Christmas wouldn’t be complete without cookies and other sweet confections. However, the high cost of store-bought treats can bust your budget. Check out our 5 simple tips to help you save money this holiday season. Why pay more than $8 for a box of cookies from the bakery when you can bake twice as many for the same cost? Whether you are baking batches of goodies for your family celebration, an office party or to give as gifts, visions of sugarplums can quickly turn into dollar signs if you aren’t careful. You can maximize your savings if you have a strategy for deciding what to make and for stocking your kitchen in preparation.
If you are trying to stretch your holiday budget, deciding what to bake is the first step. Focus on recipes that call for simple, inexpensive ingredients. Gather the recipes that you are considering and evaluate the cost of ingredients. Exotic, expensive ingredients will bust your budget quickly. For example, if only one recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of cream of tartar and that is not something you stock in your spice rack, do you really want to include that recipe in your repertoire? Chocolate and nuts are quite costly. So, while you may want to cross that homemade fudge and pecan pie off of your holiday baking list, you could still opt for chocolate chip cookies and brownies with a sprinkling of pecans on top.
Make the Most of It
In addition to making recipe choices that minimize costs, look for recipes that make the most of the ingredients you do buy. This can save both time and money. For example, pick a simple sugar cookie dough and make several variations. Decorate one batch with red and green colored sugar and make jelly-filled thumbprint cookies with another. A third batch could be formed into short, flat cookies. Dip one end into melted dark chocolate, followed by crushed peppermints, for a sophisticated treat. If you buy a canister of oatmeal, make one batch of oatmeal cookies plain and another with raisins and nuts. The remaining oatmeal could be used in a crust for a bar cookie or the topping on a cobbler.
Of course, family traditions and tastes will trump your quest to trim expenses. If no celebration would be the same without that rum-soaked fruitcake based on your great grandmother’s secret recipe, you can make room for that in the budget by cutting back in other areas. Maybe you can chop the cookie that always seems to always last into the new year from your list.
Home-made All the Way
Skip the refrigerated cookie dough and prepackaged mixes unless you only want to bake a batch or two or if this is the only time of year you venture into the kitchen. The ingredients you buy will become stale by the time you look at them again, and there’s no savings in tossing food into the garbage. If you do opt for these shortcuts, make sure you take advantage of store sales and increase your savings by using manufacturer coupons, which are readily available in newspaper inserts and online this time of year.
For staples like flour, sugar and salt, skip the brand names in favor of store brands. There is little if no difference, and the savings make the switch worthwhile. Be sure to check the expiration dates on your baking powder and baking soda before you head to the store. Nothing will cut into your savings more than having to toss baked goods because they failed to rise properly. Unless you are motivated by ethical concerns, skip the organic eggs and don’t bother with the enriched brands. No one is going to get healthier by eating cookies, and these can cost more than double the regular variety.
When Quality Counts
While you can often skimp a bit on your dry ingredients, there are some ingredients for which quality counts. Real vanilla extra, while a bit pricey, is worth every penny. Imitation vanilla extract and other artificial flavorings can undermine even the best recipe. Also buy the best quality chocolate you can afford. If a recipe calls for butter, don’t substitute margarine or shortening. If butter isn’t the dominant flavor note, you may be able to get away with using equal amounts of both, but you might not be as happy with the results.
Following these strategies, your savings from holiday baking can add up as quickly as the pounds you are sure to pack on from eating all of your delicious, holiday treats.