With the holidays approaching fast, I thought that it would be appropriate to make a post about how to spend your hard-earned money wisely on art supplies. Unlike seasonal clothing or groceries that turn bad in a week, art supplies typically don’t expire. This translates to stores rarely (if ever) having sales on art supplies. These stores know that you want to use good artist-grade materials and so there’s no incentive to lower their prices. Here are the five tips I have for saving money on art supplies.
- Buy a few high-quality “Open Stock” items instead of large kits
The term “open stock” means that the art medium is sold individually. This applies usually to markers, paints, pencils, and pastels. Expensive brands like Faber Castell, Caran d’Ache, Derwent, Richeson, and Sennelier are often sold open stock. When trying new brands, I recommend buying 3-5 colors (at least one each of a dark, medium, and light tone color) to experiment with layering and blending. Purchasing a small handful of items instead of a pricy 12 or 24-pack is a lot more economical and you can get a good idea if it’s worth the money.
The one downside is many retail stores don’t carry open stock because of the chance that the items will be damaged on display. Online retailers will have a much larger range of options to choose from.
- Find a Reuse/Recycle Store
For artists first starting out, I would recommend looking for a reuse store in your neighborhood. I had one when I lived in Southern California called “Art From Scrap”. This store received donations for craft supplies. Nearly everything is sold by volume. I bought a dozen gently-used pens, watercolor paper, and pastel paper for under $10. These stores are great for finding basic supplies such as paper, rulers, and scissors.
- Buy Online
Online stores such as Dick Blick and Jerry’s Artarama are my go-to art stores. Online stores have the significant advantage of buying in bulk and a lower overhead because they operate from a warehouse. They then reflect the cost savings in lower prices on nearly all of the products they carry. If you’re not in a hurry to get your art supplies, I would highly recommend both sites. They often have free shipping if you meet a minimum purchase and additional rotating sales.
I live in California and it takes 1-2 weeks for art supplies to reach me with their free ground shipping method. Another great perk is Jerry’s Artarama does not charge tax (which saves me the additional 9% in sales taxes).
- Use coupons and your student I.D. for in-store discounts!
If you have a local art store, chances are they have a student discount program. Mine did, but they didn’t advertise it anywhere (which was slightly suspicious). I only found out when became friends with an employee worked there. If you’re a high school or college student, it doesn’t hurt to ask. The discount may vary from 10-15%, but any discount is better than no discount!
For big-box chain stores like Michaels and JoAnn’s, they have online coupons that they send out every week. Michael’s has alternating coupons of 20% off all purchases or 40-50% off one item. Signing up for an account is free and you can access the coupons at any time with your phone.
- Tell your family and friends that you enjoy making art!
Chances are that you have a friend, cousin, uncle, or niece that has taken (or was forced to take) an art class sometime in their life. If they’re not an active artist, then there is probably a box in their garage or in the back of a closet somewhere that has art supplies. Let them know that you’re interested in drawing or painting. I’m willing to bet that they would be happy to part with old art supplies knowing that it’ll be put to good use (rather than sitting and collecting dust).
My first ‘fancy’ set of colored pencils was a 36 box of Prismacolors that my dad had from college. Yes, it was probably over 20 years old, but they still worked!
There’s no reason why you should pay full retail prices for art supplies. Be thrifty and smart when you buy supplies. High quality art supplies will last a very long time if you take care of them.
Do you have any money savings tips that I haven’t mentioned? Please share them in the comments below!