BlueDollarTeachers face a barrage of information when they are considering what resources to spend those valued yet limited dollars on. For teachers, like doctors, the easy part of a buying decision is why. Teachers know why they need something and what they intend to do with the resource. However it is the logistical questions that can be overwhelming.

What to buy?

How many?

Who from?

How much?


This is where Caveat Emptor or Buyer Beware becomes a factor. The amount of information can be overwhelming. E-mail solicitations, paper catalogues, web-sites and trade shows ram thousands of products and ideas at teachers every day. How do you really know what the best value for your classroom is? What products will do what you want them to do in your classroom at the best possible value?

The key here is defining "best value".  Generally, in purchasing terms, "best value" is defined as getting the right product, at the right price at the right time. Many factors come into play when defining "right".

Is something that arrives the next day but breaks within a week best value? Is something that takes 6 weeks to get to you best value? It could be if you have planned ahead and place your order well ahead of when you actually need it.

What if the product doesn't do what you expected it to? It may be inexpensive, but is it cheap as well? Is it safe for kids?

What will you pay? Will you pay catalogue list price? What is the difference between wholesale and discounted? What is the price discounted from? Was it a contracted price?

Will you get an invoice with unexpected shipping and handling costs? Will it be shipped the most efficient and cost effective way for you rather than for the supplier.

Did you have an opportunity to test drive the item before you bought it? What is the supplier's support system? Do they have a local service centre? Were all suppliers of that product given an opportunity to offer a price (e.g. competition)How about sustainability and the environment? Can you reduce your carbon footprint by buying something locally as opposed to having it shipped across the country on a truck or plane that is guzzling fossil fuel as it goes? Does the product meet any environmental certifications such as Greenguard or Energy Star?

There are millions of children working in sweat shops around the world. Can you drill back as far in the supply chain as possible to see how and where the items you want in your classroom were made and by whom?

There are many questions. And maybe twice as many answers. 

At , we caution teachers to take the time to really think through their decision to buy something. Try not to be overly impressed with glossy catalogues, "last minute sales", chatty salesmen or "one time only pricing".

We recommend that you take the following steps before making that buying decision. We consider all of these steps important and therefore they are not ranked in order.

1.       Make sure that the item is safe for use by students and teachers.

2.       Make sure that the item will function in the manner that you want it to. Not in the manner that the supplier says it will. There may be a difference!

3.       Always ask for public sector or educational pricing.

4.       Obtain multiple quotes and always compare apples to apples when comparing prices.

5.       Find out if there are shipping and handling charges and get a firm quote on how much the charges will be. Avoid allowing suppliers to give you estimated shipping charges or percentage quotes.

6.       Catalogue pricing can be twice as much as contract pricing and delivery is usually extra.

7.       Try to test drive the real thing rather than be seduced by a glossy photo.

8.       When budgeting, try to plan your purchases over a period of time to ensure that you have enough money for your budget period. Save a little for emergency purchases or bulk buying opportunities.

9.       If your school is part of a large School District with central purchasing, consider contracts that are in place already. The work has been done for you, pricing is in place, delivery costs have been addressed and products may have already been tested for quality, safety, compatibility, practicality, functionality and environmental standards.

10      How is the item being shipped? How far? Where was it manufactured and by whom?

11.    Check the product lists and bundles available at for ideas on what is recommended for numerous school and classroom needs.

JamieJames Dobbin is President of The Classroom Solution, Inc.
As a Certified Public Purchasing Officer with 35 years in purchasing and supply, the most recent 23 years in the K-12 environment, James brings a wealth of knowledge to schools and teachers needing assistance in making school purchasing decisions. Understanding that teachers spend a considerable amount of their own time and money buying resources for their classrooms, James created with the desire to reach out to and help as many teachers as possible to find simple and cost effective buying solutions to help enhance the learning experience in their classrooms.