Frugal and Creative Teacher Gift Ideas

I’ve talked a lot about public schools lately, and even though I’m unhappy with the way things are going in a general sense, I love both of my children’s teachers. They’ve both gone above and beyond the call of duty to make sure my children are getting the best education possible in the current school system.

So of course as the year winds down, I’m thinking about end of the year gifts. I always hate to try to think of something, because I don’t always know what the teachers would like. I try to stay away from “apple themed” anything, because I figure most teachers are inundated with stuff like that. I stay away from coffee mugs for the same reason.

I’m thinking of a coffee shop gift card for one of my children’s teachers, because I know she drinks coffee. I’m at a bit of a loss for my other child’s teacher, although I hear she likes candy.

So my first question today is, do you have any frugal & creative teacher gift ideas?

But there’s a second question. Who gets a teacher gift? Obviously each of the kids’ teachers. But then there’s the aides…and in kindergarten there are a LOT of aides. There are reading aides, math aides, regular classroom aides. And then there’s the first grade teacher, since my kindergarten son goes to first grade for reading.

There’s the music teacher, the librarian, the computer teacher, and we can’t forget the bus driver.

I know a lot of people bring something for everyone, but honestly, that would put me in the poorhouse. It’s not that I don’t appreciate all the teachers, aides, and bus drivers, but it’s just not affordable to give gifts to all of them.

So the second question of the day is, how do you decide who gets a gift, and what do you do for those who don’t get a gift?

I’m very interested to see your responses. I seem to take a different approach every year.

Photo by woodleywonderworks.


By , on May 22, 2009
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.


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  1. CJ McD:

    -Thank you notes from the children.
    -Small increment ($5-10) gift certificates to office supply stores.
    -Ask for suggestions mid-term.

  2. My child isn’t in school yet so I don’t have much of an answer for your second question. He does have a few teachers we give gifts to but not many as he is not involved in a ton of activities. I can give you a simple and inexpensive idea for the though. Check out my post on brownie pie mix – http://www.livinglifewithless......e-mix.html. This is easy to make and everyone I have given it to has loved it.

  3. Laura:

    I agree with many so far–a note, especially if there are details, is the best! Generally speaking, we don’t need “stuff”–like figurines or whatever. Food is fine, office supplies are great, gift cards are great, and for some teachers, handmade stuff is great. One of my favorite gifts was a bracelet that one of my kiddos strung himself. It was made with “nice” beads, so it is something I can really wear. It’s that kind of stuff we treasure. :)

  4. My kids are now out of the elementary years, so we don’t do teacher gifts any more, but in the past, we gave gift certificates to the local educational supply store along with a note. As districts cut budgets, teachers end up using more of their own salary on classroom supplies. A gift card to the teacher supply store is always appreciated and always used. You don’t have to worry about food allergies or preferences, and it will never end up in the trash or on a shelf covered in dust. My kids only rode the bus one year, and we gave the bus driver a small gift card to McDonald’s. Invariably at point throughout the year, the driver will end up on a field trip or with a sports team and need to purchase a meal. McDonald’s seemed to be the fast food place of choice, at least in that particular district, so again, we knew it would be appreciated and used.

    And also a bit on topic, when school supplies are on sale this summer, think about buying extra pencils, notebooks, highlighters, etc., as part of a supply basket for the teacher for a Christmas gift. Again, a lot of times teachers end up supplying many of these things out of their own pocket for students who can’t afford them. Along with note pads, sticky tack and stickers, it makes a really nice gift!

  5. I am a retired teacher and I agree that sincere notes mean the most. The fact that someone sat down and wrote a personal note is so nice. If you want, a gift certificate is appreciated. Some of the best ones I received were to Target. The last few years, the head room mother sent a note to all parents and they pooled their money. One year it went for airfare to see our daughter and new grandchild. Another time it was used to purchase something for our home. If you know the head room parent you might suggest that. Teaching is its own reward but to be acknowledged is wonderful.


  6. Tania:

    I am a teacher and the well worded thank you notes mean the most. I have saved each one that I have received. If you want to give a gift, classroom supplies or gift cards are great.

  7. Check out this blog: She’s had some great teacher gift ideas. My son was in Parents’ Day Out. For whatever reason I didn’t even think about getting a gift for her. Oops. Guess I’ve been too busy with a newborn.

  8. L. Ottaviano:

    Frankly, it’s never occurred to me to give gifts to any of the “supplemental” people you listed. I have heard of other people giving gifts to teachers, but I’ve never done it. I have a 2nd grade daughter, and in our household we don’t put an emphasis on giving people material things/money to show appreciation. I find that homemade cards are more meaningful. Plus, I believe that the more “stuff” you own, the more your stuff owns you. I wouldn’t wish a classroom full of “stuff” on any teacher. They have enough to deal with.

  9. I think the idea of a letter to the principal is fantastic! I would love that! (It will truly be the gift that keeps on giving!)

    Otherwise, a note and a picture is great, and I’ve always loved a dunkin donuts gift card ($5 goes a lot farther there than Starbucks)

  10. sharyn:

    At the risk of being redundant, here are a few ideas that I especially appreciated as a teacher.

    #1 All time favorite. A note or card of thanks/appreciation that listed specific things that were meaningful to the parent or child. One year a parent wrote a letter to the principal and gave me a copy.

    Gift cards. book store, restaurant, coffee shop, movie tickets. One GREAT gift card was to the Dollar Tree!

    An offer of service. At different times, some parents have offered to clean out the trout (yes trout) tank at the end of the science unit. To me, it was a yucky job. These parents could never come to help during class, but we made arrangements for them to come and do this job after regular classroom and work hours. It was no big deal to them, as they did similar things as part of their regular jobs. But it was GREAT for me! Similar “service jobs” could be cleaning paint cups, brushes, easels, at the end of the year; helping kids wash their desks/tables; disinfecting/washing toys or materials.

    Food can be tricky due to allergies, weight and other health issues. I personally prefer “packaged food” rather than homemade goodies. That way I can check labels.

    Rather than waiting till the END of year, do something during the year. For example, pay for another child’s field trip expenses as these often come from a teacher’s pocket. Send in kleenex, bandaids, or extra handsoap.

    Make a donation to the PTA in honor of the teacher. Please sure to let the teacher know.

    I also appreciated it when children made things for me. I didn’t always keep the items forever, but I like the message that the parent worked with the child to create something. It’s the process, not the product.

    On another note, it seems that elementary teachers receive lots of gifts, but junior high or high school teachers rarely do. When my girls were older, they didn’t WANT to give gifts to any teachers. I asked my girls to name AT LEAST one teacher they especially appreciated or enjoyed and WHY. I then sent a note and gift card to that teacher.

  11. My hubby is a teacher, and more than anything else, he enjoys the cards written by his students thanking him for being their teacher (though he appreciates and makes over every gift, even the plethora of apple stuff, lol.)

    This year for my sons teachers, we’re making fancy cards that pop up with ($5 Starbucks gift cards inside). Because he was in a different district last year, I’m just using the same design for the card that I came up with for last years teacher cards…it’s a collage of different colored fonts spelling out “Thank You” in different languages (with the language in tiny print beneath it). Obrigado, Grazie, Gracias, etc. Inside says, “All that to say MANY THANKS for all you do!”

    We’re giving those to my son’s teachers for a total of $25 along with a thoughtful note of thanks from our son. When he was younger, we’d include any pictures I took with him and that teacher while helping in class.

    I’ve known of some teachers (particularly the female teachers) who LOVE when the kids parents all go together for a joint gift…either something to ‘treat’ them like a massage at a day spa, dinner for two at a nice restaurant or some such thing…but they also enjoy the thoughtfulness of a quilt with contributions from each student, or collecting scrapbook pages made by each student, etc.

    My son’s first grade teacher kept a shelf of scrapbooks of her teaching career in her classroom. Along with the pages her classroom moms rounded up as an end of the year thank you, it was a great place for her to keep all those notes and pictures her students and parents gave her, along with the class photos, etc.

    A great gift idea for a teacher would also be gift cards to places like Staples or teacher supply stores, where teachers often spend their own money on things for their classrooms and supplies needed when there are budget cuts and things.

    We usually do gifts for Sunday School teachers this time of year, as well. The ladies who have taught my boys through the years are all gardeners, and enjoy receiving rose bushes and other pretty plants for around their yards.

  12. I am a teacher! We don’t want anymore mugs! I get bath supplies a lot too, and I am allergic to most scented bath supplies. All the corny little teacher books–“Inspiring Quotes For Teachers”– skip them. I say gift cards to teacher supply stores, book stores, or coffee shops are the most appreciated. I had a student one year carve me a pencil case with my favorite book engraved on it! That was pretty nifty, and I still have it! One of my colleagues had a family tell her they wanted to grant her a wish for her classroom next year as an appreciation gift! She is wishing for new whiteboard supplies! How great is that? Oh– and most teachers I know watch their nutrition and waste lines. I always see TONS of goodies given to teachers lining the staff room tables. No one likes to take them home! Hope that helps!

  13. Liz:

    Have you thought of honoring these people with a book for the library?

  14. I don’t have any kids, but I was a camp counselor for many summers. I remember really liking when the parents took the end of the summer as a teaching experience. They had their children draw pictures or write a thank you note (depending on their age) and give it along with their tip. It’s a nice time to teach about gratitude and how hard their teachers work. I also think that baked goods along with the picture/note would be nice for the teachers/staff that don’t have quite as much contact with your kids. Who doesn’t like freshly baked cookies???

  15. Hi! My youngest son is in Kindergarten. He has 2 teachers and 2 aides. I am giving each teacher a gift card to Barnes & Noble $10 each (total $40.) I also bought a water bottle filled with goodies (hand lotion, etc.) for his gym teacher, art teacher, music teacher, computer teacher, and spanish teacher. The water bottles were $1 each at Walgreen’s ($5 total). I am wrapping them nice and attaching a note of how I appreciate the time they invested in my son this year. I am also giving a note to each teacher and aide.

    I also donated $30 to the class via scholastic (letting the teacher get some books she wanted for class.) The teachers really appreciate this.

    I think the best frugal gift is the note (I was a teacher, I loved this as well.)

    In the past I have bought tote bags (that I got a case of 36 for $50 online.) All year I let my kids paint with fabric paint and I give as gifts (Mother’s day, birthdays, etc.) Just that alone has made a nice gift for a teacher and aides. I usually add a small gift card to the main teacher’s. Most teachers use a tote bag!!!

    Or as a gift for a wonderful teacher send a note to his or her supervisor / the principal and cc it to him or her as well. I am sure they will appreciate that. Site specific examples of things the teacher did to go above and beyond this year.

    To lessen the blow once a month get a gift card for $5 to Dunkin Doughnuts or some other place so you can use for teacher gifts.

    Another great frugal gift. Volunteer to help the teacher clean the room on the last day of day after last day of school. Teachers have to stay an extra day or more to clean out there stuff.

    Another year I gave aloe plants to all the teachers (they were like $2 each.) I had my son paint the pots. This is a great gift as aloe makes a great after sun soother. Include a note on instructions on how to soothe skin and how your teacher was soothing to your child in some way or another over the year. This is especially a good one for the school nurse.

    For my other son’s co-op teachers (there is about 10.) I made homemade notecards with verses on them (it is a Christian co-op.) I tied them with pretty ribbon and add a note of how much we appreciate them. These cost very little to make, and go over well, you could add stamps as well.

    Homemade gifts are wonderful, if you make food write down all the ingredients for allergy reasons!

    Gifts are not required and no one expects them, but I like to thank those involved with my sons during the year. If nothing else spend the
    time writing a heartfelt note to all those involved in your child’s care.

  16. Tina:

    Second to letters from the kids, my hubby the teacher likes movie passes, either for the theatre or rentals. We have had them simply in an envelope and elaborate with popcorn fixed up cute.

  17. My four children’s teachers get a loaf of homemade bread and a jar of homemade jam. I also write a note, when I’m organized enough to do so :) The school nurse mentioned to me that the note I wrote her last year is something she really treasures. (she’s a treasure herself!)

  18. Could you bring in breakfast to the school– like homemade muffins and some OJ?

  19. Kimi:

    As a teacher I would appreciate a well written letter/card letting me know that you appreciate what I have been trying to do for your child all year. Bringing up specific examples of my effectiveness means the most to me, and I would hold onto those words for years to come. If you wanted to give a small gift, a gift certificate or candy would be nice too (but not needed).

  20. SPL:

    As a high school teacher myself, it is always a lovely gesture when a parent or student gives me an end-of-the-year gift. However, if you’d like to honor all of those involved in your son/daughter’s education, try to find a meaningful cause and make a donation in their names (i.e., in honor of teachers and staff of ___ school). You might choose a local homeless shelter, soup kitchen, animal refuge, or hospice group. You might even ask the school if they have a “wish list” and make a donation to that list. It does not have to be a large monetary donation; anything you do will be appreicated by those who love and teach children.

  21. Dawn:

    My mom has taught school for almost 40 years. The “gifts” she always valued the most were simple handwritten thank you notes. That is something you could do, or make with your kids, for anyone you want to show gratitude to.

  22. I teach Sunday School and it surprised me when I first started receiving “teacher gifts” from the children.

    I would rather, if families are struggling financially, that this not be done. But for those who are seeking out ideas, the coffee shop gift cards and plants are nice.

    I was also given a Elder-Beerman gift card from the church at Christmas this year … which I was able to use for clearance-priced professional clothes.

  23. Elizabeth Shepherd:

    As a former teacher, anything that is disposable is best. Homemade food, gift cards, school supplies will all be used and won’t just sit around collecting dust like mugs, stuffed animals, etc. As an avid reader I also appreciated an inspiring or interesting book as a gift. And of course, letters or handmade cards from our kids are the best!

  24. I teach third grade, and I love it any time someone makes a donation to our class. You can look to see if their teachers are on, or you could go the Scholastic route. Even very small donations ($5) for gift cards to Office Max/Staples can go really far when the back-to-school sales come around in the fall! Your childrens’ teachers are lucky to have such supportive parents!


  25. Gift cards are ideal solutions! Quick, easy, and appreciated.

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