Today there’s a birthday in our house.  In general, we prefer to make birthday cakes around here based on the birthday celebrant’s preferences.  Two years ago, for example, I crafted a half cake/half brownie chocolate craziness to satisfy someone’s sugared up birthday wish.  This year, however, we opted for the store bought cake you see above.

Lesson 1: Planning is the key to every budget.

Birthdays are the same day every year.  I’m known for complaining about people rushing around on holiday eves filling grocery stores with chaos and tension when the holiday they’re trying to plan for is on the calendar the same time every year.  Somehow this year I became one of those crazy calendar-impaired people (a huge no-no for this live-or-die-by-the-list OCD chick), finding myself in the middle of the afternoon without a birthday cake for tonight’s early evening celebration.  Crap.  Had I paid better attention to the week’s schedule, I would have known to plan ahead.  Everything about your frugal or budget-conscious life works like that.  If you don’t know what’s coming, you don’t know to investigate money saving options.

Lesson 2: Convenience costs mucho money.

How much does it cost to bake a cake from scratch?  How much do flour, sugar, and cocoa powder really cost?   I’ve never done the math, but I have to guess it’s not anywhere near the $14.99 I paid for that fluorescent dragon covered chocolate wonder.  Convenience is awesome, sure, but it comes at a significant premium.  Even a boxed cake mix paired with a tub of frosting would have set me back $4 on a bad day without a sale or coupons.  That means I paid at least $10.99 for the bakery to mix this cake, bake it, and slap the frosting on, a task that probably wouldn’t have set me back more than an hour (with some time inserted for cooking and cooling) … an hour I didn’t have (refer back to #1).

Lesson 3: The frugal option is (almost) always better.

Honestly, after a piece of this terribly expensive birthday cake (which I most certainly should not have eaten), I must confess it wasn’t that great.  The cake was dry, probably from being frozen by the grocery store’s main bakery for transport to the regional location.  The frosting was overly sweet and not so chocolatey.  It wasn’t the best cake I’ve ever had.  It wasn’t even the best mediocre cake.  A boxed cake would have been better.  A scratch cake would have been divine.

Sure, I can try to convince myself that the store’s bakery people are the best cake bakers of all time, but … well, they aren’t.  There are some bakeries, however, that create amazing creations I can’t even dream of replicating (like these people from my hometown … seriouly, amaaaazing cake).  In those instances, a splurge for great product isn’t a terrible idea.  When the extra cost is associated with less than stellar product, the deal just isn’t so sweet.  This idea works for just about everything.  If you love great cheese, for example, splurging on an artisan raw milk is far more fulfilling than overpaying for terrible string cheese because you forgot it was “National Eat Cheese Day”.

Lesson 4: Screwed up?  Move on.

If you’re trying to keep your money in your pocket rather than someone else’s, planning for future needs, erring on the side of avoiding ‘convenience items’ (and their costly premiums), and saving your splurges for things that are worth it should be on your to do list.  They’re usually on mine.  I slipped up this time, and boy am I reminded of why I generally try to avoid debacles like this.  My personality makes me inclined to worry about the things I’ve screwed up, but looking backward is a great way to keep missing the point of what’s in front of you.  There will be bumps in the road to keeping your expenses lower than the average bear.  Moving forward rather than lingering over them is your best plan.