Friday, March 19, 2010

Cake Notes: Saving Money on Supplies

In these tough economic times, it can be hard to pursue a hobby like cake decorating.  My husband lovingly refers to my baking as my "expensive hobby" and he's right.  I've spent more on baking supplies than I have on my own wardrobe in the last year, which is saying a lot.

Truth be told, I hate shopping...for clothes.  I really do.  I love clothes, I love the fabrics, I love fashion, but let's face it, when you have an hourglass figure with long torso, short inseam (27"!), and broad shoulders with big boobs, it gets ridiculously hard to find clothes that a) fit and b) are within your price range.  Typically, when I find something that meets criteria A, I usually have to back away quickly from the item lest my bank account gets drained just by looking at it.  I have good taste and a hard figure to fit.

So when I say that I love to find a good sale, it means I love the sleuthing that goes hand in hand.  You can sale stalk a baking book and if it doesn't fit the moment you try it on, you can always wait until the next sale.  Unlike that ridiculously cute chocolate brown vintage inspired Michael Kors one piece swimsuit that fit like a glove and made you look damn sexy but was still too damn expensive even on 50% clearance...ahem.  I digress.

[Loud stage whisper] So what is my super secret to finding baking supplies on sale?

Know before you go.  To get the best deal, you need to know the average price for an item first, so it's imperative that you do your homework and shop around before you buy anything. 

Sale stalk like crazy.  Major retailers often have quarterly or seasonal sales on their baking goods.  Check out the websites and fliers for them too; they might have extra coupons that you can use.  Example: Michael's Crafts Store publishes a 40% any non sale item each week in their flier and I use it quite frequently to purchase some of the larger items I need, like cake pans, etc.  Amazon also has great deals, plus it has user reviews which can be very helpful in determining if a product is even worth considering.  There are tons of online stores that sell baking supplies, so make sure you look at all your options.  And don't forget about restaurant supply stores.  At Target, you can buy a cookie sheet for $10.  At my local restaurant supply, I got a commercial half sheet pan for $5 and it was bigger than the one at Target!

Be willing to shop more than one location and be patient.   As much as I love my bake shop, it's a little further north than I'd like to drive on any given day and they don't always have the best price on an item.  Sometimes they are the only place that carries a particular item so I have to go there.  But more often than not, I get my stuff from several different places.  Hobby Lobby has the best prices on cake boards and some basic decorating supplies in my area, and Michael's has a weekly coupon that I use all the time.  Amazon has a great selection of items, and if you can qualify for Super Shipper Saving, you save a bundle on shipping costs.  You may have to wait a bit to get the item(s) you purchased, but often times, you'll get a better price online than buying it in store.  Like mama always said, patience is a virtue.

Purchase multi-taskers to get more bang for your buck.  I don't buy one hit wonders a.k.a. uni-taskers.  Those are the tools and gadgets that can only do one thing in the kitchen.  As Alton Brown says, the only uni-tasker in the kitchen should be the fire extinguisher.   You might pay more up front for a multi-tasking item, but it will pay for itself in the long run.  Cake pans are a great example.  Don't buy figurine pans unless you know you can reuse them several times in different ways.  I have a pirate boy pan that I bought years ago.  I thought i would never use it again.  But the basic shape is great for any kind of standing figure, like my daughter's cowgirl cake.

(On a side photography and my decorating skills have come a long way baby!)

With that said, sometimes there are uni-taskers that you need to buy.  Pastry bags are a great example.  You won't really be able to use them for anything but piping, but they can be used with any kind of medium: frosting, royal icing, sponge cake batter, whipping cream.

Use everyday items or make your own.  Think outside the box.  Are there items in your home already that can be used in a pinch or permanently?  For example, I could spend $6 on flower forming molds, but instead I use plastic Easter eggs leftover from the year before.  Or small bowls.  Or cleaned out egg cartons.  I may end up spending that $6 on the molds someday, but for now, my free items work just fine.  If you can recreate an item for free, don't spend the cash on it; make it!

Time is money.  This ties in with #5.  Sometimes you just need to belly up and pay up.  Know when to bite the bullet and when to get creative.  Your time is better spent baking and decorating than trying to figure out some engineering issue.  If $6 saves you three hours of cursing and frustration, then that's $6 well spent in my book.  TRUST ME.  Your spouse/children/friends/neighbors/pets will be much happier, and so will you.

vintage funny Pictures, Images and Photos
Don't let this be you.  Just know when to call it a day!

If you're really determined to save money on baking supplies, you'll figure out the best method for yourself.  If you know other baking enthusiasts, try trading and borrowing supplies.  If you don't have the cash for an item now, rethink your design.  Sometimes it sucks, but that challenge may actually cause you to come up with a much better design, and one that is unique to you as an artist.  Hard times force you to think more creatively.  Utilize simple designs.  The more elaborate something is, the more you might have to actually purchase to carry it out.  In the end, quality always trumps quantity.

Happy Baking,

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