Art is important. It makes you smile, maybe it even makes you cry; what matters is that it makes you feel. More than that, it represents your personality, your very identity.

With increasing gaps between rich and poor, splashing out on artistic luxuries isn’t an option for most. Whether you’re a graduate in debt, you’re on the first rung of the career ladder or you’re about to start a family, furnishing your walls with works of art is probably a distant dream.

It needn’t be that way if you can be creative about what you buy and how you find it. Affordable doesn’t necessarily mean cheap and nasty if you know where to look. Say goodbye to boring blank walls with our handy guide on how to buy cool art on a budget.

Identify your style

When you’re collecting art to satisfy a personal passion, the first step is to find what you love. Perhaps you’re a fan of the geometric abstract forms? Or something more traditional, like 18th-century landscapes? Maybe it’s an intellectual appreciation of Victorian symbolism that satisfies you? Whatever style or medium floats your boat, know what it is and deliberately collect art that fits your identity.

In the wise words of Ali Hillman, art curator at h Club Los Angeles: “Always buy what you love. You have to live with it and authenticity is at the heart of collecting.”

Tom Best, auctioneer at Christie’s and founder of The Auction Collective, is guided by the same principle and says, “I don’t actually believe in art as an investment. My advice is always to buy what you love, and collect with your eyes and your ears, not your bank account. Don’t buy something and put it into storage because then you can’t enjoy it. Buy the artwork you can’t stop thinking about, that gives you that ‘teenage crush’ when you walk into the room.”

Hunt for awesome frames

A good frame can make even the most ordinary of pictures spring to life. Affordable mediums such as photographs, etchings, paper drawings, and prints are a good alternative to traditional paintings and make for a manageable entry point for collectors. Dig around in charity shops and auctions for frames that are a little out of the ordinary. Even if they’re slightly damaged, frames can usually be retouched or fixed with a dab of glue. Don’t forget to use the right picture hanging hardware, especially if your picture is particularly heavy or you need to find a creative way to conceal the hanging system.

Buy prints of your favorite artworks

In an effort to make art more affordable, artists and galleries will often reproduce original artworks as high-quality prints. The pricing of the prints usually depends on the quality and the number produced. The first of a batch of 20 prints is likely to be far more valuable than, say, number 496 of a print run of 500. A print signed by the artist will also fetch a higher price.

There are some incredible print collections online if you know where to look. Saatchi has a world-leading collection of contemporary artists, with prints starting at $50. The website lets you filter prints for under $500 and sort from lowest to highest in price. The Tate shop has a fantastic collection of prints by renowned artists starting from £45, with a useful tool to select by size or medium.

There are fantastic lesser-known outlets online too, such as PSTR Studio; as well as stocking prints by well-known artists, it collaborates with up-and-coming new artists to develop new designs that start at £32. Print Sisters operates in a similar fashion, taking vintage posters from after 1800 as inspiration and reprinting the reworked designs on 100% recycled and sustainable papers. Prices start at £45.

Auctions and art fairs

We’ve all heard of the big auction houses, like Christie’s or Sotheby’s, but art sold at auction doesn’t automatically mean it’s going to be expensive. The whole ethos behind auctioneering is that an item is only worth what somebody is prepared to pay for it. Success is far from guaranteed, but if you get into the habit of bidding at your local auction, chances are that – every once in a while – you’ll walk away with a gem of a deal. Many auction houses have an online bidding function, so you don’t even need to confine yourself to your local emporium. Your item may not be a masterpiece, but isn’t it just that little bit more special, knowing that you won it at a snip of its recommended price? Just be warned, the auction bug can be addictive!

Art fairs are a really enjoyable place to find new pieces and can vary from your local country craft fair to international exhibitions. The Affordable Art Fair is the world’s best known and is based on the concept of making contemporary art accessible to all. Established in 1999, it now hosts art fairs in ten cities around the world, with pieces available for under £100.

Check out graduate art shows

All famous artists have to start somewhere and that somewhere is usually art school or university. “[Works by] recent graduates are still at the affordable price point,” claims Tom Best. While their style may not be at its peak of maturity, graduates are possibly at the only period of their life in which they have relative artistic freedom. Graduates won’t have the pressure of finding a buyer for their work, which can lead to conformity and the stifling of creativity. Such freedom can make for some interesting and attention-grabbing artworks. Who knows; perhaps you’ll invest in a future Damien Hirst or Tracy Emin?

0% payment plans

Some galleries will accept payments in instalments at a low rate of interest, so it’s always worth asking. Original artwork can be purchased from over 300 galleries across England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, for example, with support from the Own Art scheme. The initiative aims to make buying contemporary art and craft affordable by the provision of interest-free loans. If you’ve got your heart set on an original artwork, the scheme might be a good solution for spreading the cost.

And finally…

Remember that your journey to buying the art you love should be fun. It will be frustrating at times and working to a budget will mean that you inevitably miss out on some pieces that you love. The rewards will come from releasing the shackles of hunting for mediocre art that’s a good deal, to a thrilling voyage of discovery where low prices don’t mean you have to compromise on quality. Bon voyage!