A graphic designer's work becomes much harder if they don't have a canvas. Most top-of-the-line design programs have a large barrier to entry, though. If you want to work your way up to those, Scribus is an awesome place to start. It can run stride for stride with higher-end graphic design programs like Adobe InDesign -- and it's free.
It takes a while to actually get started with Scribus. Not only is it a relatively large file to download and install, but the program takes some exploring to figure out. Most of that can be forgiven for the sheer number of features you get. Plus, if you've ever used InDesign, you won't feel too lost using Scribus. It mimics InDesign's layout almost exactly. There's no toolbar like there is in most programs, but you can create just about any sort of graphics, text and boxes to make a clean layout. Color selection isn't as robust as you might expect, but you can blend colors to create the look you need. The program has an easy PDF creator that makes creating a printable worksheet or layout simple.
Though it's missing some of the advanced features of InDesign, the essentials are all here. Since you're saving a considerable amount of money, it's expected that you might lose the ability to use gradients or other features. However, if you need to make a layout for a page, Scribus is a lifesaver. It gives you enough to make a gorgeous layout if you know what you're doing. If you're not terribly experienced, the tool is a great starting kit to work your way up to paid graphic design programs.