Kids Art Supplies on a Budget

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Kids' Art on a Budget -- Tips and tricks for stocking an art cupboard on a tight budget

What can you do if you want to encourage your children’s creativity and provide them with art supplies and art activities, but your budget is bare bones? When it’s a struggle to simply pay the bills and get food on the table, the idea of shelling out money for art supplies can be far fetched (yes, I’ve been there).

So, what to do?

Child drawing

You don’t want to ignore your children’s creative development. Not to mention the fact that art is a healthy and fun outlet for kids as well as an excellent way to develop fine motor skills.

Luckily there’s a lot you can do and have art-wise without much money.

I imagine those two previous posts about the best kids’ art materials and the best kids’ art tools are a bit daunting. But NO ONE needs all that. Few have all that. I’ve been blogging about children’s art for 6 years now; it is my passion as well as my vocation so my “art cupboard” is overly well-stocked, even I will admit. But it wasn’t always that way. There was a time when I put off buying a couple of basic tempera colors for months because of the money.

So let’s sit down together and brainstorm ways to make kids’ art more affordable. We’ll talk about what you need, what you don’t, and what you can make do with. Don’t worry, there’s a lot you can do on a limited budget!

Kids' Art Supplies on a Budget - What do you really need

What kids art supplies do you really need?

Something to draw and paint on. It can be paper, cardboard, a chalkboard, rocks, wood, posterboard, windows, a wall of the house, sand, your body, whatever. Anything goes, really. Paper would be good, though. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Copy paper is fine. As is repurposed, recycle-bin paper and paper bags from the store. Cardboard is pretty good, too. Both the corrugated stuff and the thin cereal box cardboard.

Something to draw with. A pencil is enough! A pen from your desk works fine. But color is good, too. Oil pastels are awesome and don’t cost a lot. Crayola crayons are inexpensive and have served kids since 1903, when the first box of 8 debuted. The point is to draw, not to have the fanciest crayons or all the colors of the universe or even the most ecological materials. $30 Stockmar crayons don’t make you a better artist.

Something to paint with. A few paints and a paint brush or two. You can even make your own paint. But if you’re going to buy some, Colorations Simply Washable Tempera Paint provides excellent bang for the buck at $1.99 for a large 16 oz bottle.

Something to protect your table. A flannel-backed vinyl tablecloth from the dollar store (1-3 dollars) works better than most expensive art splat mats. And a plastic placemat (1-2 dollars) is a smart buy as well. An old rimmed baking sheet, perhaps from the thrift store, can be used as an art try to keep the messes contained.

Something to protect your kid. A large old T-shirt makes a good art smock. Or, if you sew, you can make one.

Kids art with fabric scraps

Some materials to collage with. Inexpensive odds and ends are really the best for collage anyway! Fabric and ribbon scraps. Paper scraps. Yarn. Buttons. Pasta. Office supply stickers. Nature items. Oh, and glue.

Some dough to mold and sculpt with. Homemade playdough is the best! Plus, you can make a nice big batch that lasts for months for very little money. You can mold and sculpt bread dough as well with the bonus that you can serve it for lunch or dinner after it’s baked!

Where and How to Get Kids Art Supplies on a Budget

There are a lot of art supplies you can make yourself, most with ingredients you already have around the house, such as flour, salt, food coloring, cornstarch, vinegar, etc. So, if you have more time than money, make some art supplies! And get the kids involved—the making is as much fun as the using.

Second-hand. You’d be surprised at what you can pick up at yard sales or thrift shops. Or even for free. It’s the luck of the draw, but I’ve found some great arts and crafts supplies this way.

Ask. For holidays and kids’ birthdays, try requesting art supplies from grandparents and others. You can also get free mat board scraps sometimes from frame shops or old blueprints (large white paper!) from architects’ offices.

Use coupons. If you have a large arts and crafts supply store such as Michael’s, AC Moore, or Joann’s nearby, use their coupons when you shop. Most have great coupons (like 40-50% off an item) on their website, in the paper, or through a free app you can download to your smartphone. And many take competitors’ coupons as well.

Painting with Light

Get creative! Try nature-based art or recycle-bin art. Paint with light!

Buy selectively from Discount School Supply. They have some quality arts and crafts supplies at good prices; their Colorations-brand products are an especially good deal.

Any other ideas? Please share!

I know many of us read but don’t comment, even when we might have something to add, but please do chime in here if you have any helpful tips for kids art supplies on a budget. Thanks!

This post contains affiliate links.



 
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Comments

  1. Carrie says

    Thank you so much for posting this. I am wanting to get my kids into art and have really enjoyed your blogs and websites. But as you said, your last few post did seem a bit daunting.
    I finished those posts with the thought, “Well, I need to get started.”
    This post shows me a good place to start. I am always interested in things I use just around the house.
    Thanks for your website. I am not the most artful parent but you have given so many good ideas that I don’t think my kids will ever know. LOL.

  2. Anne says

    When paying my newspaper bill in person, I saw parents leaving who’d bought end rolls of newsprint for a buck or two. They said it works great for kids’ art!

  3. Connie says

    Buy the basics in August when they all go on sale for back to school.
    I’m a high school art teacher (home sick, boo), and I feel brand does matter. It’s worth it to pay for crayola over the other brands. More pigment, brighter color, less filler.

  4. Lula Paradelas says

    do you know anyone who works for a school? If so crayons ,markers, binders, water paints, and more get left there the last days of the year….kids dont want to empty desk or lockers….they dont want to carry it so it all goes in the dumpster!If you know someone they can get it for you before the dumpster gets it.

  5. Julia says

    These are great ideas. I know I’ve seen tutorials on Pinterest about making your own textured brushes for painting: really simple brushes you can make out of simple materials. If I can find it, I will share it!

  6. Natasha says

    Back in 2010, I purchased 9 Gallons of tempera paint from Discount School Supply. While my kids don’t paint every day, these gallons have lasted very well. Going on 4 years, we will have to reorder a couple of colors soon, but otherwise they are still going strong. A little over $100 was very well spent, and was one of my smartest kids art decisions. I really suggest the dollar store too, for saving money. You’d be surprised at the stuff you can get there. I always buy tissue paper there. It’s great quality, comes in large quantities, and great colors- for $1. They change their products a lot, but there’s tons of great stuff for creativity there- all guilt free. We do have Stockmar crayons, and also were purchased 4 years ago- still going strong thru 2 kids. I spent probably about $15 for them, and they were definitely worth it. We go thru packs and packs of regular Crayola crayons, and when they get old and broken we create art out of them by melting them in different ways, like in the oven in small muffin tins, which creates additional crayons (art supplies). As a mom who has been on a budget since my kids were born, and determined to make art a priority, you just have to be open to stuff and don’t always buy into trends that are often just overpriced hype.

  7. Carly says

    1. You only need to buy red, yellow, and blue tempra paint. White and black if you want to splurge. (My pink-obsessed daughter was SO excited when we bought her bright pink paint for her birthday.)
    2. I am willing to buy some of my art stuff at the dollar store. It’s not the best quality, but for a lot of what they do, it’s about the process, not the product.
    3. Use your recycling bin! Boxes, toilet paper tubes, plastic containers, paper. There are so many treasures in there.

  8. says

    we are going through the rough times but we have never been more artsier. We are so inspired and creating the best pieces, because the materials come from recycling bin or from the trash that we see outside. I am known in the neighborhood for collecting trash from my kid’s art projects. I also made connections at local shoe stores for some nice boxes. Kinda proud of it!

  9. says

    This is great. We have always been on a budget, so the only way we get ‘fancy’ art supplies is by birthday or christmas gifts, and my kids love that. I think a lot of people enjoy getting gifts that promote creativity, too, rather than just a toy. We have DEFINITELY gotten amazing, amazing stuff at thrift stores and garage sales. One of my best ‘scores’ in that department was a HUGE box full of art materials for $10, including beautiful scrap booking paper, utensils like paintbrushes, nice coloring pencils, paint, and fabric. The woman was an art student, getting rid of everythign she didn’t use! It was wonderful.
    These are great tips. I’m definitely going to share this on facebook. I know a lot of people would find something useful here.
    Sarah M

  10. neligh says

    This reminds me of the book Hands: Growing Up To Be An Artist by Louis Ehlert, in which her parents give her her own space for art projects, stocked with scraps from the mother’s sewing and the father’s woodworking <3

  11. Dawn says

    Hello! I’d be happy to share some of our budget ideas. :) We have slowly built up our art supply cabinet frugally over time with the following strategies:
    1. Repurpose, recycle, reuse: it seems like everything is packaged with ribbons and string these days… we collect all those bits and lovelies before tossing the rest of the packaging in the trash; we save all the tissue paper and gift bags from birthdays and holidays which make great materials for collages; filler from shipping boxes when shopping online (and the cardboard boxes themselves); stained clothing that isn’t fit for donation after we’re through is another way we gather fabric strips, ribbon, buttons, sequins, beads (this also goes for dress up clothing that is tattered and torn); and then even after we enjoy creating something with our recycled bits, we enjoy the art for awhile and finally recycle what we can once more before tossing the stuff that is 100% used.
    2. Clearance: Hobby Lobby, Michaels, Staples, Office Max, Target, especially after holidays. Also, printable coupons are frequently available and we use these for things that are already on sale to drop the price even further. The dollar store and dollar spot at Target are great too. During back to school season there are coupons galore for office and art supplies, however, if clipping/printing coupons is too burdensome, you can always find great clearance deals a week or two after schools are back in session regardless. CVS and Walgreens mark down their overstock pretty deep also if you time it right. (Sorry if a few of these stores are regional references to parts of USA only… hopefully the same strategy translates to other local retailers too.)
    3. Birthdays and holidays: we provide relatives with specific suggestions for items we could use in our art supply cabinet that are genuinely fun things for the kids to receive (finger paints and paper, prepackaged craft/art kits, fresh crayons/colored pencils, play dough kits, fresh paints/brushes, specialty papers, glitter glue, etc). In addition, we gift at least one major contribution to the art cabinet each holiday or birthday ourselves as well. (This Christmas the theme was watercolors and we purchased the liquid watercolors you recommend here on your site… bundled that with brand new brushes that were inexpensive add on items from Amazon, a book (also discounted on amazon) that teaches basics of watercolor techniques for kids and some watercolor paper. They love the liquid watercolors by the way so thank you!)
    4. Paper Rebates: We stock up on plain white paper whenever we see it on sale and often there are paper rebates at Office Max and Office Depot. I’m not exaggerating when I say we’ve left with a case of white paper free multiple times from office supply stores! There are bloggers who track these kinds of deals for your area… just have one or two of them in your blogroll or in your Facebook feed and then scan their updates for relevant deals when you see your supply getting low.
    Hope some of these ideas are helpful to someone. It takes a bit more effort to side step full retail price but it’s completely possible with a bit of resourcefulness and creativity. We still haven’t acquired many things beyond the basics ourselves (some things never go on sale or clearance so there is no way around the cost), but there is enough on hand at all times for my little artists to express themselves creatively somehow and a little necessary resourcefulness of their own is a good thing too. :)

    • says

      All wonderful ideas! We usually stock up too but find art themed ideas for grandparents ie easels etc.

      We also got great deals on brushes which my oldest is hard on when Archivers closed. We picked up the ones from project demos.

  12. Lori N says

    Crayons, markers, pencils, pencil sharpeners, glue, hole punches, scissors, notebooks and clear tape I stock up on during back-to-school sales. ( And I always buy extra to add to my Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes.)
    Duct tape and the contents of the recycling bin provide my boys with hours and hours of crafting.
    I asked an art loving mom of an older child if she had any supplies he didn’t use anymore. She gifted me with 3 storage tote boxes full of specialty papers, paints, modeling clay, crayons in fancy colors, oil pastels, and so much more. She was so happy to find a good home for it all. Don’t be afraid to ask.
    Check thrift stores. I bought a kids table and 5 chair set, that was made for classroom use, from the thrift store for $35. I bought an easel for $2. Five years later, they still look and work great.
    The dollar store is great for glitter, googly eyes, pipe cleaners, etc.
    If we don’t have paper, we draw outside on the porch or driveway. They have even painted on the driveway. (It washed off the next time it rained.) We also draw on the windows and sliding glass doors.
    When we use fancy or expensive supplies, it is usually because *I* thought it would be fun. MY boys usually enjoy it, but more often than not, you’ll find them sitting on the floor with their $3 homemade lap desks, some copy paper and a pen; or ripping off duct tape to build a robot out of cereal boxes and cardboard toilet paper tubes.

  13. says

    I think recycled materials make for very interesting art explorations. My most memorable university art class was when we were asked to bring in materials and tools to paint with that weren’t paint or brushes! .. think ketchup, mustard, food colouring.. Another was to make a sculpture using recycled materials!

  14. says

    Ask at work. Kids don’t care if one side of the paper has been used, and as long as there isn’t any confidential information on there, no reason you shouldn’t draw on it before it gets recycled. The best source, bar none, for sturdy cardboard tubes from which to make rainsticks and lightsabers and sand table apparati is your doctor — the paper they use to cover the exam tables comes on rolls which are hidden under the table and stay perfectly clean. Just ask.
    And you could probably collect a lot of crayons just getting your friends and family to save the ones they give out at restaurants. All those little individual boxes just wind up getting thrown out. I pass mine on to our daycare.
    And last but not least, giant bins of sidewalk chalk using a coupon from Michael’s. Only a few bucks and lasts all summer.

  15. says

    For my toddler we use paper grocery bags and the brown packing paper my husband’s company sends their inventory in. I cut each grocery bag into two large sheets and the smaller bits can be used as well.
    We have used Q tips in lieu of paint brushes. And although we have one set of Stockmar crayons, they are not her first choice. I got a set of eeboo pastels for 50 cents at a yard sale and they get used every single day.
    Yard sales are a great place to find craft supplies.

  16. says

    Check out your local library. This might sound kind of off-topic, but at my library I offer a Messy Art Club several times a month and I often let kids take stuff home, especially at the end of a semester when I’m cleaning out, at preschool storytime we have process art projects that kids can hang out and do as long as they want (and you don’t have to clean up afterwards!) and they get a craft project to take home. We’ve also started offering Maker Kits – they have all the tools and stuff you need to make something.

  17. rachel says

    recyclables! always free! and often they walk right into my house (paper for drawing on the back of, mags for collages, tp roles for crafts, lids for collaging, etc.) and are often willingly shared by others. :)

  18. Carly says

    Also, we have an amazing place here in Winnipeg called ArtsJunktion. They take donations of things that can be used to create art and it’s all free. My kids always bring something they don’t want/use anymore (ie. extra sheets of stickers, fabric they’ve had enough of) so it becomes a great lesson in both recycling and paying it forward. Check it out at http://artsjunktion.mb.ca/about/ and then see if there’s anything like that where you live.

  19. says

    Play dough is so popular at my day home. I have to make sure I always have the ingredients on hand . I use card board cereal and other food box’s for material to paint on . I also have used newspaper to paint on as well. Thanks for your posts Jean!

  20. Suzie says

    Paint with water – fun, no mess and kids get a real kick out of it! :-) Just need paint brushes and a blackboard surface.

  21. angela says

    I spotted christmas wrapping paper on sale for 50 cents a roll this year after christmas and bought a bunch. We’ve been using it to make big pictures on the blank white side.

  22. Helen says

    Instead of copy paper I’d recommend coverstock or cardstock (also from the office supply store, for printers). It will hold up to drawing and painting without wrinkling, and that way you don’t need to buy different papers for every art material.

  23. Deb says

    Use your dried up markers to make watercolor paints, just put the tips upside down in a small amount of water and leave overnight.

  24. says

    Thanks our this wonderful encouraging post.
    I so understand. There’s times I am not even able to afford flour. (Even when I am ok with money, I buy flour on sale only). It has taken me about 5+months to buy almost every ingredient & supply needed for a lot of the popular type kids recipes and activities I follow. I use many craft ideas that I find on line TWICE; usually change them up a bit &/or reuse all our art for other types of DIY’s & the Next activity! It is really difficult. It sounds like “its only a dollar for …..” but when you add up all those dollars, I know I am close to $300.00 which like I said has taken us since about October 2013 to bring together on my own. I use a giant secondhand warehouse we have in our town, when i am able to walk there. We use Christmas and Birthdays for added craft dollars, by requesting things like “dollar store” gift cards as well. I also go to church bazaars, garage sales, etc when the seasons are in line! The one thing I must say is that no matter what “supplies” we have on hand, or what we can afford compared to others, the result is the same: there is a BIGGER finish when you get to teach, spend quality time one on one, enjoy your children, and stay creatively active as a family–that cannot be bought through ‘affiliate links’ or ‘on line stores’ ;D
    FYI–For your Canadian Readers, I have finally found a fantastic educational school supply warehouse type of on line shopping source; with the worlds most affordable shipping (approx, $6-10 across Canada). WOO HOO! I have found them to be the highest quality plus, and my go to site now, with their prices very affordable considering the products they offer!! ;D If you’d like to share its’ http://SchoolSpecialty.com/ “School Specialty”. I am certain if you google.ca it your readers will find it!

    • says

      Jeanine, I love how resourceful and dedicated you are! And thanks for sharing the link for the School Specialty store for Canadian readers! People have asked before and I didn’t have an answer — I’ll have to remember that one. :)

  25. says

    (Jean, delete my last comment: didnt see it was so long, I am so sorry;)
    This is a wonderful post Jean!
    FYI– SchoolSpecialty.com is a great affordable high quality learning educational toy & supply place for your CANADIAN Readers!
    thanks for all of your inspiration.

  26. auschick says

    Staples often have rebates on their copy paper, making it free (just paying tax). Back in January, I was able to get 12 reams for free (with coupon) after rebate!

  27. Beth says

    Old wallpaper is great, often it’s on sale very cheaply when a store has only a couple of rolls left. That and a tube of finger paint from the £1 shop was all we needed to start being arty!
    It’s great when we get given fancy craft packs from relatives, but we had just as much fun with some pictures pulled from a free magazine, some glue and the cardboard from a cereal box!

  28. Jamie says

    Thank you – this post is so useful! Love your site, but I have to pick and choose carefully to fit art supplies into our budget.

  29. reema says

    We have not used paper for tempra painting in months…we get boxes from amazon and other stuff, so we just use those and make doll houses that you suggested. But its unlimited place and she keeps adding to it…

  30. Sarah Gren says

    I think ordering from a particular art store is a good way to keep the expense in budget. As I’m a regular buyer from Jerry’s art store and I keep getting offers every other weekend which is related to what I wanted.

  31. says

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