Like most moms, I have made way too many cupcakes over the years.

I like making and eating cupcakes anyway. So when potluck appeals get sent out, about half of the time I report back to the planning committee “Paula will bring cupcakes.”

I have discovered that my co-workers would rather have oatmeal cookies than cupcakes, so I follow up on that lead. And now that I have a bread machine, I’ll bring some fresh bread to the next scrapbook crop and see what my artistic friends think of that.

But cupcakes will always be one of my favorite potluck contributions. They’re so easy to make. I have both regular and mini cupcake pans available.

You can do cute cupcakes on a budget. Here is the basket where I keep my cupcake supplies.

Did you notice that I buy plain pastel cupcake papers? Yes, I’ve seen the holiday and birthday themed patterns at the stores. But do you seriously think anybody can see patterns on cupcake papers when they are eating the treats?

The plain papers go with any occasion and you are not in the situation of having pattern papers left over that don’t work with the next party theme.

Also note that I also have an assortment of colored sugars and sprinkles. You can’t see all the bottles, but I have about 15 selections. With the appropriate color of frosting, I can use the colored sprinkles to create cupcakes to match pretty much any party theme. Stock up on some basic decorating colors, and that’s really all you need for basic cupcakes.

However, there are people who like to create the more formal cake decorating. One of my sisters took this up as her hobby. She’s made some very fun designs including this doll cake for my birthday.

If you’ve tried to make creations like that, you know the supplies are not cheap. The doll pick alone cost about $3.50 at Crafts 2000. I bought it, and donated it to my sister’s cake supply stash because some of my nieces are now insisting on doll cakes for THEIR birthdays. (Ha, ha, Aunt Paula got the first one!)

And then my sister needed a shape that would make a doll skirt – luckily, several styles of cake pans can do that.

But what’s going to happen is you’ll walk into the craft or grocery store and see stuff like what’s in stock at Jo-Ann Fabric in Monroe:

And you are going to be overwhelmed with the product selection and the expense.

Now what?

If you want to get into serious cake decorating, I recommend you take a beginner class. You need to know how and when to use the various techniques. The bigger Jo-Ann stores in Ypsilanti and Taylor, and the Michael’s and Hobby Lobby stores in Toledo are among the places that host the Wilton cake decorating classes on a regular basis.

If you are interested in the Jo-Ann courses, the Taylor class fliers are distributed at the Monroe store. Sign up during the open house / discount days to keep your class fees down, and use the Jo-Ann coupons in the mail fliers to buy your initial supply kit.

And for my local readers, there will be a beginning cake decorating class starting Sept. 29 with Monroe Public Schools’ Community Education program. Again – use the craft store coupons to buy whatever supplies the instructor calls for.

The first thing I suggest is you do to save money while enjoying this hobby is to make a list of frequently used items and buy something from that list every time you have a craft store coupon. That’s what I do with my scrapbook and woodcraft supplies. If I do not have a project in the works when that Jo-Ann coupon is in effect, I buy a roll of tape or a stack of paper with that coupon. Yes, I know. I “saved” only about $2 by using that coupon on tape instead of a fancy album. But that’s better than spending $5 on tape.

My sister makes her list of needed supplies as much as a month ahead of the occasion so she can watch for sales at the craft stores in her neighborhood.

I have been known to buy white cake boxes four or five at a time at Crafts 2000 so that I don’t have to make a trip across town when the next potluck appeal goes out. I do use my plastic cake carry tub as much as possible for social events – and owned two metal cake plans previously. But you need to plan for the times when you have to leave the cake pan at the scene. Don’t buy that foil cupcake set when you can cram about 21 cupcakes into a 50-cent white box.

Another tip is start your own library of pretty cakes. Take pictures of every cake you make. Bookmark the web sites that have cake designs or tips you like – Wilton is one to check out. Tear out and keep the cake, cookie and candy creations that show up in women’s magazines. Then if someone asks what to buy you for birthday, ask for the latest cake decorating book.

One of the biggest expenses you’ll have are the fancy design cake pans. I’ve seen many variations of Halloween pumpkin and Thanksgiving turkey designs in the Monroe-area stores. I’ve also seen the price tags. If you think you’ll use it repeatedly and can wait for the after-season clearance sales, that would be the best way to get a new holiday pan on a budget.

I also remember reading about a library somewhere that loaned out cake pans like most libraries loan out videos. I don’t know of any cake pan library in southeast Michigan or northwest Ohio. If anybody has heard of one in the area, please add that in the comment section.

But you can get some really good deals on the second-hand market. I bought a “rubber ducky” pan for my sister at a garage sale hosted by one of my friends. The eBay listings also have lots of cake pans to pick from.

Given that situation, the only cake pans you should need to buy new because you’ll be using them constantly are a sheet pan, 13 by 9 pan, circle pans of various sizes and perhaps some square pans. I even have heart-shaped pans that I’ve used for many years.

Also check out my cupcake archives for links to and pictures of cute cupcake designs — and tips on how to handle the classroom party / bake sale requests!

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