How to Bake Your Way Through the Holidays on a Budget

Baking is not only one of the most delightful and delicious ways to celebrate and fully feel the holidays, it is also practical and budget friendly. If you don’t have a lot of money to splurge on holiday events, plays, or fancy parties, try immersing yourself in holiday baking as an alternative. It’s not difficult to learn. Plus, baking is fun and creates something yummy to eat or give away.

The first tip to avoid costly baking extravaganzas is to stick with the basics. Think more along the lines of homemade goodness than pastry chef perfection. Many times picturesque decorating increases the cost with equipment and special ingredients. Nix those right away to save money. We are focusing on creating something that looks, tastes and smells like it came directly from Grandma’s kitchen.

To start off, use what you have in your own kitchen. With a recent move across country I gave most of my things away, including my baking and cooking equipment. Armed with cookie sheets, a pie pan, casserole dish, a skillet and my soup pot, I discovered that the large soup pot doubled fine as a large mixing bowl. I quickly discovered the difference between wants and needs.

Realizing I had everything I needed opened up my mind to fresh possibilities. Previously, I thought with regret of all I had to give away and leave. There was a sense of longing for what was in the past when I had no end of different sized bowls, equipment and spices. Then, it occurred to me this attitude was bringing me down. Instead, I needed a new approach: how creative could I be with basic ingredients and supplies? With a Christmas book featuring 15 holiday baking recipes coming out in a few short months, I needed to finalize the recipes for chewy gingerbread men, Linda’s Christmas wreath sweet bread, Pumpkin Nut Bread, Willa’s Apple Cookies and Kaityln’s Favorite Christmas Cookies. I had to wash the dishes a few more times, but I was able to get everything done.

For purchases, I stuck with the essential ingredients. This was hard since the home goods department and grocery stores are two of my favorite places to shop. I found the utensils I needed: rubber spatula, mixing spoons and peeler, plus hot pads at a dollar store. Grocery items were found at sale prices in stores.

After some research I discovered from America’s Test Kitchen culinary expert Bridget Lancaster that all-purpose flour would work for my bread- with only a slight variation in texture. Since bread flour is more expensive, I opted to go with my favorite kind of flour: non-bleached all-purpose flour. I bought off brand name spices and chocolate chips. If I am making Rocky Road or Christmas Bark, I will buy my favorite chocolate. After all, that is the majority of the taste. But when I have taste tested semi-sweet chocolate chips in cookies, I don’t taste as much of a difference.

To save a bit more money, I searched the end clearance aisles for any possibilities for discounted items. Sometimes dented cans, spices and flour are found on the clearance areas. Check the date for expirations. If the store wants to give me a discount because the can of pumpkin is dented, I will take it!

In the end, the bill for all of my baking products: flour (10 pounds), white sugar (8 pounds), brown sugar (2-16 oz. bags), chocolate chips, apples, baking soda, baking powder, all spice, raisins, cinnamon, oatmeal, molasses, ginger, salt, unsalted butter (2 pounds), eggs (2 dozen), 29 oz. of pumpkin, walnuts, rubber spatula, mixing spoons and peeler was less than $65 ($56.83). I didn’t buy everything at once; the purchases were split between three trips.

With those ingredients, I baked Willa’s Apple Cookies, Chewy Gingerbread Men Cookies, Linda’s Wreath Bread, Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, Chocolate Chip Cookies and an Apple Pie. I think I got a batch of Snicker doodles in there too. Each batch of cookies made between three to five dozen medium sized cookies. I will be baking Pumpkin Nut Muffins this weekend and have all the ingredients to do so.

When you calculate the cost of buying ingredients from scratch verses buying ready-made baked goods, the difference is surprising. If you bought cookies at a specialty cookie store, you could easily spend you would spend $12 to $15 on one dozen. Pies from a bakery can cost anywhere from $8 to $16. Grocery stores sell pies and cookies at a less cost but they still cannot replicate the taste and heartiness of homemade goods.

In addition to budget friendly baking, I completely controlled what goes into my cookies, pies and breads. No artificial ingredients, no extra preservatives or “fake” ingredients.

If funds are tight this Christmas you don’t have to forgo baking. Instead, holiday baking is a great way to gather friends and family in the kitchen and have a fabulous afternoon of food fun. Food is the universal relaxer and ice breaker of conversations. Working together in the kitchen to make the food is one step deeper into more intimate relationship building. Something happens when people work together in the kitchen, something wonderful takes place as relationships grow and laughter fills the kitchen. People work together. We are forced to share spaces and to share a bit of ourselves as personalities emerge through the joy and, let’s be honest, challenge of working together in the kitchen.

Share the season with friends and family in your kitchen. Host a baking party and have fun together.