During my time as a music student in grad school (and if I’m being honest, for several years after…), my budget was about as thin as my high E string. My savings account was usually kept alive only by the five dollars I hadn’t yet borrowed from it, and my favorite weekly meal was black beans, cheese, and rice. Lucky for me I’ve got some pretty fantastic familial support systems who’ve helped me pursue my dreams, but I’ve still been that person checking my bank account before eating out at Chipotle to make sure my card won’t be declined.

So if you’re going through one of those ramen-noodle budget phases in your life, allow me to share some of the dollar store wisdom I learned as a music student!

Toilet Paper Nails
Yep, you read that correctly! Picture this- you’re set to play in 20 minutes, and you go to open up your dinky little folding stand and crack your thumbnail in half. Maybe you aren’t prepared with a fancy nail kit and all you have is a measly tube of super glue.This is an accurate image of me right before one of my first competitions at the end of high school. If you’ve ever tried to just superglue part of your nail together, you know that it rarely holds very well. All I could think to use toilet paper for at that moment was to dry my tears of rage and despair, but my Dad and all of his infinite “fix-it” knowledge suggested I superglue a tiny sliver of toilet paper over the crack! The cross fibers in the toilet paper bind with the superglue and serve as a reinforcement over the crack in your nail. It’s not exactly aesthetically pleasing, but the nail took five minutes to fix and held up for my program! This is not only a good solution for an emergency situation, but also a nice fix if you’re not ready to commit to a full acrylic nail, but the crack is too far down to just clip the whole piece of nail off.

Soap Dish humidifier
There are lots of humidification systems that are affordable and effective, but sometimes affordable is a relative term! Or, maybe you just need one temporarily because you lost yours or haven’t ordered one yet. All you need is $2- head to the dollar store and grab a plastic travel soap dish (one with a lid), and a sponge. Use a screwdriver to drill small holes all over the lid of the soap dish. Wet the sponge and thoroughly wring it out (you want it damp, not wet), then put it in the soapdish. Place it in the top of your case behind the headstock, and voila! I did this for years and it served me well. If you’re worried about the plastic rattling against the headstock while you walk, wrap the headstock in a washcloth.

DIY Ball-end Nylon Strings
I’m throwing this one in here from personal experience as a music teacher. I had a 5 year old student whose parents had bought her a little steel string guitar, but the steel was really hard for her tiny hands to deal with! Her mom had already purchased some regular nylon strings and asked me to put them on her guitar. I used a lighter and held the bottom of the trebles in the flame long enough for them to start to melt, and then rotated the string to let the melting material form into a little ball at the end. (I just tied a loop at the bottom for the basses.) I was able to string the guitar without having to order any special strings! Ball end nylon strings are very affordable, but if you don’t have a set readily available this is a cheap, quick fix.

Stand Wings
This is something I learned from Clare Callahan during my time at CCM, and I still use this for gigging and even practicing! I’m sure most classical guitarists can relate to having eight pages of music to play and no one available to page turn during rehearsal. Sometimes it’s a real pain to have multiple music stands lined up- you have to make sure they’re the same height and angle, and it’s an extra piece of equipment to take to rehearsal. Depending on the piece you’re playing, you may not have a convenient place for a page turn either! (I’m looking at you, Tedesco…) Get some black file folders, and three-hole punch one side of each. Put them in your binder folding out in opposite directions, and you’ve got instant stand extensions that are sturdy enough to support the music.

Sock Mute
No one wants to be that annoying roommate who keeps everyone up practicing at inconvenient hours, but sometimes you have to squeeze in that extra session that you weren’t able to get during the normal, human workday! Visualization is a great tool for learning music, but it’s also important to have the physical aspect of practice as well. A solution that I learned from one of my teachers was to take a long sock, and weave it loosely between the strings right above the bridge. This still allows you to use the full range of your right-hand muscles without waking anyone up. Unless you’re a sandals only person, this is a free tool!