The "Plus One" Rule
Whenever I buy arts and crafts materials, I never go to just browse. I always go with a list. Otherwise, it is just too tempting to pick up everything that catches my eye: tubes of paint in every color, brushes in every shape, beads of all sizes, cute fabric. Fun for me, but not fun for my bank account.
I've figured out a shopping rule that helps me stay on track, but still grow and expand as an artist. I call it my "plus one" rule.
Here's an example of it in action: At the end of 2016, I went to my local art store to buy a drawing pencil, a Micro pen, and some smooth drawing paper. I needed those items to make a piece of art for the #TwitterArtExhibit that I'm participating in. (If you're not familiar with this project, it's an annual event designed to raise money for a charity. This year's event takes place in the United Kingdom and the charity is Molly Olly's Wishes, an organization that helps children with life threatening or terminal illnesses.)
I picked up the items on my list and then wandered around the store. I chose one small item that was not on my list, tiny bottle of glass paint that cost around two dollars. I'm always fascinated by paints, but I've never tried one specifically made for glass. I chose red since Valentine's Day is coming up.
Why This Works
I find that this strategy of buying one item not on the list is the perfect balance for me. If I just stick to my list, I won't venture beyond comfortable techniques and materials. That's how you get stale and bored as an artist, sticking to the tried-and-true.
The "plus one" rule gives me a little window for experimentation, but it doesn't blow my budget completely out of whack. I don't put any financial restrictions on the extra item, but I never choose anything extravagant. The idea is to give me something small and new to try, the artistic equivalent of throwing a package of gum (not a 20-pound frozen turkey) in your grocery cart.
This works online, too, not just in brick-and-mortar shops. For online shops, I often create a "wish list" of items so that I have a starting place if I need one. I also tend to look at the "new items" pages to narrow down my selection.
I should mention that I'm not craft shopping every day or even every week. There's no danger I'm going to end up with 50 new items in a year, let alone more than 300. I also don't force it if there's really nothing that appeals to me. Some shops are so specialized or tiny (like some of those on Etsy) that it would be difficult to choose an exciting "extra" to buy. Other times my mind feels so crowded with other projects that I can't open it to accept one more possibility.
The Winners ...
By the way, this is also a great example of how the practice of sticking to a small budget can challenge you creatively. If the chain had been less expensive (around $2 a foot), I might have bought a length suitable for a necklace. A smaller piece meant either making a smaller piece of jewelry or combining it with other materials to make a necklace.
Honestly, I don't feel there is a downside to this practice. Sometimes my "plus one" pieces have cost less than a dollar and provided a few hours of creative challenge. You can't even rent a movie for that price. If something doesn't work for me but is still in good shape, I can always donate it to a local school, a creative reuse center, or swap it with another crafter.
I never feel upset if the bonus item doesn't work the way I expected it. (Or rather, I'm not upset for long.) I've usually learned something even if it's something as mundane as "that's a horrible color when it dries" or "I guess the package wasn't kidding when it said this was permanent." Sometimes I discover that I just don't like the feel of a certain material or the amount of fussing it requires no matter the end results. I often end up feeling a little like Thomas Edison inventing the light bulb: "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."