How to Produce Pro Results on an Education Budget

If you are like me, then you are trying to produce the best possible products with a shoestring budget.  My budget covers newspaper, yearbook, desktop publishing, photojournalism, broadcast and now web design.  Here are some tips on how to stretch your budget.

1.  Buy a good computer.  If your computers are doing  double duty or even triple duty (desktop pub., video editing (NLE), photoshop, etc.), then you need to get as good a machine as you can afford.  My current work horse is the Mac Mini with 1GB of RAM.   But that is going to change this year as the 17 inch flat panel iMac is now only about $150 more than the Mac Mini – and you get a flat panel display.  I hope to buy at least 2 if not 4 of them this year.

2.  Buy inexpensive, easy to use software.  The top of the line stuff is expensive and takes a long time to master.  We are using InDesign CS2, but are still using photoshop 7.0 that is several years old.  This year we will probably make the transition to Photoshop Elements.  The Price for Elements 4.0 is $90 a machine.  The price for CS3 is probably going to be anywhere from 3-4 times that, even as an upgrade.

3.  Go with Free when you can.  We edit using iMovie.  It comes free on every new Mac we buy.  I use iPhoto to sort and delete photos fresh from the camera.  It is also free.  There are tons of free software online from Open Office to solutions for scriptwriting, teleprompting and even desktop publishing and photo editing.

4.  Buy cheap cameras, but not junk.  Both in digital still cameras and DV cams, we are usually going with Canon.  I’ve bought and used all kinds of brands.  Panasonic and JVC are pretty good, but not as good as Canon.  Nikon and Sony are great, but costly.  Most other off brand items are junk.  Almost any brand starting with an S, that is not Sony is junk.  And I don’t like Sony because they don’t work well with Macs, and they don’t play nice with other software.  Most of my DV cameras are under $400 now.

5.  No mater what you think, until someone proves otherwise – stick with Word, Power Point and Excel.  Get a license for the whole suite and don’t upgrade it until it just won’t work with your new computers.

6.  Stop using film.  If you are still using film, you are wasting money.  If you are on a budget, buy 2-4 digital cameras you can afford and one really good digital SLR.  The money you will save on film and processing should pay for the cameras in 1-2 years.

7.  Reuse your video tape.  Buy a bulk eraser from B&H Video and reuse your DV tapes.  Use only brands you trust.  I like JVC tape better than Maxell or Panasonic.   Sometimes it is worth it to spend a little more on quality video tape, than to have a cheap tape get stuck in a $500 DV camera.

8.  Buy rechargeable AA and AAA batteries for your point and shoot cameras.  Keep some throw aways ready for those times the charger can’t keep up.   Energizer has a great new charger that works in 15 min. for 4 batteries.  I bought two last year.

9.   Learn to repair or upgrade your own machines.  Unless your IT department does it for you for free, then learn how to add RAM or swap out a hard drive or optical drive on your own.  Buy an inexpensive set of tools to keep in your classroom to make repairs.

10.  Use garage lights on your TV set.  We can’t afford expensive TV lights and don’t have a real TV grid anyway, so we use $15 garage lights with CFL bulbs.  Compact Fluorescent Bulbs are easier on energy and put out a nice soft light.  You will need to use twice as many lamps to light a scene, but they are a one time investment that should last for many years.  CFL lamps are supposed to last 10 years.  Finally, CFL bulbs are cool to the touch when they are turned on.  So they won’t heat up your set.

11.  Take advantage of everything your yearbook publisher offers for free.  If they give it away, get it.  Curriculum, handouts, croppers, rulers, layout sheets, etc. Many companies are happy to ship you a lot of free stuff.

12. Recycle:  I get all kinds of CDs and DVDs in the mail from companies trying to sell me stuff.  I ditch the disc, but not before recycling the case.  Next time I need to ship a CD or DVD, I already have a case.

I’m sure that some of my readers have more money saving ideas, post them here for everyone to read.

Mr. C



  1. This is a great list of suggestions, but I’m not sure that No. 7 is worth the money-saving potential. Reusing tapes increases the likelihood of dropped frames. Also, keeping tapes is the easiest archive system right now, because if you don’t keep the tapes you have to save your footage digitally. That takes up a lot of space!

    At my work, we buy the cheapest tapes in bulk (they end up being less than $2 each). We use them once then archive them. Remember, that’s still cheaper than the cost of film back in the day.

  2. We do keep and archive athletic, fine art and other special events, but for day in and day out interviews of students commenting on the topic of the day – I just don’t see that it is cost effective to archive stuff that is not always that interesting to begin with.

    Mr. C

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