Getting the Art Room You Want With the Budget You Have

Imagine that you get to walk into an empty art room and make it completely your own. You get to decide which markers to buy, if you want a carpet, and how you’ll store the artwork. If this sounds like more of a nightmare than a dream, you’re not alone, especially if you’re given a tiny budget to accomplish everything. So, what’s an art teacher to do? Today I’d love to share 10 tips to get the art room you want with the budget you have.

 1. Make 3 Lists
Before you order anything, you will need to sit down and have a major brainstorming session. I would suggest making the following three lists.

a. What supplies do you want? This is your dream list. If your budget was unlimited, what would you get?

b. What supplies do you need? This list is more realistic. What materials do you feel you absolutely could not live without in your art room?

c. What big ticket items will you need to work towards? This is a list of things like a kiln or a drying rack that may not be in the cards the first year, but may be attainable over a few years of saving or with some creative fundraising.

lists Having these lists will help you prioritize what things you need to start the year and what things can wait a bit.

2. Build Relationships 
Other adults in your building can be great resources for finding materials. Knitters and quilters may be happy to donate scrap fabric and yarn. Woodworkers may be able to help you construct some bench hooks or looms. The secretary will be able to tell you which catalogs offer bulk discounts. You just never know who might be willing to help you out.

3. Consider Fundraising
We’ve talked a lot about fundraising here on AOE. It remains such a popular topic, because often, it works! Whether you go with a package deal like Artsonia or Square 1, or decide to do your own thing, fundraising can be a great way to get money to put towards big ticket items.

4. Order Multi-Purpose Materials 
If you have a limited budget, it’s going to mean limiting materials, so try to choose things that are versatile. For example, heavier weight drawing paper works for both wet and dry media. Construction Paper Crayons work on both light and dark paper. Tempera cake paint can be bold and bright, or mixed with more water to create resists. You get the idea.


A kindergarten lesson done with bold tempera cake paint
A kindergarten lesson done with bold tempera cake paint
A kindergarten lesson done with watered down tempera cake paint
A kindergarten lesson done with watered down tempera cake paint


5. Build Up Quality Materials Slowly
I am a firm believer in quality over quantity. Instead of buying 30 cheap rulers that you’ll have to quickly replace, consider buying 15 quality rulers instead. Add a few more to your order each year until you have a classroom set. The same goes for items like printmaking rollers, decorative scissors and specialty brushes.

 6. Go Green to Save Green 
Why spend money on things you don’t have to? Easily swap out expensive supplies for those that are free. For example, swap fancy plastic palettes for egg cartons or styrofoam meat trays (washed of course!) for linoleum blocks.

Recyclables make great, free printmaking tools
Recyclables make great, free printmaking tools


 7. Reach Out to the Wider Community
My mom always used to say, “It never hurts to ask, the worst someone can say is no.” So, why not try putting an announcement in the school newsletter or on your blog asking families or local businesses for donations?  You could be specific, “The art room needs packs of Classic Color Markers,” or more general, “The art room is in need of drawing supplies.” You might be surprised at what you get!

8. Have Your Librarian Buy Books For You
If you love to use books in your art room, don’t feel like you have to buy them all yourself. Many librarians are happy to take requests when they put in their orders for the year. Having art books in the library is especially nice because both you AND the students can check them out!

9. Use Similar Materials Across Grade Levels
I tend to over-buy materials to make sure I have enough for all my students, leaving me with leftovers at the end of the year. If your supply list is more limited, there’s a better chance you’ll be able to accurately gauge how much you need and avoid this problem. Although you may be using similar materials, you can tweak them to make sure students are getting a wide variety of experiences.

10. Get Creative
The biggest obstacle when dealing with a small budget is deciding how you will handle not having something you feel is essential. Try to think of it as a creativity challenge. If you don’t have a drying rack, you may have to hang a string with clips across your ceiling or plan for only one project that requires drying pieces flat per day. If you don’t have a kiln, you may have to think about handling three-dimensional work in other ways, such as using paper mache or plaster wrap.

Above all, you may want to ask other art teachers what has worked for them. Be sure to check out some of our facebook posts from June, which asked teachers to weigh in on fun topics like, “Art Teachers, what would you do if your budget was doubled next year?” and “Gasp! If you woke up tomorrow and your school district let you purchase only one art supply for next year… what would it be, and why?” There are some really great supply ideas in the comments!


If you’ve ever had to get an art room up and running, help our readers out:

What was the best thing you purchased? Is there anything you would do differently a second time around?

Teachers who are currently in this boat, what questions do you have about placing your order?

Let’s chat! 


Amanda Heyn

Amanda is the Senior Editor at AOE. She has a background in teaching elementary art and enjoys working to bring the best ideas from the world of art ed to the magazine each day. 


  • KHans

    Thanks for posting this. I’m freaking out right now because I just found out that my budget was cut by 75% this year, so I’ll only have about $1 per student for supplies for the year. I know many art teachers get by on less, but it will certainly be a big change for me. This gives me a little hope that I can make it work. Thanks!

    • Oh my gosh. What a terrible surprise! Glad some of these tips might help you out during this tricky transition. You can do it!

  • Erica

    I too am on a super tight budget this year. It’s too late for this year, but next year, I thought of assigning a different art material to each class supply list. One class brings an extra pack of markers, one colored pencils, one a box of tissues, one a pack of glue sticks, etc, or whatever needs you have for basic supplies that they can get at a retail store. I know for me, this would be a huge help and allow me to spend my precious little money on other things.

    When I made my list of what to order, I made up a “must have” and a wants list. And price compare! Sax will price match the competition! Talk to fellow teachers in your network and find out if they have any good resources. Just by talking to an old art teacher friend, I found out a about a local program that lets art teachers shop for free from a warehouse of donated supplies!

    • I love the idea of adding supplies to classroom lists.

    • Lynn

      Erica, Can you share the warehouse info?

      • Erica

        It’s a small non- profit called Creative Pitch. They are located in Chicago.

  • Pingback: Free Money For Your Classroom! | The Art of Ed()

  • Pingback: 50+ Back-to-School Ideas for The Art Room | The Art of Ed()