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Art teachers everywhere can identify with the “penny-pinching blues.” It seems every year art budgets are cut. Teachers have to beg, borrow, and get really creative to ensure students have enough quality supplies to last the year. In this episode, Andrew brings up broad strategies for advocating for (and using!) your budget while Tim shares some great classroom hacks to help teachers get the biggest bang for their buck. Listen up and learn how to budget like a boss!
Andrew and Tim share some practical tips and tricks for stretching that art budget (14:15). These tips are especially relevant to new teachers or teachers transferring to a new building, Next, Tim and Andrew discuss some common mistakes in budgeting and ordering supplies (19:00). Finally, the guys go out on a limb to discuss how budgeting like a boss can actually add legitimacy to an art program as an advocacy piece (26:00).
Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This shows produced by, The Art of Education and I’m your host, Andrew McCormick.
I know we can all identify with the penny-pinching blues in the classroom. It’s a story as old as time itself. Every single year, it seems like we, as art teachers, we see our budgets cut. We’ve got to get out there and beg, borrow, cheat, and steal … Well, okay, I hope you guys aren’t resorting to cheating and stealing, but we’ve got to get out there and be creative to ensure that we’ve got enough quality supplies to last our students throughout the whole year. Whether its hitting up the local stores for some free brown paper bags to draw on or some Styrofoam trays to print with. We’ve all done that one. Maybe, it’s just having an open door policy for all sorts of free junk that our students parents can give us. We’re always looking for ways to stretch that budget.
In today’s episode, I’ll be bringing on my good friend, and frequent Art Ed Radio collaborator, Tim Bogatz to talk all things dinero.
Right off the top, I know that Tim is going to have a ton of great practical tips for stretching and planning on how to save that money so I don’t want to ramble on too much as I’m prone to do.
Lets get right into some specifics. Number one, I want to talk about budgeting tips, tricks, hacks and just general guide lines on how to get the biggest bang for your buck. Number two, I want to talk just briefly about some common mistakes in budgeting and ordering supplies that we, as teachers, make. Especially, if you’re a new teacher out there. Number three, I want to take a weird little side tangent on how budgeting like a boss can actually add some legitimacy to our programs. It’s actually an advocacy piece.
First, I want to start with some guidelines that I’ve learned to live by. Spend it all. Use it or lose it. If you have a budget and you are constantly leaving money on the table, you’re administrator is just going to say next year that your budget can be easily cut. You’ve got to ask for stuff, big stuff, every single year. Fill out the requisition forms, the big ticket items, the special purchases. Do that every single year, even if you’re convinced you’re not going to get it. Doing this, will show your administration team that you’re serious about your program and you’re serious about getting that new shiny Raku Kiln or linoleum press. Just do it. I mean, what’s the worst thing that can happen, they say no?
Another little tip that served me well over the past couple years is, keep a running log. Just a little clip board with some paper all year so when things run out, or maybe you forgot to buy something, you can just really quick, jot those things down so that when you go to order supplies and materials for the upcoming year, you can look at that cheat sheet and say, boy, we ran out of this, or I didn’t buy this, or even, I bought this and it was complete garbage, don’t ever buy this again. Those little notes to yourself throughout the year will really help you maximize your spending potential for that budget, the following year.
Finally, find a deal with a company that you know you spend a ton of money with, and just ask them and tell them, “Hey, if you want to keep my business, lets start working out a deal here. You know how I’m going to be spending a lot of money.” Ask them for a big discount, you know, 10 percent off, free shipping, 20 percent off of every order. Those big companies are apt to do that to keep your business and to keep you happy. Every year, I budget to spend all of my money and then I get a 20 percent discount and I actually keep that money set aside for all the little things that pop up throughout the year. Things that I can go locally to go buy it, like a retail store, or like a home improvement store.
I want to switch gears here a little bit and I want to talk about some of the common mistakes that I’ve made in budgeting and I know other people have made, too. Right off the top, ordering way too much of a material that I know is going to go bad. It’s got a finite shelf life. Think, your paints, think your inks, things that you just know are going to get stinky and funky after a couple years. Why on earth would you just buy gallons and gallons of this stuff? Another really common mistake that a lot of people make is not paying attention to the description. You thought you were buying 12 of something, and you actually bought 12 cases of something. That happens. It’s not the end of the world. Hopefully, you can find a way to maybe return it to the company, maybe share it with other schools in the district, maybe work out a little barter system. Really, I try to slow down. I try to double check my order to make sure that I’m not buying 64 cases of something that I won’t be able to use.
The other big mistake that I’ve had to learn the hard way, is that ordering cheap stuff, it’s often cheap because it’s substandard quality. Your students work and their satisfaction and even their comfort and frustration levels may be affected by using some just really crappy material. That’s one of those things that as you’ve been budgeting and ordering for a few years, you know, okay, this is inexpensive but still, quality and this is inexpensive and it is just pure garbage. I’m going to stay away and I’m actually going to invest more money in some better quality materials.
Finally, this is a weird little mistake that it really didn’t dawn on me until a year or two ago. That’s the great tubes versus jars debate. Now, I think in theory, it’s great to think that your students are always going to scrap back all that extra paint, all that extra printmaking ink, into those big old jars, but those large jars, they really invite students to just crack them open and use them right as they are. Just paint straight out of that big old jar. They contaminate the paint, and then it’s, so long white, so long yellow, because I’ve got other stuff junked up in them. I’ve actually found that using the jars while maybe at the end of the period, they can’t scrape it back, were not contaminating and wasting as much paint in the long run. That’s one of those things that maybe is a little bit unique to me but I definitely have seen that buying the jars is definitely the way to go.
Finally, I want to talk about advocacy and I think this goes back to that first idea. The use it or lose it mantra. If you don’t speak up, your program and you are actually pretty easy for other people to devalue. My mom always told me that the squeaky wheel always gets the grease and she’s right. She was an educator as well, a pretty smart lady. Shout out to my mom there. It’s not whining, it’s not bragging. If you need something, more money, more material, ask for it. Use up all your money, every year and then figure out a way to ask for more money. Whether it’s grants, a go fund me account, your PTA funds, do more cool stuff. Then, you’ve got to show that off. Say, thank you to those groups and people that made all that cool stuff possible. It’s just a really great advocacy piece.
As we’re talking here about how to tame the budget madness and budget like a boss, and you’re saying to yourself, “I just, I really could use some more tips and tricks on organization and streamlining practices in my classroom, practices like purchasing supplies every year” then, I think you would really benefit from checking out AOE’s courses, Managing the Art Room and Designing your Art Curriculum. Managing the Art Room is a two credit course, while the curriculum course is three credits. They both begin at the first of the month and that’s right around the corner. What are you waiting for? Get on it already. Head on over to theartofed.com and check out these courses and many more under the courses tab.
Now, since we’re talking budgeting here, lets bring on the main penny-pincher himself, Tim Bogatz. All right Tim, thanks for joining tonight, man. How are you doing?
Tim: I am doing well. I am excited to talk money and budgeting like a boss. Lets do this.
Andrew: Right off the bat, I want to ask you, two separate tracks of thought that I see or think about when I think budget. Do you buy just what you specifically think you’re going to need, per project, per grade, per class? Do you just buy like a bunch of junk that you know you’re going to go through?
Tim: Oh man, that’s a good question, because I do both. There’s the planning side of me that is like, we need this, this, this for these projects and then there’s the other side of me that is like, this looks really fun. Oh, we haven’t done this in a few years. I need to try this. You want to have all the supplies out there because you and I have talked before about how we change projects every year. What percentage of our projects switch up from year to year, it’s a huge percentage. You can’t necessarily budget for that if you don’t know what you’re going to do. Obviously, if you have that curriculum that’s set for you and you have specific things that you need to teach every year, you can order as it applies to those things. If you have a little bit more autonomy and a little bit more freedom and you can do basically whatever you want, there are so many different things that you need to buy just so they’re available, depending on when inspiration strikes and what you’re going to do. You need to go through the catalog or wherever you order from and say, “Oh, this would be great to try. Oh, we need to have some of these on hand” just so you are ready, when it comes time to try those new projects.
Andrew: Give me, because I agree. I do the same. I like to do … Okay, I know I’m going to use this, this and this for this project but then it’s also, god, I know I just … I always end up going through a bunch of that, especially being on a the choice spectrum, you don’t know how much you’re going to use but you know you’re going to use enough so you better cover it. What are those things that you find you always are just like, can’t get enough of it. I’m always just going to buy a bunch of it. Maybe something that’s weird and unusual that you wouldn’t think art teachers would normally buy a bunch of.
Tim: For me, we do a lot of colored pencil work in my classes. You always need a bunch of extra black, a bunch of extra white, and a bunch of those colorless blenders that blend colored pencils together. I can never have enough of those. I love drawing materials, like those huge graphite crayons and blending sticks and really nice drawing pencils. I can never get enough of those and erasers, too. I feel like keeping track of erasers is like the bane of art teachers existence. You can never have enough erasers.
Andrew: See, mine’s a little different. Mine’s always a little bit more construction oriented. I buy like a thousand rolls of tape over a year. Packing tape, duct tapes, masking tape … Can never get too much of that stuff. Even … I set aside a little bit of my budget just to go to a big box Target, or Walmart or something for aluminum foil, saran wrap, and all that junk.
Tim: I always try and get cardboard, as much cardboard as I can get and as many newspapers that I can get, just because they’re used for so many different things. We paint on cardboard, we build with cardboard, we use newspaper for backgrounds and for armatures and for sculpture itself. Those are things where I’m always trying to collect more cardboard and more newspaper and get donations of it and just … I can never get enough of either of those things.
Andrew: That brings me to a point I want to ask you about, because there’s pros and cons to that. The freebies, the scavenged stuff, the collecting it from the community. Is that stuff worth it? Is it a total budget saver, or can it be like a storage nightmare and a pain in your butt to have all that stuff?
Tim: It can definitely be a pain in the butt, but I have never said no to a donation. Just because I’m afraid that eventually, donations will dry up, where somebody will be like, “Oh, he didn’t want that. Oh, he didn’t want that.” Then, all of a sudden, stuffs going to quit showing up. I always say, yes. Can you use this? Do you want this? Maybe I will, maybe I won’t but I like having those things on hand. I think it’s really cool when you get freebies and just say, “Hey, here’s a thousand toilet paper rolls.” Then, you have to decide, what am I going to do with a thousand toilet paper rolls? Maybe you come up with a really good sculpture for it, or maybe they just go straight to the recycling bin, but I always say, yes just because there is that fear in the back of my mind that if I don’t except these, people are going to not want to give me more stuff. I’m always collecting.
Andrew: Tim, my heart just grew like two sizes. I think you’re a closet hoarder here. I thought it was just me. I think we both got a little bit of a hoarding in us. That’s awesome.
Tim: Well, I do have to have spots to put it so its out of the way so we can’t see it. It’s not over taking my room by any means. I don’t deal well with that.
Andrew: Oh okay. Yes, my rooms a lot worse than that. It’s like, okay, step over that pile of junk and you see that pile of junk? It’s under that one.
Tim: I can see that. If I … Imagining your personality and your classroom, that’s absolutely what I visualize.
Andrew: One of these days, I’m going to have to have you over and just you know … It’s crazy sometimes but crazy good. This gets me also thinking about, both of us have been teaching for a while. What are some of your biggest budgeting hacks? Things that you’ve developed over the years, little tips and tricks to stretch that money to go even further.
Tim: I have a couple that I like here. Number one, this is good because it’s political season. Those political yard signs, I can never get enough. As soon as the elections over, I drive around and take down as many political signs as I can. Those are the most beautiful surfaces to paint on. Slap some Gesso right on there, you can do some amazing stuff with those.
Andrew: No wait, you do ask permission first, right?
Tim: No, just take the ones that are on public places but wait until the elections over. Then, you’re doing work for people. You’re cleaning up for them. No big deal. I just grab my wife’s car, which is a little bigger than mine and just fill the back with political signs. Then, I have painting surfaces for years to come.
Andrew: That’s awesome. Just make sure you double check your calendar and don’t get it the week before and then have people screaming at you from your front porch or something.
Tim: Two more things. Both related to painting because my budget got cut by a huge amount just a couple years ago. I’ve had to get creative when it comes to things. First thing, with paint brushes. We always go through a ton of paint brushes and I realized, hey, we barely have enough for everyone and I couldn’t just set out the brushes in case they didn’t get washed or in case they disappear which always seems to happen. What I did was, I gave every kid three brushes, every kid in my painting class, they got three brushes and I said, “These are yours for the year. You don’t get anymore.” They’re responsible for keeping track of them, they’re responsible for washing them and if they lose them, if they don’t wash them out, they don’t have any paint brushes for the rest of the year. That has been really, really effective where I have just a specific amount that go out at the beginning of the semester, beginning of the year, and they keep them for the rest of the year. We’ve had so few brushes go missing and so few brushes get ruined. Giving kids that responsibility has been a huge help.
The other little hack for painting is, I couldn’t order those lovely little white palettes because we didn’t have enough money for those. What I did, I don’t even know where this idea came from, just maybe a stroke of genius for just a second, as rare as that might be for me, but we got all of the discarded books from the school library and I brought them in to use as palettes. They’re actually double use. You can put your paint right on top of the book, right on the cover, cover it with your saran wrap, we can use it day after day, or if you just have one days worth of paint, just put it right on the pages on the paper and as soon as your done, just tear that page out of the book, throw it away and you’re good to go. Just give every kid a discarded book at the beginning of the year and that is their palette for the year as well. That has saved me a ton of money on brushes, palettes, paints, all that kind of stuff.
Andrew: The discarded book as a palette, I’m kind of speechless. That’s amazing. I would’ve never thought of that. Every year, our library in our building is boxing up some books that we don’t want anymore-
Tim: Yes you do. You do want those, Andrew. Go grab them.
Andrew: I don’t know if I have room dude. I would have to move some piles around.
Tim: I always show that to my kids. Guys, here’s a book, here’s how we’re going to use it. They are just sort of speechless for a minute and they’re just like, “Whoa, that’s really brilliant.” It’s not that brilliant but it is really effective. If you can get your hands on it, go for it.
Andrew: You know what I like about it? I just witnessed this the other day, I mean, this morning. I saw it this morning. I have these pretty big size yogurt cups and they’re all uniform. I found a bunch of them and kids think that you can put paint in that so they just put a massive amount of paint in these things. Its like, “No! That’s for the water! The water goes in there. You use the palettes for the paint.” Even with palettes, they fill it up way too full. Using the book idea, I mean, kids aren’t going fill up one page of the book with all that much paint because it’s going to run all over the place. You’ve almost invested this way to self regulate, even how much paint they get out per day. You’re probably wasting a lot less.
Tim: It has worked out really well.
Andrew: That’s really awesome. Lets flip this script now from successes and things that you stumbled across that are awesome, to what are some laughable mistakes you made and maybe think early on with budgeting, things that would’ve arrive, things that went poorly when you were buying supplies.
Tim: I think it really comes down to everyone makes mistakes when it comes to budgeting. Sometimes, they’re just because you don’t know what you’re doing, sometimes you just overlook some things. At the beginning when I was first teaching, I’m like, “Oh, I want to try out these 75 different color’s of glaze.” God, what a waste, you can limit the power a little bit and you just have this huge waste of money but you only ordered 2 of each bottle. As soon as 6 pots get glazed, kids want more of that glaze. They’re like, “Oh, no”, but we have these other 70 colors that you could try and it really just doesn’t work out that well. One thing that happened last year, my colleague was in charge of ordering this and she meant to order 24 hand held pencil sharpeners and she accidentally order 24 boxes of 24 handheld pencil sharpeners. There are 500 … What is that? 576, I think pencil sharpeners, just sitting around the art room. We have pencil sharpeners for decades.
Andrew: You need to make some, found object sculptures with these pencil sharpeners. Just get rid of them or something.
Tim: What about you? What mistakes are you making when it comes to budgeting?
Andrew: Oh man. You know, the reason I laugh at that is because I’ve don’t that mistake so many times where you’re maybe going to fast or something and you just don’t read the fine print well enough. Just last year, I thought I was getting four cords of fire orange low temp glaze and I got four gallons of it. Its like, I don’t have four gallons of anything let alone this very specific bright orange glaze. I’ve made that mistake before where it’s like, I bought way too much of this. Sometimes, because I slip up on my inventory, its like, oh yeah, I need six more cartons of plaster gauze. I just found four cartons of plaster gauze that I didn’t use last year.
Luckily, our district has been really good about me pushing that off onto some of the elementary teachers who many have less of a budget. I’m always sharing stuff that I don’t need or I have too much of. We have a barter system going on. I’ll give you some red paint for some of that glaze and that’s been one way to get around that mistake. That’s usually the big one that I do, just not paying close enough attention to those numbers. I think, early on, like you said, you’d buy 70 different varieties of glaze. I think the thing I would do is every year, it’s buying way too much stuff that then, is going to sit and then go bad. Some of that acrylic paint and some of that stuff, it’s got a shelf life and-
Tim: Oh yeah, it can start to smell really, really bad.
Andrew: Yeah, I mean, to have a better sense of, what do I realistically need to replace this year, versus, I’m stocking up for the Armageddon and I’m having all the paint in the world. That was a mistake I made because I’m like, well, I’ve got all this money. I would just buy too much of stuff that would then go bad. A lot of teachers do get into the system where they stock up on one material. If you’re going to do that, I mean, paper really doesn’t go bad, unless you’re talking decades and it starts to get low. There’s some of those things like your tools, your linoleum cutters, your brayer, that sort of stuff, but a lot of the consumables really does have a shelf life and you kind of need to watch that.
Tim: I think it is something to be careful of and like you said, those tools, those are worth investing in, those are worth getting plenty of, but yeah, you need to watch it. I’m never going to go through 80 bottles of paint even if it is the beautiful fire orange like your glazes. You do need to keep track of how much you use. I’ve noticed over the years, how I use a lot more white paint because apparently kids love tints of everything. You kind of need to adjust your ordering as it goes. Sometimes that can take a couple years to figure out exactly how much you can do, but once you get on top of that, it really is worth while to try and get specific with how much you’re going to use of any of those consumables.
Andrew: Another big mistake that I bet people come up with … This goes back to two different ways of thinking about it. Inexpensive materials. Do you think that they are just a good bargain or do you often get what you pay for and now you’ve bought a bunch of this substandard junk, thinking that you were going to save a few bucks? What’s been your experience with that?
Tim: I hate cheap materials. Part of that is I’m very big into Montessori education and big part of Montessori is giving kids quality materials to work with. That’s sort of what started with me but then, I realized when I have these high schoolers that are going for scholarships, going for AP credit and all of this so I can’t give them crayola colored pencils. You need to find quality materials so kids can create quality work. With elementary, back then, it wasn’t that big of a deal but when I moved to high school, I really focused on quality materials and I would rather have fewer of something that is high quality than just a plethora of cheap crap that makes it very difficult to create good work.
Andrew: You know, I think it’s … I think each teacher is going to discover with what materials they feel like they can get lesser quality stuff and still be okay. Then, there’s some stuff where it’s like, no, I’m like … I mean, you end up getting like brand loyalty, because you realize, you sometimes get what you pay for with the cheaper stuff. I want to ask you one last question and this one might be a little tough but this conversation is just really practical. I want you to think about how budgeting and budgeting well actually, in a weird way, lends itself to advocacy. Using up your budget, showing that you need this money. This is a pretty serious thing. If you do a poor job of budgeting, your kids art work and your kids program is going to suffer. I know this is a big set up but do you have any mantras or guidelines that have guided you on having a successful budget plan every single year? Some take away tips that we’ve got-
Tim: Oh, I think, like I said, it comes with experience to figure out exactly what you’re going to need, what you’re going to order. Every once in a while, I try and talk my administrators in to, I need extra money for this, I need extra money for that. Number one, don’t be afraid to fight for that. Always try and go for something big. If you get shot down, you get shot down, it’s whatever. If you can get something extra, or get something really, really cool for your kids, then that’s awesome. Once that happens, always let the administrators know that you’ve put it to good use. Show them the work that you’ve created with that, like, “Hey, remember last year, when I wanted to spend 200 bucks on that? This is what we’ve created out of it. This is what our kids have learned.” Make sure that you can justify what you’re doing with that money and be willing to show administrators, here’s where money is going and this is the work we’re creating with it. If you can show good quality work that comes from the money that’s being spent, then, that reflects really well on your program.
Andrew: Really well put. Mine really follow along the same lines that, I always tell people, “Spend it, or lose it.” If you have a budget of 4,000 dollars, and you repeatedly are spending 3,000, your administrators going to say, “Huh, I guess they only need 3,000.” You better spend every penny of that money to show that you’re doing quality work. The other one is, I’ve always said, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Sometimes, you just have to be like, I need more money. I need more stuff. Otherwise, you’re not going to get it. That goes to what you’re saying about really speaking up for yourself.
Tim: Yeah, never be afraid to ask.
Andrew: What’s the worst they can do, say no, right?
Andrew: Well, hey, man. Thanks for the good tips and tricks. I’m going to go get some abandoned books and start painting with them.
Tim: That’s awesome, good luck with that. Sounds good.
Andrew: All right. Thanks dude. There you have it folks. Get out there and get some junky books and save that money on buying palettes. Seriously though, Tim had so many great ideas and resources for how to budget and save. For real, get out into your classroom and go take an honest inventory of what you need, what you have deficiencies in with your materials. Even do an inventory on how you are wasteful with your materials. Think about what you can get for free. What can’t you live without and then make a plan and keep track of how much money you’ve got and how you’re going to start spending it. What are you going to do then to take it to the next level and even start thinking about how you’re budgeting your money and your purchasing power, is actually an advocacy tool for your program. Don’t forget, be the squeaky wheel.
Art Ed Radio is developed, produced, and supported by The Art of Education with audio engineering by Michael Crocker. If you want to support the show, and you enjoy what we’re doing, please head on over to iTunes and you can subscribe and leave some comments or even write a review. New episodes of Art Ed Radio are released every Tuesday and additional content can be found under the podcast tab, on theartofed.com. Thanks for listening.