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Scrapbooking On A Shoestring

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One of my favorite books is the Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyzyn (pronounced "decision"). As in many other books and newsletter s, she shares hundreds of tips to save money and live a frugal life. What is different about Ms. Dacyzyn is her ability to explain what being frugal is all about and why it is really worth it. It's not about being poor or doing without things that you want; it's about using your resources on the things that make you the most happy.

She explains that she always dreamed about being a stay-at-home mom with a large family in a rural pre-1900 New England farmhouse with an attached barn. To achieve this goal, she made the crucial decision to save more money rather than to earn more money. Her story: in less than seven years, with an income of less than $30,000, their family of four saved $49,000, after spending $38,000 on major household items and cars. They were able to purchase their dream home with a huge down payment, and thoroughly enjoyed the process of getting there.

I share her story with you because it has had such an impact on my life and my scrapbooking career.

I'm sure many of you would love to own all the scrapbooking tools out there, every piece of scrapbook paper ever made, and of course all the fancy storage options to house your treasures. Unless you're able to spend hundreds of dollars every month, this goal will take a long time to accomplish. My suggestion is that you give up the lower priority things first , so that your budget will allow you to purchase the things that genuinely add value to your scrapbooking time and the end result? your albums .

I know this is easier said than done. In another article here at Scrapbook.com, "The Great Paper Sorting Adventure," I noted how I'd acquired more paper  than I knew what to do with. Every time our local scrapbook store had a sale, I was right there, shopping like a madwoman. Unfortunately, I paid little heed to what my real scrapbooking style was, or what products would genuinely enhance my scrapbooking experience. Besides the paper, I have about 870 stickers, nearly every Fiskars edger made, tons of assorted die cuts, and two extra sets of pens that are in colors and styles that I never use. If you're like me, or if you're just starting out and want to learn from my mistakes, keep reading!


Scrapbooking is about preserving memories, but it's also about art and creativity. And ask any true artist, and s/he will tell you that creativity is all about the tools . My mother is an accomplished seamstress and quilter, and knows this truth well. When I first started scrapbooking, I was too cheap to buy a corner rounder or a Fiskars trimmer, so she found excuses to purchase them for me. I am so grateful for her insight into the importance of tools. You see, when you're spending your hard-to-find scrapping time (Editors Note: See Leslie's article "The Art of Scrapbooking with Children") trying to cut straight mats with a pair of scissors, trying even harder to cut decent circles using kitchen cups and bowls and that same pair of scissors, and searching through your unorganized pile of paper only to find a bright orange cardstock from the clearance sale that will never match the beautiful peach floral print paper you want to use, you lose the freedom to be creative. All your mental energy goes into wrestling with tools that just don't work. A tool is supposed to make your job easier.

Spending the money up front on a good paper trimmer, a circle cutter , and a quality adhesive will save you many mistakes in the future. Being thoughtful about the papers that you buy will lead to more focused scrapbook pages in your albums.


Many people have looked at my albums and expressed concern over how much money I've spent on the materials and the time that I've spent creating them. I admit, when I first started scrapbooking, I did the same thing. Countless times I said, "I can't imagine spending that kind of money on paper!" Well, I still don't buy everything I see that I want, and I probably never will, but my attitudes about supplies have definitely changed. I would rather use several mats around a photo to really emphasize it on the page than to worry about how much paper I am using. But I've also learned ways to be frugal while not skipping the important stuff. For example, I often use my 12" Fiskars trimmer to cut out the middles of the mats to use as mats for smaller pictures, journal boxes, or punch pieces to embellish the borders. And I buy stickers for current projects I have underway. I buy paper with multiple uses. I love the Bazzil Basics Cardstock because of the coordinated packets. Use your tools to help you use your supplies wisely, and acquire supplies that will let you use your tools wisely.


  • Use only the best photos in your albums. Every photo doesn't need to be showcased as a masterpiece.

  • Invest in some great pens (Staedtler pens, Zig Writers, etc.) that YOU like to use. Try several brands and styles before you invest in a whole set.

  • Be frugal when sticker shopping . Know what photos and layouts you will use your stickers on.

  • Where possible, die cut your own letters. Choose your die cuts after you've laid out your page so that the colors will match.

  • Learn to hand-letter (See the Scrapbook.com article, "Lettering?Learn How to Love Doing It") or use your computer for lettering. This saves money on sticker letters and provides variety.

  • Cut out the middle of your paper that is beneath photos/other mats.

  • Use cardstock as the base of your page and use Patterned Paper as your accent. (Editors Note: See Leslie's article, "Decorative Papers?A Shirt and Tie Experience.")

  • Buy cardstock in packages of coordinating colors you know you will use-usually at discounted rates. (See, for example, the Bazzill Basics paper packs in the Scrapbook.com Store.)

  • If you don't have scrapbook stores near you, check for supplies at office supply stores, Costco, or other warehouse stores, etc. 

  • Use 3-ring binders and Page Protectors bought in bulk. Cover binders with fabric or paint them for unique looks.

  • Make your own Embellishments with ribbon, paper scraps, paper piecing, photo corners, etc. (Editor's Note: See Leslie's article here at Scrapbook.com, "I've Gone to Pieces.")



When it comes to designing your scrapsite, start with the inexpensive things first. Make sure you like the style of your space before spending a lot of money on custom-made storage products. A container with clear bins found at the hardware store (designed to hold nails and other small items) works great to store small die cuts, trimmer refill blades, Punches, small stamps, ribbon, eyelets , adhesive refills, etc.

Magazines don't need acid-free containers, so you can diagonally cut cereal boxes in half and cover them with contact paper for inexpensive magazine holders for your bookshelf. Search dollar stores and yard sales for kitchen organizers that will work with your tools.

I found stackable pull-out bins (similar to Rubbermaid or Iris tabletop bins) at two different yard sales. They have various sizes of drawers, and work great for storing scissors, chalks, adhesives, larger stamps, ink pads, memorabilia pockets, scrapping squares, hole Punches, etc.

I often visit a friend's house to scrap, so I keep my most-used small tools in a little plastic toolbox. It has a lift-out tray where I keep my pencil sharpener, stylus, Sailor glue pen, craft knife, white eraser, embroidery scissors, and corner rounder. The bottom portion is just large enough for my Hermafix dispenser, a tiny gift bag used as a trash bag at crops, two-hole Punches, and my pop dots. The top latches shut so I can put it in my bag without worrying about the contents spilling everywhere. I know many scrappers who use kitchen tool organizers (the kind with vertical cylinders on a spinning base) to store their scissors, rulers, etc. Remember that pens should be stored horizontally for best performance. A plastic-lidded shoe box works well for this. Creative Cubes?, found at warehouse stores, are commonly used as storage in a child's room. By rearranging the grids, you can store even 12"x12" paper for much less than wire racks made especially for paper storage. Use your imagination when selecting storage containers for your scrapbook supplies, and don't hesitate to change something if it's not working for you.

A set of four Creative Cubes has 24 square grids. Create two joined cubes according to the directions on the package. Then use cable ties (zip ties) to attach the remaining 15 grids to form 15 more horizontal shelves. With the existing bottoms of the two original cubes, you will have a total of 17 shelves on which to store your paper


Your work surface is very important. Make sure you have enough room to spread out. A kitchen counter will work (watch those spills, though!), as will the dining room table. But eventually you will probably want your own space. You can spend a lot of money on a fancy desk, but in the beginning, a flat door placed on top of a couple of two-drawer filing cabinets will provide plenty of flat space on top for stackable bins, your Creative Cubes?, room for paper storage in hanging files, and boxes of bulk sheet protectors and notebooks. Albums in progress will stay dust-free in a drawer, and the drawers can often be locked to keep supplies away from little ones. Find a good, sturdy, comfortable chair that is the right height for your workspace. A good chair is worth the investment. It'll save you from a sore neck and backaches and help you enjoy the time you spend creating.

Once you've spent some time with your initial frugal investment of scrapbook supplies, you'll be a better shopper for those high-end tools and supplies. If you scrapbook with others, trade tools back and forth so you can see if it will be worth the investment to have your own at home. Take advantage of die-cut time at your scrapbook store, and trade supplies with friends online. (See the "Buy Sell Trade" bulletin board, here at Scrapbook.com. )

Buy the tools that will free your mind to do more creative things, and add the embellishing tools and other elements as you discover what works best for your style. Remember?you're saving money in order to spend it on the things that will make you happy in your scrapbooking.

Leslie Woolf is a frugal Featured Artist at Scrapbook.com. She also wanders the Neighborhood as Constable on the Scrapbook.com bulletin boards.