5 Tips to Stretch Your Art Room Budget

I get an average of $1.67 per student per year for my art budget. That isn’t much money when you figure it needs to cover all the projects for the whole year. In 14 years of teaching, I have discovered a few ways to make my $1.67 go a long, long way.

Here are 5 tips to stretch your art room budget.

stretch budget

1: Use technology when possible.

At my school, I have access to 3 iPad sets and 4 computer labs. By signing up to use them, I save myself money. For example, I haven’t bought mirrors for drawing portraits because I have students take selfies on the iPads instead. Another example is that I have my students start our color unit by creating color wheels on the computer; they are able to learn about and explore color, but I have no cost for materials. If you’d like to learn more about bringing technology into your art room, AOE’s iPads in the Art Room class would be a great bet.

2: Look for cheaper alternatives.

I would love for all 600 of my students to glaze their clay pieces, but since my budget doesn’t allow for that, I have to pull out other supplies. We use oil pastels with black paint, tempera paint with gloss varnish or watercolor paints. If your budget doesn’t have money for jewelry making supplies, use paper to create beads and pendants. If your budget doesn’t allow for clay, use paper mache. There is always a creative alternative!

3: Make expensive projects and supplies wait.

Select certain grade levels to use more expensive supplies with, like printing ink, canvases or colored Sharpies. There are projects that only my 6th graders get to do, which makes students really look forward to them. Limiting expensive supplies to smaller groups of students saves me money and makes some projects “a big deal” for students.

4: Ask for help and keep large investments separate.

After a few years of teaching, I realized the teacher before me had bought cheap brushes. Rather than fit the expense of new brushes into my budget, I asked my principal if he would buy me some. I had to wait until the following school year, but I was able to buy really nice brushes without impacting my budget. Principals sometimes have a bit of a cushion, but they won’t know you need it if you don’t ask!

5: Ask around town.

Our local printing shop once donated several thousand sheets of superior quality paper to the art department.  They were end cuts from a printing job and were 11” x 44” but, for free, I can cut paper.  When I wanted to create minecraft figures with my students, our local lumber yard was willing to cut up their scrap wood and donate it. If you receive a gift from a company in your community, make sure to thank them; it makes them more willing to donate in the future!

Armed with these simple strategies, you’ll be on your way to getting the art room you want with the budget you have!

How much money do you get per student? What are some ways you stretch it?

What’s one thing that you feel is worth investing in?



Jennifer Carlisle


Jen is a middle school art teacher from Norfolk, NE who loves exploring and teaching art through traditional and digital art mediums.


  • Toby

    Wow! I only get .37 cents per student. Then I have the occasional classroom teacher coming to borrow from me on top of that! That’s why in another article about setting up an area for classroom teachers to borrow supplies was not my favorite idea. I spend much of my time collecting things to use that cost nothing, I do get some donations and friends help me collect things over the year. It takes more than just me to find and gather stuff that can be used in a creative way to fulfill our curriculum. AND I’m in a large district…with no funds! :(

    • Jennifer Carlisle

      .37 cents is tough… In the past I have set up donation places at the end of the school year and students put their left over pencils, crayons, markers, glue, etc and I was able to use them to start the next school year. It always amazes me what kids will throw away. You could also use these donations to stock a communal art supply closet. Your students are lucky to have someone willing to work hard to provide them with a great art education.

  • Tara Brenno

    I am very spoiled I get $15 per student. I can order anything I want and have plenty to share with the rest of the staff.

  • Abby

    I get a set amount per year. Our school has a silent auction for a fundraiser at christmas, and I have my students make ornaments to sell. I just set out a jar and tell them the price is a donation of their choosing. It’s always worked out great. The best way I have found to stretch the $$ is to submit an order form/wish list to my supplier (School Specialty) and the district sales rep will give me a price quote. It’s always a lot lower than the catalog prices!

    • Jennifer Carlisle

      Abby, I totally forgot to include asking for a quote when ordering. Thanks for sharing. I order through Nasco and every year they will give a 9-12% reduction in my total bill just for asking for a quote before ordering. It helps a TON!

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