Do Art Teachers Spend Too Much Out of their Own Pocket?

I am cheap. 

Let me explain….

Every year at our tax appointment, the “Tax Man” gets to the portion of the appointment where he says “Oh you are a teacher! Tell me how much money you spend out of your own pocket on your classroom supplies. You know, you can deduct this from your taxes.”  Every year I stare at him and say, “Um… a few dollars, maybe.”  He looks perplexed and goes on to tell me how every other teacher deducts the max amount they can, because they are always buying things out of their own pocket for their classrooms.  Not me.

Maybe I am just cheap?

Frugal sounds better…


Ok, maybe I am just smart… or a tightwad :)

To be honest, I find it difficult to spend personal money on my job.  Instead, I find ways to use what I already have, secure other resources, ask for donations, do a fundraiser or just go without.  In fact, I have not purchased crayons, markers, colored pencils or glue in my art room since implementing this strategy.  I don’t think it’s fair to my family or myself to spend all kinds of extra of OUR hard earned money on my profession.  How would I feel if my husband started buying desk supplies, computer software, and paper for his printer at work out of our own budget, telling me he NEEDED to.  I would be annoyed… (kind of funny when the tables are turned, isn’t it?)  Nurses help people, and care deeply about their patients, but they aren’t spending money on bandages and better bedding for the hospital.  Sure, I will pay for a conference if my school won’t cover it, or I will buy some extra dish soap while I am running errands but I am not hitting up Dick Blick and turning over my own credit card.

I think I am the minority. Teachers are constantly reaching into their own pockets to fund art room projects.

In what other profession would an individual be asked to spend their own money just to do the basics of their job?  They wouldn’t,  because it would be seen as unprofessional. But unfortunately in the education world, for teachers, it’s become almost an expectation.  I realize art teachers have limited budgets, our nation is in an educational financial crisis, and I also realize you really care about the students, so you do what it takes to make it happen.

I would, however, argue if you are resourceful enough, you wouldn’t have to spend your own money on supplies.  I just don’t understand…. but like I said, I am “one of those oddball cheap teachers.”  Because of my resourcefulness and simple, but effective art projects, I find myself with a surplus in my budget each year. Now I am able to buy fun and unique things for the art room we wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford.

Do you spend a lot of your own money on your classroom supplies each year?

What are you purchasing with your own money?

Tell us more about it. 

Jessica Balsley

Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.


  • Philwesel

    While I applaud your frugality, I think it is more than appropriate for other teachers to reach into their pockets for a few dollars. You see teaching as a job while I see it as my business. Most small business people invest money in buying the supplies to make their businesses more efficient. It is no different for some teachers. What you are doing is just fine but don’t denigrate the others of us who generously make an investment in our classrooms. We see ourselves in the business of educating others and if it takes a few crayons or pencils to accomplish our goals that is a price we are willing to pay.

    • I commend you for your dedication! Like I said, I just have troubling doing it. I prefer to invest my time, instead of money, which in the end will still benefit students as well, and is generous in it’s own right. I didn’t mean any ill harm to anyone else, just wanted to give a different perspective. I see so many teachers complaining about spending their own money, which gave me the impression they wished they didn’t have to. I appreciate your insight.

  • Julie Kohl

    My husband and I are both teachers.  We are both “special subjects” teachers which also usually means that there is a lot less funding for us to purchase classroom supplies.  While neither of us go out and spend frivolously on classroom supplies there are certainly times where we have felt it necessary to purchase things.  I do limit my spending on classroom supplies and try not to make a habit of it.  We do not have children so I do not feel as if I am shortchanging my family by spending my money on my job. There are expenses of other jobs that I am spared so I really figure it all works out.  Even if my art program had an unlimited spending budget I truly feel as if there would be times I would still pick up something on my own and not be reimbursed for it.  It’s just the way I am.

  • Erica Stinziani

    I am guilty of buying “stuff.” I used to be worse believe me! My husband even understands and sometimes buys stuff too for my classes! The biggest thing “we” buy is FOOD. Not cheap junk food though! Healthy food is expensive. I love to have a smoothie party, my husband comes to school once a year and cooks for our green team to teach them about healthy food, this Friday I’m treating my helpers to a food party, doesn’t seem like a lot but it does add up. 

  • Rachel

    Thanks for this post!  I too, don’t spend my own money on my school.  I feel like doing that sends the message to tax payers that short changing schools is fine, and they can continue to under fund their student’s education.

  • I’m guilty! I do buy things for my art room/classes! I DO save my receipts and have all of it taken off my taxes at the end of the year!  I don’t buy big things. I’ll pick up tin foil and plastic plates for paint palettes, scrubby soap for mostly me but I do have the occasional very messy student use it. Silly things I can’t predict needing the following year when I order the May before. Sometimes Sharpies if we desperately need them and ours are officially garbage. Pencils, erasers,the occasional googly eyes or sequins. I almost broke down and bought printer ink in March,but my principal approved some being ordered for me. Mostly I buy all my desk supplies. I use whatever money I get from school for supplies for the kids.

  • Just this week, I was talking to another art teacher about what would happen if every art teacher refused to spend money out of their own pocket. Would our budgets get better? This teacher told a story of her son asking for a toy when she had a cart full of art supplies for her classroom. He asked why she couldn’t afford to buy a toy for him when she could buy all of these things for her students. She put all of the supplies away and bought the toy. 

    I do believe there are times that art teachers buy supplies for their classroom because they saw something cool and want to do it in their classroom even though they have already spent their budget.  However, this article seems to assume that teachers spend money out of their own pocket due to poor planning, which is possibly what administrators and even politicians think. This is not always the case. Due to crazy circumstances this past year, my school was only able to get a small amount of construction paper for my classroom, and that is all.  While I had some things fairly stocked, I didn’t have crayons or markers, oil pastels, drawing paper, or tempera paint. There is only so much that you can get for free, and I really pushed it. We drew on paper from the recycling bin, used old crayons, had donated matboard. I would lie awake at night, thinking about how I was going to teach painting. Sure, I had colored pencils, but no decent white paper to go with them. Throughout the year, I had 5 projects funded through donorschoose, plus two classroom grants. This saved me. The problem was that it takes awhile to get these things funded. I still bought all of the crayons, markers, and oil pastels for my classroom, plus small amounts of paint and drawing paper. I felt like I could not do my job well without these items. Fortunately, I bought the crayons and markers at the back to school sales and used Michael’s coupons for oil pastels. So, it wasn’t too bad. Through this grant writing, I have enough drawing paper and paint for next year. There is a reality in our education system that many teachers are expected to do great things with little or no money. Anyone who can create a “surplus” in their budget is not one of those teachers. 

    Sorry to hijack your site with my long comment, terrible budgets have been a hot topic in our system this year. 

    • BossySnowAngel

      I’m the team leader. We finally got a third teacher last year. But our principal didn’t expand our budget. As a result, we ended up short for the first time since I’ve been in charge of ordering.

  • Finnbee

    This depends on your situation, really. I’d love to believe that if we just didn’t, the district would pick up the cost….but that’s not true, at least in my district. One teacher who worked hard to write grants got the rest of her budget taken away….a disincentive for trying to help herself! In our state, we are not allowed to ask parents nor fundraise, and our schools get from .27 per kid up to about $4 per kid, per year, with up to the mid 40’s for class sizes… while I have cut back drastically on what I am willing to spend, the frustration is there ..the kids only get what I’m willing to provide. Until our nation starts to adequately fund public education, and values more than math and reading, I’m afraid this will continue to be a problem….

  • Vivian Sakellariou

    I’ve, like you, been frugal in my earlier years of teaching when my budget in the suburbs was more appropriate for a school of 500, than the small amount I get now in my city school. I have bought things these past few years beyond the budget, including sharpies, glue, stickers, paper plates, aluminum foil and other small rewards, erasers, etc… small things that added up, but I am fine with it. I feel that my supply of materials is good this year that I won’t have to spend out of pocket and I hope to be able to purchase better quality paper for drawing and watercolor as well as better quality construction paper. I’ve been mostly purchasing the cheaper stuff because of $ restraints. 

  • Pstevens

    I understand your position on not spending money that belongs to your family and applaud your ability to write grants and procure supplies through donors. My situation is only different because I don’t have a husband and children and don’t feel that I am spending money meant for a family. My students are my extended family. I seriously doubt that my principals or the taxpayers have any idea how much I spend on books and art supplies. In fact, I KNOW  they don’t have a clue because I don’t talk about it. If I want to do something not supported by my art budget, I will buy whatever it is I need to do a unique project with my classes. I don’t have a Masters degree and still make under $60K after 36 years of teaching but I know how to stretch a dollar. One of the best places I have found to buy super inexpensive Crayola brand art supplies is the grocery store! I always cruise the school/office supply aisle when grocery shopping, and frequently find markers, twistable(my favorite!) colored pencils and crayons, Sharpies, watercolors and glitter glue pens. It is like hitting the jackpot when I can find a set of 8 color permanent markers for $1.50! Maybe it’s just the lure of the “deal”, but it really helps my supply closet when I can find stuff that cheap. I’m also a big supporter of my three school’s Scholastic Book Fairs.

    • Pat,

      You are so sweet. Your students are so very lucky to have someone you who cares so much to give time, money and resources to make sure they have the best education possible. There are so many ways to give to our students, and I love how we can all have different philosophies with one common goal in mind: the kids.
      Can’t wait to meet you in the fall-


  • Karen

    Two years ago when I began my current position, I spent a lot to get my classroom started, and I am still paying for it on my credit card! This past year I became very frugal and used more recycled materials in my classroom and only purchased a little when I ran out of a few things and was waiting for my supply order to come in. 
    Thank you for pointing out how nurses don’t buy band-aids. I am on a very tight budget only making $30,000 working at a charter school after having 14 years of experience. I have needed a new roof for 7 years and it keeps getting deferred because I just don’t have the $. Thank you for the reminder that I need to also focus on my family goals, we need things too, a few less sharpies will make the difference in my personal life!

  • Jill

    Thank you for this post!  I simply do not have the money to buy supplies for my students.  I was divorced two years ago and it hit me very badly financially.  Life happens and we need to be able to take care of ourselves first, like Karen needing a new roof.  I have found Art Teacher’s Aid on Dick Blick to get supplies funded by donors, we use recycled supplies, and I look for big bargains when using my meager school budget.  The exception:  buying donuts for art club and supplies to make candy bar valentines once during the whole school year.

  • Dcerretani

    Hi, Jessica!  David C. here from the last blogging class.  I couldn’t agree with you more.  I never buy crayons, markers etc.  Many of the classroom teachers just throw these gently used supplies away at the end of the year!  Not anymore.  I have them trained to send it to the art room and then I can decide whether it needs to be tossed or not.  I have enough crayons to last me until the end of time!  I also believe in fundraisers and do two per year.  Not those commercial ones where they take a big chunk.  I do my own from scratch and keep all the profit.  I also publish a “wish list” twice a year.  I have some true blue recyclers who send in all kinds of things that can be used to create, create,create!  I get the biggest bang for the buck that  I can with my shrinking budget
    I sometimes think teachers are their own worst enemies.  You are correct, what other profession pays for the materials and equipment needed to do their job?  I could rant on that forever but I’m doing my own thing and, like you, I’m not letting the school district take my hard earned dollars! 

    • David,
      Great to hear from you. I would love to hear more about your “down home” fundraisers. I admire you a lot for all the hard work you put into the program, kudos!

  • Tanya1

    I spend money out of my own pocket because I come up with wonderful ideas for art projects and don’t like to throw them out of the curriculum just because there is no money in the budget to buy $30 worth of paint. Also, I work at a school where students are poor and half of them would refuse to buy the paint. 

  • Pingback: The Last Construction Paper You’ll Ever Need | The Art of Ed()

  • artysmarty12

    I’m totally with you.  I used to spend more than I could deduct on my classroom.  I have always taught at Title 1 Schools and believed my kids deserved the best even though they or the school couldn’t afford it.  After I started my family, I realized I couldn’t do it anymore and that year, my classroom ran out of paper.  How does the art room run out of paper?  I learned the art of fundraising.  At first I did those little “buy stuff with my art on it” fundraisers.  A lot of work for only a few dollars when your population is poor.  Then I got my kids involved.  I told them what kind of art products I wanted for them, the kinds the kids on the waterfront properties had.  I told them I needed their help.  I teamed up with the music department who was in the same poor state.  So now, once a year, for an entire month, my students sell their butts off to any and everyone.  We celebrate our progress every week.  We let them know it’s their fundraiser for their art and music program.  We will buy what they want.  Now, in our third year, our poor little school is building a Fine Arts Empire! LOL.  When it’s over, I buy what I said and show it off.  They get so excited.  And now, they take care of their supplies.  I know we as teachers do what we must for our kids.  It’s in our hearts.  Unfortunately, I think it’s why we get taken advantage of in regards to pay and benefits.  What other profession would take a job, not be given supplies to do the job and then put in overtime the way we do.  No one, because we LOVE our kids (students) so much.  My love hasn’t changed.  I’m just glad I’ve been able to show them how much I love them, and have them show they love what goes on in our art program enough to work to support it.

  • Jdavis

    It can be a very dangerous thing to make a habit of buying things for your classrooms with your own money.  What happens if you find yourself in a financial situation where you absolutely cannot spend your own money anymore?
     I think what Jess is saying is that you should get into the good habit of finding different avenues to get those extra materials that you want if your budget won’t cover them. 
    First of all, when requisition time rolls around every year, ask for everything you
    want along with the offer to trim the list back, if necessary.   Schools
    spend huge amounts of money on reg ed curriculum books and materials,
    science kits, etc.  The supplies we use in our classroom are just as
    important as any of those things!  The less you ask for, the smaller
    your art budget in your building will become; because if you’re not
    asking for it,
    than you must not need it, right? 

    If you still don’t get what you need:

    Fundraisers are great.  My students did Art to Remember, a fundraiser that prints the student’s artwork on various products that their friends and families can purchase.  It was a huge success!  Many parents told me that they actually preferred this over the other fundraisers we do in my building.   

    Pay attention to what some your student’s parents do for a living.  Many companies are required to make a certain number of charitable contributions to the community each year.  I have a student whose father owns a company that creates posters, t-shirts, etc.  He donated a classpack of watercolor markers to the art room just because he gets them at a steep discount and wanted to spread the word about his company. is a website that matches donors to teachers who are requesting supplies for their classrooms.  I used this site this year and obtained a document camera for my classroom!  My building principal shared my efforts at a school board meeting, which was good PR for myself and my program.
    Let others know what you like to collect.  I start each school year with an email to my colleagues and parents letting them know what we like to collect in the art room: soda bottles, magazines (be specific about which kinds you want or you’ll get everything.), Styrofoam trays, unwanted art supplies, etc.

    Spending you own money is totally admirable, but it often goes unnoticed by anyone other than yourself.  And -what we all could use right now is to be noticed .  Being innovative and proactive about getting materials for your classroom shows not only that you care about your students, but that you have enthusiasm and ingenuity to boot. 

    • I couldn’t have said it better myself! Thank you for the additional fundraising ideas, too. I”ve heard of many who love DonorsChoose but haven’t looked into it myself yet.
      You are right- It’s time be heard, advocate and spend extra money only if the other plans fail. Or at least be aware of it.

  • d_jchapman

    i spend my own money, but only after i’ve exhausted my school budget and reviewed my existing supply closet. i have been revamping my lessons since i changed buildings and grade levels. next year, i’ll know what to order and plan for with school money. however, my students are my priority after family. once i become a grandma, i may well change my mind, but i buy for my ‘kids’ so that they can be as amped about the projects as i am!!!!

  • Pingback: The Top 5 Ways to Fundraise for Your Art Program | The Art of Ed()

  • Pingback: Helpful Hints to Score Cheap Classroom Supplies on Craigslist | The Art of Ed()

  • Susan Hoffmann

    As art teachers we are creative with coming up with ideas with the supplies we have, that being said I have spent my own money on things for my classroom. I love books as resources and have a weak spot for collecting them and using them in my classroom. Students peruse my book shelves it may seem old fashioned in this digital age but it works for me.

  • Jenna Casaldi

    Recently our art department began hosting a series of quarterly “Paint & Sip” events open to students and members of the community. Its easy and profitable at $20/student, $25/adult. We stock up on canvas when its on sale and participants contribute snacks and non-alcoholic beverages. Hosting an event where everyone paints the same thing differs from the beliefs we hold as art teachers, but our participants sign up for the guided painting because Its relaxing, therapeutic, and a bargain compared to the $40 fee that our local guided painting studio charges. The money we raise goes into an art department account through which we reimburse ourselves for supplies purchased out-of-pocket throughout the school year. I still stick to a tight budget and have some out of pocket expenses that I don’t seek reimbursement for, but it doesn’t bother me as much now that we have some additional support from the community.

  • BossySnowAngel

    I spend way more than the $250 the IRS allows. Our budget simply doesn’t cover what we need and the time to order supplies makes getting them on a timely basis an issue. My kids are mostly able to bring supplies, but often don’t. Even bringing a box of Kleenex for use by students seems to be asking too much.

  • Cherylanne

    My budget has been cut this year, and there are projects my students look forward to. This is the first year in awhile that I will have to give out a supply list to my students – small things like colored pencils, markers and crayons, but they are things I can’t afford to order through the district warehouse because of the budget cut. I try to get parents to help out for some of the bigger projects, but it is a Title 1 school, and sometimes they can’t afford to help either. Just before school starts, I drive around town to frame shops, begging and pleading for scrap matte board. That works for the most part – I wear my teacher ID, and put a very sad look on my face. I also hit up my colleagues, putting a list of things in their mailbox that they may have laying around the house, or would typically throw away (butter bowls, wire hangers). I am planning a jewelry project this year, and plan on buying the findings for the kids, but that is about all I will be able to afford this year.

  • Pingback: Tips for Collecting Classroom Artifacts When You Travel | The Art of Ed()

  • Gloria BUdz

    Oh, I am seeing the irony as I just brought the topic up!