When I taught K-8 Art at a small private school, my budget was always, “Spend as little as possible”. But I found ways to make it work and give my students great art experiences despite the shortage of funding.
If you’re in a similar low-budget (or no-budget!) position, I hope some of these ideas will work for you, too.
Here are my 10 favorite ways to save money on art supplies for kids:
1. Buy quality materials
Just as the quality of artist grade supplies will vary, so does the quality of student grade supplies. Art materials are not all created equal.
Some student grade supplies simply aren’t worth buying. They don’t last as long or yield the same quality of results that others do. They will only frustrate students and rob them of the positive experience they could be having with their art.
One example of this is “washable” paints. They tend to contain less pigment, resulting in colors that are not as rich or vivid as their ‘regular’ counterparts. The term “washable” implies that the others don’t wash out, but I’ve never had a problem with that when accidents are treated quickly.
So before you buy a classroom set of any art supply, be sure to test it first for quality. It’s worth doing some research up front to be sure you’re getting materials that will last well and yield good results.
2. Work smaller
One option when you want to save money on art supplies is to create on a smaller scale. For example, you could give your students 9×12 paper for a painting instead of 12×18. Not only will your paper go twice as far, but it will take half as much paint (or whatever you’re using) to fill it.
If your students are working with clay, a smaller scale project will require less clay and glaze. And depending on how many students you have, it may require fewer firings if more pieces will fit in the kiln at one time.
You won’t always be able to “scale down” but it’s a good thing to keep in mind when your budget is tight.
3. Find creative ways to “stretch” your supplies to make them last
Magic Rub Erasers are a great example of this. You can use an X-acto knife to easily cut them in half, allowing a single box to go twice as far. Then print the word “ART” in large letters on both sides with a Sharpie. They’ll be less likely to accidentally “wander” off in someone’s pocket!
Speaking of Sharpies, they work great for outlining but will dry up quickly if used for filling in large areas. So instead, use an inexpensive chisel tip marker, or even black paint or ink, for filling in.
When your boxes of oil pastels start to have lots of broken pieces and missing colors, it’s time to purchase new sets. But save those broken pieces!
You can dump those sets of broken pieces into a larger box lid for kinders to share in their table groups. Using a lid will contain them while still making it possible for kids to “rifle through” and find the colors they want.
Kinders can be a little rough on supplies that they’re just learning to use, so this is a great way to give them practice with oil pastels while “protecting” your newer sets.
4. Limit options
Instead of stocking a dozen or more tempera colors in your supply cabinet, try offering students a “limited palette” to work with. A good place to start is with the primary colors (red, yellow, and blue) plus black and white.
You’ll be amazed by how much this will simplify your storage and save time on inventory, ordering, and class prep. When you’re not trying to keep a large variety of colors available, you won’t end up with bottles of paint that don’t get used.
Does this mean your students will be limited to creating simple paintings with only five colors that look just like everyone else’s colors? Absolutely not! This limited palette will actually free them to create an unlimited variety of interesting colors.
With a limited palette, your students can learn to mix their own colors and take their paintings to the next level. Try my Create Your Own Color Wheel and Mix 100 Colors resources in my TPT Store to build their color mixing confidence.
5. Start a wish list
Parents are often eager to help with supplies, but you’ll have to let them know what you need. You could create a Wish List on Amazon or in your class newsletter. Or you could send a note or email home ahead of when you need something specific for an upcoming project.
Maybe your students are going through wet wipes at a record pace. A parent might be happy to pick up a box for you on their next Costco trip. But they have to know you need them first!
When a parent’s schedule doesn’t allow them to volunteer in the classroom, donating supplies can be a great way for them to help. Most parents want to support what their kids are learning at school, so why not offer them that opportunity?
6. Hold a FUNdraiser
There are so many options for fundraisers that you can have fun getting creative with. A silent auction of collaborative art projects at Open House (or another widely attended event) can be super successful.
My Masterpiece Mosaics resource walks you through how to create a collaborative masterpiece that will generate both excitement and bidding wars!
Another art fundraiser you could do either schoolwide or in a single classroom is explained in my Houses of Hope TPT resource. Students feel a great deal of pride when they play a part in raising money for their own classroom, or another great cause.
Some print-on-demand companies specialize in printing kids’ artwork onto a variety of products which can also be used as a fundraiser. My personal favorite is Kids Kreations. You can read more about them in this post.
7. Shop wisely
Ask for teacher discounts at your local art supply store and wherever else you purchase supplies used in your classroom. Many larger stores have membership programs that offer coupons and discount codes.
Compare prices (in-store and online) at stores like Joann’s, Michael’s, and Hobby Lobby, as well as online stores like Discount School Supply. Join their mailing lists and watch for sales and clearance items, as well as store brands that may be heavily discounted.
Discount stores like Dollar Tree and WalMart are worth an occasional walk-thru and may surprise you with some great finds.
8. Buy high use items in bulk
Consider the supplies that you really use a lot of. It could be Sharpies, watercolor paper, construction paper, water-base markers, or anything that’s common to many of the projects in your classroom.
Whenever possible, these should be the supplies you look to purchase in bulk. Is there another teacher in your school (or group of teachers in your district) you could combine your order with?
For items like these, comparing prices at larger stores might surprise you. A little effort in this way can really pay off!
9. Try alternative materials
An occasional project using recycled materials or supplies found in nature can add an element of excitement while stretching your budget. Studying contemporary artists like Andy Goldsworthy or Louise Nevelson allows kids to be creative with non-traditional art materials.
10. Take good care of what you already have
Most adults take good care of their supplies, but do your students do the same? In my experience, many don’t… until they’re taught how to.
One example is basic paint brush care. Have you ever seen a paint brush that’s having a bad hair day?
That was a common sight when my kindergarten classes were first learning to paint with watercolors. But then I taught my students how to “prime” their paints with a little bit of water first and it made all the difference. You can read about it here, and get a FREE download of 3 helpful posters in my TPT Store.
Another place where I found room for improvement with my students (okay, it was a pet peeve!) is how they treated our erasers. Why is it so tempting for kids to poke holes in Magic Rub erasers with their pencil? Does anyone else’s students do this??
Fortunately, this problem has an easy fix. My students learned that when they did this, they lost the use of their eraser for the rest of that day. Simple and effective. It’s amazing what a motivator having an eraser to use in art class can be!
Take a good look at your supplies and see where they might be suffering from poor treatment. Then show your students a better way to care for those supplies. Once they know better, they can do better!
For parents wanting to provide art materials for their kids to use at home, there are even more options. These ideas may not be practical for teachers with large classes, but could be fun for parents and kids to do together.
Check out thrift stores and yard sales for new or lightly used supplies and other treasures. You may find some fun frames to repurpose or vintage papers for collage. Paintings or prints on canvases can be covered with gesso and painted over for a new life.
Give some of these ideas a try and see how far you can stretch your art supply budget!
an inspiring quote
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” ~Arthur Ashe
It’s easy to fall prey to thinking, “I could give my students such a great experience if we just had ________.” (You fill in the blank!) But few teachers ever feel like they have everything they could wish for in their classroom.
So instead of lamenting what you don’t have, first focus on all you can do with what you’ve got. After that you can get creative with the ideas above to add even more special experiences to your curriculum.