5 Ways to Stretch Your Beading Budget

Beading and saving money are two topics near and dear to my heart.  My Celestial Sparkle necklace was inspired when I could only afford a single strand of borosilicate beads.  I wanted to showcase them in a necklace, but everyone who saw the tiny strand said I should just give up and make a bracelet.  Luckily, I didn't listen!  I found some relatively inexpensive clear teardrops to space out my more expensive treasures and ended up creating one of my favorite necklaces.

Ever since that experience I've been fascinated by the way other designers stretch their beading budget.  Here are five ideas to get maximum results with a minimum budget:

1.  Use the Real Thing in Small Amounts

The price of silver continues to rise, but that doesn't mean you need to avoid it altogether if you absolutely love it.  You'd be amazed at what you can do with a foot or meter of chain (usually the shortest amount you can buy).  If you have your heart set on a necklace, cut the chain up in smaller pieces and add strung strands in between as shown in Summer Charm by Sharon Grimes Knox.  Or use a small amount of silver chain for embellishment like Lisa Kan did in her Petit Fiore Earrings.

2.  Find Another Metal 

Just a few years ago, I had trouble finding anything except silver chain at my local bead shops.  Now many shops carry other choices like brass, copper, gunmetal, and plated gold.  These are substantially less expensive, making them an especially good choice for multistrand pieces like Cascading Tangle by Elaine Ray.  

3.  Use Seed Beads

If you enjoy beadweaving, try a project that uses a single color like the Bead Hoarder's Collage Bracelet by Jeannette Shanigan.  This way you won't have a lot of leftover beads in a variety of colors.  (Of course, if you're a diehard seedbeader, leftovers won't be a problem!)  If you're a stringer, use seed beads to add a bit of color and depth to a design without breaking the bank.  The Big Island Necklace by Leslie Rogalski uses black and white seed beads to add drama to a simple strung necklace.  Another good example is the Lovely Lariat Tassel by Viki Lareau.  Lariats require quite a few beads (this one measures 30-50 inches) and using seed beads not only adds visual interest, but substantially lowers the cost.  (Imagine making this same project using only crystals!)

4.  Focus on the Focal

Spend your money on a dramatic focal like the lampwork bead in the Spiral of Kronos necklace by Sandi Wiseheart and then use a small amount of other beads and ribbon to complete the piece. 

5.  Make Smaller Projects

Earrings are almost always the first suggestion when it comes to saving money in jewelry design.  It's a good idea as long as you realize that not all designs are created equally.  It is entirely possible to spend more money on an elaborate pair of earrings than a simple necklace made with low-cost materials!  

New Free Project
Indian Summer Earrings
Jill MacKay

These earrings from Beadwork magazine feature an eye-catching combination of pearls, smoky quartz, silver bead frames, and seed beads.   Most earrings use headpins or wires; these actually feature beading wire and crimps, making them perfect for beginners who have mastered the basics of stringing.  Instructions for a matching necklace may be found in the August/September issue of Beadwork

Any other money-saving tips to share?  Please post them on the website.

Michelle Mach shares free projects every Friday on Beading Daily. If you have comments or questions for Michelle, please post them on the website. 

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Beading Daily Blog
Michelle M.

About Michelle M.

I was the founding editor of Beading Daily (2007-2009) and my now a freelance designer/writer/editor.  My designs have been published in Stringing, Step by Step Beads, Jewelry Gifts for the Holidays, Creative Jewelry, Beadwork, and other magazines. I enjoy stringing, bead embroidery, wirework, metal work, mixed media, beadweaving—pretty much anything that involves beads or jewelry.  I also enjoy exploring new crafts like pottery and felting.  I write a personal blog if you want to see more of my work. 16+ Free Beading Projects: A list of the free projects I created for Beading Daily. Contact Info If you have a question regarding Beading Daily, please contact customer service at beadingdaily@interweave.com or the current editor, Kristal Wick. If you'd like to contact me, you'll find my info on my website:  www.michellemach.com.  You can also follow me on Twitter at:  http://twitter.com/beadsandbooks Pictured here is a pair of earrings I made for the Spring 2010 issue of Stringing in an attempt to get over my fear of designing with the color orange!

20 thoughts on “5 Ways to Stretch Your Beading Budget

  1. I often go through my old jewelry, check with family members to see what they have that they won’t wear again, and even hit garage sales/flea markets to see what I can find. I then take the old stuff apart and use the beads, pendants, etc., in new designs. And it’s sort of fun to use a special bead from someone’s old jewelry in a new piece I can give them as a gift at some point in the future.

  2. I also enjoy deconstructing old costume jewelry and giving it new life. I am always on the lookout for found objects in my home and elsewhere. I always visit the chain display in hardware stores. If I find pleasing jewelry-worthy chain (some can be surprisingly delicate!), I’ll buy a yard or two for my beading stash. Now that I have neck issues, I am no longer a plastic bead snob. Combining nice looking plastic beads with glass & stone beads lightens the weight of the necklace!

  3. A great place to find unique beads on the cheap is eBay. It takes a little bit of searching and hunting around, but I have been fortunate to buy the entire beading stashes of folks going out of business or who have moved away from beading and onto a new hobby. It’s amzaing the low prices people will sell their entire stashes at. I recently bought a huge lot of beads from a vendor for $300 who was going out of business. Even though that price was a bit high for me, I got about $2000 worth of high quality beads…and it’ll take me the rest of the year to use all of them up!!


  4. I use to separate in boxes, all the remaining crystals and stones, by color. So, there is a box for red, another one for green, etc… Some times there is only one or two of a certain crystal, but it looks ok into a new project where I am mixing several beads, but all in the same game of color 🙂

  5. Stash your trash. Okay, you can stop laughing now. I was reminded a few weeks ago that not all beaders have realized the value of stashing everything. I saw a woman at the work table in a bead shop stopping every few minutes and throwing out stone beads. She was new and wanted everything perfect so whatever didn’t meet her approval went into the garbage can beside her. I pointed out to her that if they didn’t look right with the current project it didn’t mean they would never look right with anything. I also told her that sometimes the shop has a “bead swap” where the customers can swap beads with each other. One beaders trash is another one’s treasure!

  6. Speaking of trash…sometimes a bead doesn’t have to be a bead at all! I find a lot of my focal beads from ordinary everyday objects. Small washers, colored grommets, an antique spoon (bent at the right place can make an awesome focal point if used with vinatage beads!), old pet tags (great for kids jewelry!), pieces of old ratty baskets can be cut into a certain shape, glued for durability on the edges and then string beads through the weave. Anything can become something if you just learn to look at things a little differently!

  7. I used to work at a thrift store in their jewelry/antique department. There were a lot of broken pieces of jewelry that came in. I started to stash it and once I had a bag full I asked my supervisor if I could purchase it (strick rules on what could be taken home vs. had to be purchased for employees). He agreed. I spent $2 on a 3+ pound bag of broken jewelry. In it was chain I cleaned and used in other projects, vintage beads, plastic beads, charms, even some crystals! I no longer work there but every so often I go and ask if I could buy their old, broken jewelry and see what I can find!

  8. Stretching the beading dollar does demand creativity! If I must have silver and gold, mainly for clients, I tend to wait for bead shows (the advantage of living in a large city), or else trek downtown and find who’s selling the good stuff at reasonable prices. Otherwise, I’ve switch to plated chain and a lot of metallic seed beads for spacers. Small colored pearls work, too, and they don’t cost too much.

    Friends have pressed bags of old broken jewelry into my willing hands. So far, much of it can’t be used, but they’re trying to help, something I appreciate.

    Good ideas in the posts so far! Thanks and good beading to you.

  9. Go through the trash at bead shows and studios! I’m a sucker for glass lampwork beads, which can be very expensive. At bead shows, lampwork artists often bring bowls of small beads that werenn’t perfect or don’t match with the sets, experiments, etc. to sell cheaply. Going through the bowl often gets me a handful of beads for a deal. Even better: go directly to the studio. Prices are marked up on lampwork at beadshows to cover the price of the table. I found a local artist and went to her studio where she let me go through her stash of mismatched beads.

  10. i have visited hardware stores, preferably locally owned stores, though don’t overlook the box stores, and found all sorts of unusual bits and pieces. tag and yard sales and auctions are good for the unusual, too.
    i have had friends who are pack rats, or who know pack rats, who sometimes let me loose in their stashes, and have found things that can become wonderful focal pieces! i spent some time last year going through a bunch of containers from a friend whose aunt and uncle collect “stuff” (i’m told their entire basement is full of “stuff”, all of it organized and cataloged. i asked him to ask them to please put me in their will for all the “stuff”), straining out some seed beads. normally, i wouldn’t bother, as seed beads are usually inexpensive, but these turned out to be some beautiful antique 18s, 20s, and 22s. the colors are amazing!
    i also look around me constantly, as i never know what i will find. keep your eyes open and learn to ask; you never know what will find you.
    wonderful ideas from all y’all. keep on beading! take care and God bless.


  11. Befriend your local bead shop. Sometimes I find a strand of beads that I love, but I wouldn’t use them all, or the entire strand is just too expensive for my budget. Because I am a regular customer, they often will halve or even quarter a strand of beads for me. This saves me having to spend money on a strand I would not use up right away, since much of what I do is bracelets.

    Also, consider getting a tax number. In addition to tax free status, you may be entitled to “designer discounts.” This is something you may need to ask about, because not all shops advertise their discounts.

    Great tips from everyone – keep ’em coming!

  12. I belong to my favorite bead shop’s email list, and receive updates on what’s new, plus any items that go on sale. What a great benefit!
    I’ve also checked out the local and area dollar stores, and have found some unique items to use in my beading. Purchasing several bead tassels, each at a dollar, I took them home, took each apart, and now have some neat beads I’ve never seen elsewhere.
    Lots of good ideas. Thanks to all.

  13. I am an incurable cheapskate and always looking for ways to make my beads go further – even down to choosing stitches with big spaces in (such as netting or big right angle weave) if I have limited quantities of a favourite seed bead colour. I have two pairs of ancient hardware store pliers and some wire cutters borrowed from my husband’s model railway building, my bead spinner is made from part of a light fitting and an old pencil, and although I am now a BeadStopper convert, until recently I used paperclips! My only extravagant tool is a pair of magical crimping pliers. I’m very lucky to have several friends who are lampwork beadmakers and willing to trade beadwoven jewellery for beautiful focal beads! I find it very hard to use a whole strand of gemstones in one strung necklace, it seems so extravagant – I prefer to spin them out and mix small quantities of lots of different beads together. I even pick up discarded washers and bits of packaging from the gutter when I’m out and about, and I’m a diehard beachcomber too. It’s so hard to resist picking up something that has a hole in!

  14. I love poking around in second hand shops, thrift stores, rummage sales, and the like. Not only do I find jewelry that I can take apart and recreate, I find great clothing, many of which are designer labels, that I can buy for just a few dollars. What money I save on clothing, I then can use for beads! What a great combination-fantastic clothes and hand made jewelry. It doesn’t get any better than that!

  15. I’ve found several great deals on Craig’s List and Ebay has great deals under titles like “lots” or “various lots” or “batch of”. i also shop at Goodwill & thrift stores because they put bags of beads or jewelry out from time to time. I’ve finally convinced my family that i’d rather have beads or a gift certificate to a bead store. unfortunately a local bead store recently went out of business (they retired) and i bought Delica’s and Toho’s at 50% off.

  16. Such great ideas from everyone! I make a weekly pass through the markdown jewelry section at my local BX. It’s amazing how cheap they mark down sterling & gold items sometimes, and I always ask for extra discounts on broken items. Sometimes they even mark down retired Swarovski items that haven’t sold and I snap them up, since they only increase in value!
    I have standing orders w/family to buy any jewelry or beads they find cheap at garage sales-it’s amazing what people think is junk sometimes, and my Grandma has a good eye.

  17. As many others here, I too check out the thrift shops and garage sales. Clearance racks are good places to find large amounts of chain, or large earrings that with a little work could make a cute necklace. And some “dollar stores” get overstocks, which, with a little digging, can unearth some decent beads and chain.

  18. I found that I save a lot of money by looking for 50% to 75% off sales and 2 or 3 dollar strands of gemstone beads. I search the internet and I don’t have to go far. Firemountain has a lot of specials all the time. Sign up for there newsletter it really has saved me a lot of money along with art beads etc.
    The internet is a wonderful place to shop. But is really is up to you on how much you want to save money or if you have the money to spend then I guess you are one of the lucky ones.
    Cline Jewels

  19. Instead of buying beading thread in all different colors, I now buy just white Dandyline (by Beadalon) and use my fabric felt pens to color it. Sharpie’s or other permanent markers will work too. That way I get a color close to what I want and can change colors on the thread as I change bead colors. I just put the fat tip of the marker on a piece of cardboard then draw the thread quickly through it. Then I let it dry for a few minutes. If there is excess color let it dry longer or pull it btw 2 pieces of paper towel.