These are hard times we’re living in. If you’ve been to the grocery store in recent months you know that supplies are limited. And the items that remain? Well, let’s just say they don’t cost what they used to. That’s why I created this post, to share some of my favorite tips for baking on a budget during these crazy times.
Groceries are Expensive!
Maybe I’m not the only one who weeps in the grocery store. Maybe you’ve noticed it, too. This is a crazy season, especially for bakers!
- Butter? It’s crazy expensive.
- Powdered sugar? My local WalMart shelves looked barren for a while, though it’s back now.
- Eggs? I could cry a bucket of tears on the egg aisle. No, I’m not kidding. I’ve been so concerned about the cost of eggs that I created an Easy Egg Substitutes post.
- Other necessities? Don’t even get me started on whipping cream. And extracts. And vegetable oil.
- High-ticket items. Then there are the really expensive items: meringue powder, coloring gels, chocolate chips, pecans, and so on. They’re through the roof. Ugh.
What’s a Weary (and Broke) Baker to Do?
I’m not blaming it on the manufacturers. I know they’re doing the best they can. But I’m keenly aware of the fact that baking is now considered a luxury. (I can’t believe I’m typing those words. I never dreamed I’d have to mortgage the house to bake a simple cake.)
Okay, I’m kidding. Sort of. Still, when someone asks me to bake a cake for them I count the cost before saying yes. (I bake mostly for ministry these days, as you might have noticed in my Baking with Kids and Baking with Friends and Family posts.) I also do the occasional wedding cake for a friend (often for the cost of supplies only, if even that). My point is, I no longer bake for profit, so when I say yes to a project, I have to factor in higher costs.
As you might imagine, the cost of making something like a wedding cake has gone way up. So, I like to cut corners when I can. That was the driving force behind this post, to share some of my tips and tricks to help you save money while baking.
In spite of the economy there are still ways to cut back. So, settle back, take a deep breath, and let’s talk this through to see if we can’t save some money together.
Ten Simple Tips to Help you Pinch Pennies
1. Think Like Your Grandmother
Your grandmother (or great-grandmother) lived through the depression era when supplies were short. She had to think on her feet. Many of the items she counted on were no longer available or were out of reach financially. Still, she managed to put food on the table every night. How did she do it? What did she know that we don’t?
I like this idea so much that I wrote an entire post dedicated to the subject. Check out Think Like Your Grandmother.
Granny knew her stuff, y’all. It’s time to start thinking like she did.
2. Start with a Boxed Mix
As you’ve probably noticed, I’m a big believer in starting with a boxed cake mix. I can still get a basic white cake mix at WalMart for a dollar (or slightly more). I worked really hard to come up with recipes using this inexpensive option for things like scones, pastries, cookies, muffins, and so on.
- Jazz up a Boxed Cake Mix: 12 Easy Step: This is a new post, filled with helpful information.
- How to Doctor a White Cake Mix (the ultimate guide): If this is the only post you read on my blog, you’ll get your money’s worth. No, really. You can take a simple $1 box of cake mix and turn it into the best tasting cake ever!
- A Dozen Sweet Treats that Start with a White Cake Mix: What I loved about coming up with this post was the creativity. These aren’t your typical cake recipes. Yes, they start with a box of cake mix but in this post you’ll learn to make scones, muffins, cookies, and a host of other tasty things. And all for pennies on the dollar.
- The Most Delicious White Cake Mix from a Box: You’ll never bake a white cake from scratch again after you’ve tasted this luscious (and inexpensive) white cake.
- Easy Cake Mix Brownies: This is a quick and inexpensive way to make brownies when you don’t have the ingredients to make them homemade. You can take a simple cake mix and turn it into delectable brownies!
- Pink Peppermint Angel Food Cake: Just like grandma used to me. . .if grandma started with a boxed mix.
- Doctored Brownie Mix (with mint chocolate): People will think you slaved for hours over this one.
- Easy Cake Mix Banana Muffins: Yep, they start with a boxed mix!
There are a host of other recipes on this blog that start with a boxed mix. For more on why I chose to name my blog Out of the Box Baking just follow this link.
3. Use What you Have
No doubt you’ve heard the expression, “Waste not, want not!” To survive the Great Depression, this mindset was key.
Keeping “staples” in the pantry is key, especially during lean times. And learning to bake with odd ingredients was more than a challenge. . .it was fun! Folks often joke that frugal cooks can whip up “something out of nothing” and that’s usually because the frugal cook keeps staples on hand and uses her imagination to add to them.
Maybe you’re imaginative, too.
Chances are pretty good you’ve got flour, sugar, butter, and other basic ingredients on hand. These can be used to whip up quick and inexpensive desserts. (More on these ingredients later.)
But, do you use your imagination to activate a plan for those other things you keep buying. . .and not using? Things like. . .
Sometimes I think I buy bananas just to watch them get speckled. No, really. Something draws me to the bananas every time I walk into my store’s produce department. Sure, I’ll eat one of two from the bunch. And then I forget. They get soft.
But here’s the truth: Every time they start ripening up, my mind slips into “What can I bake with these?” gear. And that’s a good thing, right?
Bananas are one of the cheapest fruits around and they’re so versatile. You can use them to make ice cream, pudding, cake, or muffins. You can even make cookies!
Here are a few of my favorite (inexpensive) banana recipes, starting with my ultimate guide:
- Baking with Bananas: 10 Easy Recipes: This is my master list of favorites.
- 20 Amazing Ways to Use Ripe Bananas: All I can say is, “You’re welcome. It took me some time to come up with this list and I’m pretty proud of it. You’ll use up those bananas in no time!
- Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies: Who knew you could make cookies out of bananas? And who would’ve dreamed they were so delicious?
- Bananas Foster Cinnamon Rolls: These are absolutely delicious, packed full of flavor.
No doubt there are ingredients you keep on hand that would be great for baking. Check your fridge and pantry today to see what you come up with. (Oats? Almond flour? Nuts? Cereal? It’s all good for baking!) Then make something out of nothing. You’ll be glad you did!
4. Low Ingredient Baking
Let’s face it: everyone’s looking for a quick fix these days. If you’re short on time (and money) you’ll want fast and cheap. The best way to accomplish this is to start with recipes that don’t require a ton of ingredients.
Whenever I ask my friends what sort of recipes they like the answer is pretty universal (especially if they have kids and busy lives): Stuff that’s cheap and fast. While fancy recipes are cool (and some people love them) most typical folks just want things they can make in a hurry.
This is where low ingredient baking comes in handy.
Going back to my question above: “What’s in your pantry?” If you’ve got staples (flour, shortening, oil, yeast, salt, sugar, and so on) you can usually figure out a way to whip up a 3-ingredient dessert. And if you’re fortunately enough to have fruit or pie filling on hand (something I highly recommend) you are in business!
Here are some of my low-ingredient favorites:
- Monkey Bread: Biscuits, brown sugar, butter. . .it doesn’t take much more than this to whip up a luscious caramelly dessert!
- Easy Baking Powder Biscuits: These are inexpensive and absolutely delicious! You’ve probably got everything you need on hand.
- Easy Fry Bread: You’re not going to believe how easy and quick these are. And so versatile, too!
- Old-Fashioned Cobbler with Pie Crust: A frozen pie crust and pie filling come together for this inexpensive low ingredient dessert.
- Canned Biscuit Pocket Pies: It doesn’t get any simpler than this! Canned biscuits and the filling of your choice. Yes, please!
- Easy Cinnamon Rolls from Canned Biscuits: Who says you have to slave all day in the kitchen to have sumptuous cinnamon rolls? These are low ingredient and low cost! They also save lots of time (and time is money)!
- Easy Peach Cobbler (with pie crust): You’re going to love this one, folks. And it’s so simple, too!
- Double Dark Chocolate Espresso Muffins: Easy-breezy and loaded with flavor.
- Mexican Wedding Cookies: This cookie recipe is relatively low on ingredients but so good they practically melt in your mouth.
- Easy 3-Ingredient Fudge: Simple. Fast. Inexpensive. Low ingredient fudge. Perfection!
You get the idea. If a recipe calls for a ton of ingredients you probably don’t have time for it. But 3-5 ingredients? That’s perfect for the 21st century (busy!) baker!
5. Buy in Bulk
If you keep many of the basics in your pantry (buying them in bulk or on sale) you can bake sweet treats and never miss out on dessert. But, how can you afford to keep these items on hand? Buy in bulk or purchase on sale.
I often do this with the following ingredients:
Butter. If I find butter on sale, you can bet your bottom dollar I’m buying lots of it. Butter is one of those things that freezes well, so it’s same to keep a lot on hand.
Cake mixes. I go through lots of them. Sometimes I’ll find name brand mixes on sale for a dollar apiece and I grab a bunch. I’ve got a special shelf in my pantry devoted to cake mixes.
Canned pie filling: I use a lot, so I buy in bulk.
Eggs. The item that has surprised me most, frankly, is eggs. I’ve been so concerned about the cost of eggs, in fact, that I created a post sharing 20 Easy Egg Substitutes. I also did a separate post on Egg-Free Baking Recipes. I often buy the jumbo boxes of 60 eggs at WalMart. They’re pricey, but “per egg” they’re cheaper than individual 12-count containers, for sure.
Cream cheese. I buy the two-pack at WalMart because it’s less expensive.
Flour and Sugar. You can get items at less per ounce when you buy bigger bags at places like Sams or Costco. You can always separate them into smaller containers when you get home.
6. DIY Expensive Items
Here’s the deal: We all spend money on things that we could make at home. Examples would include things like pie crust, ready-made biscuit mix, pancake mix, and even cake mixes.
Maybe it’s time to start making your own. Many of these things can be prepared in advance and kept in your pantry, just like the store-bought stuff.
Example: A lot of my recipes (sweet and savory) call for Bisquick. It’s expensive. But you can use my Easy Copycat Bisquick recipe to save several dollars a week on things like cookies, pancakes, cobblers, pies, pastries, and so on.
You might be surprised just how many things you can make out of one simple mix. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Best Bisquick Cobbler
- Easy Copycat Bisquick Recipe
- Bisquick Scones
- Bisquick Cobbler
- Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuits
I’ve also got a recipe for DIY cake flour. I don’t know if you’ve priced brand names (or even off brands) but they’re so expensive right now. With basic ingredients you can make your own.
7. Give Them Extra (Without Paying Extra)
One of the first things to go when you’re pinching pennies is anything that might be considered “extra.” Desserts and sweet treats usually fall into that category. Or, worse. . .you settle for something completely sub-par, hoping the kids won’t notice.
I remember, when my kids were little and we were struggling to make ends meet, buying those 99 cent packages of Oreo-like cookies at WalMart (the knockoff brand). Hey, desperate times.
But what if I told you that you can bake a fresh batch of Heavenly Snickerdoodles for about that same amount of money? (Or at least the 2022 equivalent of 99 cents.)
I also remember buying Pepperidge farm coconut cakes to take to parties when I couldn’t afford something from the store’s bakery department. But now I know that I can bake up an amazing Pineapple Coconut cake for about what I’d pay for a frozen grocery store cake. And trust me when I say that people are appreciative of something homemade.
Let’s face it—even a gallon of Blue Bell (our family’s favorite ice creams) is $7 for a half gallon.
One of my favorite things to do is to freeze cookie dough balls and have them on hand for when company pops in. In my freezer right now I’ve got a great variety, including White Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies, Easy Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Peanut Butter Ranger cookies.
The point is, you can still offer your family and guests sweet treats, even on a budget.
8. Fancy Events on a Budget
I have a couple of friends who are true hostesses. I’ve been to fancy teas in their homes. Talk about lovely! These gals know what they’re doing.
You can get “fancy,” too. . .but you don’t have to spend a fortune to impress your guests. Use an artful eye to decorate your space and offer petite desserts that look like they took hours to make. . .but didn’t.
What to serve at your fancy events? Well, you definitely don’t have to break the bank. I’ve got a ton of ideas on my High Tea Recipes post for inexpensive party goods.
Here are some of my favorite “fancy” recipes, which you can easily make on a budget:
- Cake Mix Kolaches
- Strawberry Lemon Creme Scones
- Savory Scones
- Cake Mix Scones
- Easy Cream Puff Recipe
- Cake Mix Cinnamon Roll Pastries
- Easy Italian Wedding Cookies
Of course, you can always impress your guests with a simple tiered cake. I’ve got some great examples of pretty cakes you might consider in my Baby Shower Cakes and Cookies Gallery and my Wedding and Anniversary Cakes gallery.
When it comes to inexpensive desserts like pies, you have an opportunity to take things up a notch by surprising your guests with a fancy decorative crust. I teach you how in my Easy Blackberry Pie with Decorative Crust post. Fancy-schmancy!
And of course, a hand-painted cut-out sugar cookie can be gorgeous if it’s painted with the tea-lovers in mind. I’ve got all sorts of examples in my Cut-Out Sugar Cookies post.
The key to making an event beautiful is using what you have in a new and fresh way. Teacups can become cupcake holders. Cakes can be cut into tiny squares, dipped in chocolate and served as inexpensive petit fours.
You really can take it up a notch and make the day extra-special with just a few budget-friendly moves.
9. Keep a Master List
It’s great to keep a master list of go-to items that can be made on a budget. You’re probably already doing it with savory foods (meals like spaghetti, casseroles, or other budget-friendly items).
It’s time to make a go-to list of inexpensive desserts you can turn to when money is tight.
Here are some of my favorites:
Pies and Cobblers:
- Old-Fashioned Cobbler with Homemade Pie Crust: This is truly one of the cheapest desserts around and so easy to make.
- Delicious Apple Crisp: So easy and inexpensive to make!
Cookies and Bars:
- Perfect Peanut Butter Cookies: I get more requests for these than almost any other cookie!
- Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies: My mama’s recipe. . .and y’all. . .they’re divine!
- Lemon Burst Cookies: So easy and tasty!
- Chocolate Covered Graham Crackers: This is an cheap, easy treat and the kids can help!
- The Perfect Sugar Crinkle Cookies: Delicious!
- Ooey-Gooey Chocolate Chip Blondies: I have no words to describe these, my friends. You’ve got to try them to believe them.
- Luscious Lemon Bars: Yes. . .and amen.
Cakes, Muffins, and More:
- Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins: My go-to for leftover bananas.
- Perfect Easy Brownies: This recipe calls for very few ingredients.
You get the idea. I have a ton of ideas for low-cost sweets.
10. Make money with your Baking
There are a variety of ways to make money with your baking. I devoted an entire post to Baking as a Business. In it, I cover all topics related to cottage baking.
In that post I also share a lot of tips and tricks for how to up your game with your decorating skills, along with links to my favorite social media groups for bakers.
If you don’t want to bake for money you can always start a blog like this one! If you’ve interested in doing that, feel free to comment and leave me your email address. I’m always happy to chat with fellow bakers.
That’s it for this post, friends. We’ve covered a lot of topics. No doubt this post will continue to grow over the next several months as I come up with more ideas. For now, I’ve given you a lot to chew on. And best of all, it didn’t cost you a dime!
About the Author
Janice Thompson is an author, baker, and all-around mischief maker! She has overcome a host of baking catastrophes, including a toppled wedding cake, to learn more about the baking process. Janice has published over 150 books for the Christian market but particularly enjoys writing recipes and baking devotions. To learn more about Janice or to drop her a note, visit her About the Author page.