on the values and parameters of charity should get you to spending lower amounts on pencils and hopefully get our kids into a mindset of being grateful, resourceful, and honorable.

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This entry was posted on August 18, 2019 by in Classroom Economics and tagged , , , , , , , , .
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