Centsible Saver

Centsible Saver: Affordable gifts on every teacher's wish list

adunn@newsobserver.comDecember 14, 2013 

Editor’s note: For daily tips on saving money, check out the Centsible Saver blog on newsobserver.com. Amy Dunn writes every day about coupons, saving money and frugal living. .

With just five school days left until Christmas break, the clock is ticking on buying gifts for your child’s teachers.

It can be a daunting task for parents, especially those with multiple children.

Is a gift necessary? How will your child’s jar of homemade jam compare to another child’s gift certificate for a massage? Do you give a gift to the P.E. teacher? What about the music instructor, the teacher assistant or the student teacher?

When you do the math, it’s no wonder parents stress.

One middle school child X six teachers = $60. Add another child and the cost leaps to $120.

So how, exactly, do you keep the budget balanced while still showing appreciation to the folks who teach and guide your children?

In search of ideas, I contacted the experts – a sampling of veteran teachers with more “World’s Best Teacher” mugs, notepads and ornaments than a first-grader could count.

Turns out, teachers are an understanding and sentimental bunch. Budget-conscious, too. Many of them are buying teacher gifts for their own kids’ teachers – on teacher salaries that have only gone up once in five years.

In fact, the most-mentioned favorite gift doesn’t cost a dime.

Over and over again, teachers talked about being touched by the handwritten notes from their students. Bonnie Barefoot, a third-grade teacher at Apex Elementary, has filled a large box with mementos received over her 22-year career.

“Those mean the most,” she said. “It’s an affirmation, a ‘thank you’ for what you’re doing,” Barefoot said.

A letter or drawing “doesn’t cost anything, but it’s really thoughtful and meaningful,” said Liza Coonse, who teachers at the private Trilogy School in North Raleigh.

Second on teachers’ lists was the $5 gift card.

“I always love the gift cards,” said Tracey Thompson, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at West Lake Middle School near Apex. Starbucks, Walmart and Target are her personal favorites. Gift cards for movies, restaurants and bookstores were also given high marks by teachers.

Parents shouldn’t worry that $5 doesn’t buy much these days, Barefoot said. “When several children give you $5 cards, that adds up,” she said.

“You can’t go wrong with a $5 Target gift card,” Coonse said.

Another winning gift idea: books for the classroom. “I’m an English teacher, and so I’m always going to say a book for the class is a good idea,” Coonse said. Other teachers suggested board games for rainy day recess.

And what about those “No. 1 Teacher” mugs and “World’s Best Teacher” ornaments?

Teachers politely requested parents skip those items.

“I could do a 6-foot tree in school-themed ornaments,” one teacher wrote in an email.

Here are more teacher-approved tips:

• Get up close and personal. When you’re in the classroom, look around for clues to the teacher’s personality. Does she always have a Starbucks cup on her desk? Is his room plastered with UNC posters? Does she consistently wear monograms? Be sure to ask your kids for input, too.

• Proceed with caution when giving food. Many folks have food allergies or other dietary restrictions. But if you know your child’s teacher is a chocolate lover or can’t survive a morning without coffee, go for it. Coonse said she was especially touched by a student who picked up on her gluten-free diet and gave her a basket filled with gluten-free treats.

• Avoid the pressure to give expensive or elaborate gifts. On top of that, most school districts have restrictions on gifts. In Wake County, for instance, employees are restricted to accept only “token gifts of insubstantial value.”

Gifts for you, dear readers

My desk is piling up with all sorts of freebies – as it usually does this time of year. And you folks are the beneficiaries. Over the next 10 days I’ll be giving away all sorts of things on the Centsible Saver blog, which you can access at newsobserver.com/CentsibleSaver.

The first gifts up for grabs are five bags of coffee sent to me by the folks at Starbucks. Each is a one-pound bag of the company’s Christmas blend. A nice addition to the Christmas breakfast table or regift it to a friend. I won’t tell.

If you’d like to enter, please send me an email at adunn@newsobserver.com. You must include your name and mailing address and put “Starbucks giveaway” in the subject line.

Dunn: 919-829-4522 or adunn@newsobserver.com; Twitter: @amygdunn

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