Physical Space

4 Big Cost-Saving Considerations to Make Your Art Budget Work Smarter

cardboard portrait

Are you ready to use up funds for this school year, or are you already strategizing your budget for next fall? Art teachers have to be extra crafty when spending our precious allotments (if we even have them!) since no art room ever suffered from too much funding. Over time, we have learned to become masters of beautifully cutting corners, making supplies do double or even triple-duty, and orchestrating hundreds of art projects on a dime.

In the spirit of putting your precious cash where it’s needed most and focusing on creative ways to obtain everything else, read on for cost-saving ideas to stock your art room.

apple and coins

For more ways to save money in the art room, check out our YouTube series, Art Room Hacks, along with even more hacks here.

1. Buy the good scissors.

When fellow art teachers tell you to “buy the good scissors,” at first, you are probably totally on board! Who doesn’t want the good scissors? Then, you do the calculations and immediately start searching for the ones that are half the price because you need a whole class set, and they are way too expensive to justify. From someone who has done the same thing—just buy the good scissors. It is better to meticulously take care of the good scissors and save money in the long run than to buy cheap replacement scissors every few months.


As a general rule, it’s a safe bet to spend good money on your non-consumables because they will last you a long time if you keep track of them, keep them clean, and store them properly. Check out our Art Room Hacks series on YouTube for ideas! Likewise, it is also sound advice to build your inventory slowly and prioritize your needs.

Besides scissors, a few other non-consumables you should consider investing in over time include:

  • Paper cutter or “guillotine”
  • Craft knives
  • Linoleum cutters
  • Electric pencil sharpener
  • Rulers
  • Self-portrait mirrors
  • Plastic mask forms

Conversely, some items are a relative luxury. Here are some items you can wait to purchase or forget altogether in favor of a free, upcycled, or DIY option:

  • Forget plastic paint palettes and replace them with upcycled plastic yogurt lids or plastic plates.
  • Forget paper organizer boxes and replace them with DIY priority mailers or pizza or cereal boxes taped together.
  • Forget small furniture items and replace them with free Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace listings.
  • Forget bead boxes and replace them with upcycled egg cartons.

2. Stretch your supplies!

With some creative thinking like The Arty Teacher, you can ensure your current inventory goes the extra mile. Distance learning has taught us to be resourceful and clever. Why not replicate our favorite distance lessons that use everyday items for in-person learning?

These 4 fun, no-cost ideas allow you to stretch your supplies and are packed with opportunities for originality.

1. Found Object Color Wheel

You can save a significant amount of paint by creating a color wheel with found objects. Instead of practicing color mixing, challenge students’ observation skills by asking them to collect items for a color wheel “self-portrait.” Students use the things they gather to tell a story about them to add a new layer of depth to this timeless project. You can also add a written component to meet grade-level literacy objectives.

found object color wheel

2. Kimmy Cantrell Inspired Cardboard Faces

When you order supplies, break down all of your boxes so your students can proudly create Cantrell-inspired portraits. Students adore assembling layers of sculptural pieces to focus on organic and geometric shapes, bold color, and create visual texture.

cardboard portrait

For more innovative uses with this versatile material, check out An Art Teacher’s Love Letter to Cardboard: 12 Uses for Cardboard.

3. Scavenger Hunt Art Replicas

This fun project is inspired by the #GettyMuseumChallenge and is a hit with students. They can work independently or in teams to scavenge for materials at school to replicate famous historical artworks. You may choose to put a local spin on your challenge by asking students to recreate works of art from a nearby museum. Add a fun twist with material constraints by only using clothing, food, plant material, or office supplies.

getty challenge

4. Digital Art and Photography

Creating digital art has never been easier if you have access to technology. From digital visual journaling in Google Slides and creating posters in Canva to digital illustrating in Pixlr, you can teach powerful, skill-building lessons without using any traditional supplies! Students can apply their digital literacy skills by interacting with various platforms and mastering their essential functions.

We have already covered a lot of ground by thinking about investing in quality non-consumables, considering changing out some items that are a luxury for their free counterparts, and learning ways to stretch our current supplies. Next, let’s talk about navigating the tricky parts of asking for what we still need.

3. Call on donors.

Are you reluctant to ask for donations? If it’s your first time, it can feel intimidating. You may even wonder where to start. The truth is, many folks are happy to give, and they just need an invitation. (Check out this article to grab a template letter!) As you begin receiving funds or items from a wish list, your confidence will grow, and you will soon realize that asking can never hurt. In the worst-case scenario, you will not receive anything and will be right where you started—except with some wisdom about what didn’t work.

These are my top 3 tips to successfully connect with donors:

1. Stay in touch with families.

Share your art room newsletter and wishlist several times throughout the school year. Make sure you modify it as your needs change, and you receive supplies. Also, consider how the current season affects your needs. For example, the beginning of the school year is a great time to ask for classroom basics because stores are stocked with the essentials. Early December is prime time to remind families to send their extra gift wrap and tissue paper.

If you are at a school with a range of incomes and your district’s policy allows, mention that families can support students with monetary donations as an alternative to donating items or purchasing from a wishlist.

2. Clean out neglected school closets.

Put a call out to your colleagues and ask your administrators where they stash the extra supplies. Sometimes closets go untouched for years because no one wants to dig through and organize them, or they haven’t had the time. Be the person who has the time to take a look! You never know what you will find.

Read this article for great tips to guide your spring cleaning!

3. Create a project on a fundraising website.

Platforms like Donor’s Choose and this article walk you step by step through the process of posting a project to raise money for your classroom. The online art gallery Artsonia has a component that fundraises by selling keepsakes that many schools use yearly. Ask if your school has already set up accounts with specific online fundraisers that may be familiar for families.

donor screenshot

4. Reach out to local home improvement stores.

Our list wouldn’t be complete without stopping in your local home improvement store. Ask if they are willing to donate specific items. Many stores often save scraps for teachers and are happy to give you their leftover odds and ends.

Keep a lookout for the following:

  • Paint returns are often sold at a heavily discounted price.
  • Paint samples are free swatches useful for collage (try the Paint Swatch Architecture Lesson in FLEX Curriculum), labels, decor, or a color matching challenge.
  • Paint stir sticks can be used as a straight edge, a clever mount for artwork (like in the Displaying Elementary Art Pack in PRO Learning), or stirring paint.
  • Plexi scraps are perfect as an inking plate for printmaking or monoprinting. They even make an exciting surface for acrylic painting.
  • Wood and PVC pipe scraps are perfect for small sculptural projects.

plant in coins

Make your money work smarter!

Art teachers face the annual problem of making our small budgets work for many students. When it comes to stocking your art room, being resourceful truly pays off. Finding ways to connect with your community, slowly building your inventory of quality tools, learning how to create effective fundraising campaigns, and modifying lesson ideas can help make the dollars you choose to spend work smarter.

For even more insight, check out the Pack, Running an Art Room on a Minimal Budget in PRO Learning.

What are some ways you have learned to save money in the art room?

Which places do you go to for free art supplies?

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Andrea Wlodarczyk

Andrea Wlodarczyk, a former middle school art educator, is a former AOEU Writer. She is a deep believer that the art room can be a brave space for students to collaborate across cultures, languages, academics, and socioeconomics and celebrate self-expression and diversity through community.

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