School is starting in a couple of weeks—WOW. As usual, summer flew by and now it’s time to plan, plan, plan. School supplies, new clothes, backpacks, snacks…oh, and teacher appreciation gifts. While it’s not strictly necessary to gift your child's new teacher with something special, you may want to do it anyway. If so, these ideas will keep your child's teacher feeling appreciated—and your budget feeling healthy (especially if you have several teachers to thank).

First, a little history

The apple as a teacher appreciation gift has a fascinating past. Traditionally, families on the New American frontier who sent their kids to school were held responsible for doing their part to provide for frontier teachers' room and board. Since frontier teachers often had 50 or more kids in their little classrooms, a gift of even a single apple, egg, or ear of corn could do its part to ease the strain.

Today (thankfully) teacher gifts need not be quite so practical in nature. However, statistics tell us that 99.5% of teachers nationwide still spend some percentage of their own paychecks to fund in-class projects (an average of $485 per teacher per year, or $1.6 billion nationally). So teacher appreciation gifts are still very nice to give—and very much appreciated.

1. Starbucks (or Dunkin' Donuts) $5 gift card

Teachers—like parents—keep early hours. As a gift, caffeine is always warmly welcomed!

  • What to do: Visit your local Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts and load up a gift card with $5—just enough for a piping hot coffee and a tasty treat.

Note: Close to the start of each semester, sometimes you can even get a gift card with a teacher theme!

2. Donate from your home bookcase to the classroom library

If your child has a few favorite books that might be appropriate for in-class reading, consider donating them to your teacher's in-class library.

  • What to do: If your child doesn't want to part with the books she or he has at home, try Half Price Books online to get copies for just a dollar or two.

3. Your time

A simple donation of your time is technically free—and could really help your child's teacher start the school year off on an organized foot.

  • What to do: Volunteer to help with classroom setup or organization, come in regularly (once per week, once per month) to help for an hour with filing and administrative duties, or reading to the kids.

4. A handwritten thank you note

My mom taught for many years. My best friend of 20 years has taught for a decade. Many of my other friends teach. One thing I can say about teachers—they are (for the most part) both underpaid and under-appreciated.

  • What to do: Send a handwritten thank you note that describes in detail what you appreciate most about your child's teacher (even better, pop in a note from your child as well). I guarantee you it will be saved and treasured.

Note: To go even one better—although this is for later in the school year unless you already know your child’s teacher—put in a good word with your child's teacher's principal! It could mean a bonus, a raise, an award, or even just a warm and welcomed pat on the back for a hardworking teacher.

5. Coupons for school and classroom supplies

Even if you cannot afford (or simply don't want to invest in) a paid gift for your child's teacher(s), you can still put together a gift that uses your money saving skills and will help them save too!

  • What to do: Clip (or print) coupons for Staples, Office Max, Office Depot, Michaels, Hobby Lobby, Target, Walmart, and other places that offer coupons for classroom materials your child's teacher will likely purchase during the year.

Note: Another idea is to put aside any freebies you get—like BOGO pencils, crayons, or poster board. Then, at the beginning of the next school year, you can offer those supplies in a basket to your child's teacher. It doesn't cost you anything except time, and the teacher saves too!

6. Go in with other parents (or your kids if they are old enough) to buy a bigger gift

Here, by contributing a little each, you can get a lot of one thing your child's teacher will love.

  • What to do: By far the best and most practical gift is a gift card for something (and this is key) your child's teacher really needs. Avoid restaurants unless you know she or he likes them, but definitely consider bookstores, teacher supply stores, office supply stores, Amazon, or a prepaid MasterCard or Visa that the teacher can use on anything.

7. Consult the "teacher wish list"

Some schools permit teachers to compile a "wish list" of supplies and items that the school budget will not fund that are nevertheless desirable in the classroom.

  • What to do: Use your couponing and deal-finding skills to acquire an item from that list for $5 or less. I guarantee you, that teacher will remember your gift all year long!

8. Re-gift one of your own gift cards…or resell and buy a teacher-specific gift card

Finally, if you’re like most of us (A.K.A. me) you probably have at least one or a few gift cards lying around that you were given, but just haven't used yet. These make great gifts!

  • What to do: If budget prohibits hand-selecting a gift card, you have two options. One, you could re-gift a gift card you already have that you haven't yet used. Two, you could use a service like Gift Card Granny to sell back your less-desirable gift cards and then use your proceeds to buy a discounted gift card for your child's teacher—a win-win either way!