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Monday, May 11, 2015

Does it look like something's missing, here?

Maybe not to you, but I can see that there are no paper baking cups on this batch of muffins. This is not earth-shaking, frugal living, by any means. But over the last 15 years, I had become accustomed to using paper baking cups with muffins and cupcakes. I thought I was saving a whole lot of time by using them.

Well, I ran out of plain white, everyday baking cups a month ago, and don't want to use up my "special" holiday baking cups. Until I can bring myself to buy some more "everyday" baking cups, I'll be buttering the muffin tins.

But do you know what I was thinking about? There's a generation of young people who don't know that a muffin tin can simply be buttered. Kids and young adults who have mostly seen muffins in grocery stores and bakeries, always wrapped in a paper baking cup. Isn't that funny to think? Meanwhile, many of our mothers always buttered muffin tins. So many things have changed in just our lifespans.

So, you know I wouldn't just leave this post as is, don't you? That I would simply HAVE TO figure if there was any significant cost savings to buttering my muffin tins. LOL!

Okay, so a dozen paper baking cups are around 13 cents (Dollar Tree, 100 ct., $1.10 including tax). I use less than 1/2 tablespoon of butter to grease a 12-cup muffin tin. 1/2 tablespoon of butter costs me about 2 & 1/2 cents cents (at the price per pound I most recently bought butter, $1.69/lb). So I do save 11 cents per 12-cup muffin pan, by buttering the tin.

Now all of this, whether or not it's cheaper to butter your tin or use paper baking cups, is highly dependent on 2 things -- the price of butter and the price of paper baking cups. If the price of paper came way down, but the price of butter skyrocketed, the outcome of my calculations would change.

But wait . . .  here's another possibility. I can buy baking cups in a super duper large quantity (about 10,000 which would be a 20-year supply even for me), for just over $50. Of all of my searching for cheap paper baking cups, this is the absolute cheapest that I found. A dozen of these bulk-purchased baking cups would cost about 6 cents. Even at this price, I still save almost 4 cents per dozen, by buttering my muffin tins.

But how about the work saved by using baking cups? It took me under 5 minutes to butter the entire tin. I was waiting for the oven to preheat in this time, anyway. So, not really an issue. How about sticking to the pan? My muffins don't generally stick to the pan. Higher sugar recipes will leave a sticky crumb residue, but the muffins still pull out of the pan.

So, will I continue buttering the tins? Well, despite all of this, there is this thing I call "mental time". It's not real time, but perceived time. My mind wants to believe that paper baking cups are SO much more convenient. I can read the facts that I just typed, but it's hard to convince my mind. I know myself. At some point, I will buy more baking cups. But I'll be looking for a great deal on them.

In the meantime, at 2 dozen muffins per week, I am saving at least 12 cents, maybe 22 cents per week. Okay, not a grand savings, but over a year, that does add up to a whopping $6.24 to $11.44 by buttering my muffin pans. I won't be getting rich by buttering my muffin tins, but I could go out to lunch on those savings. What I have figured is this -- my "stock-up wildly" price on baking cups is about 25 cents per 100 count. Could happen.

Do you do anything to save money that only saves pennies, but you do it anyway?



  1. Good morning Lili! This post cracked me up, lol! I don't know if it was the excitement of everyone going to work/school this morning, or the fact that I love saving money so much!! Lol! Great job on the caulculations! Hope you had a wonderful Mother's day!

    1. Hi Lona,
      I kind of know that I'm sometimes excessive in my calculations! LOL! One of those things about me that I kind of know! I actually measured how much butter I use when buttering the muffin pan, so I could be sure on whether it was saving me money or not. But I'm very glad that I entertained you this morning!

      I hope you had a wonderful Mother's Day, too!

  2. Lili,

    I have to say I use the paper cups only 50% of the time. I find the muffins sticks to the paper cups a lot and then we lose a lot of muffin to the paper and that makes me mad. So I often just spray the muffin tin with my own spray and put the batter directly in the tin. They don't stick nearly as much to the pan.

    But, I will say that I am becoming lazy in my "old" age and I will more often line a baking pan with foil if I bake a chicken or a meat product so I don't have to scrub my pan--I just roll up the foil and throw it away. I know this is a bad habit but it is much easier than scrubbing my night away!


    1. Hi Alice,
      You know, this has come up with our family, as well. It does bother us that we lose some of every muffin or cupcake to the paper baking cup! And I thought I would be the only one who could appreciate that aspect of buttering the tin -- so as to waste less of the muffin!!

      Here's a way to look at using foil to line your pans for homemade meals. If lining the pan with foil helps keep you preparing meals at home, then you have saved money over buying pre-made convenience foods, getting take-out, or going out to eat. And that is definitely a win!

      It's a trade-off. You only have so much time available each day. You have to pick and choose how to best use that time. And some of your time should be devoted to some evening time that is not drudge work, like scrubbing pans. I guarantee you this, you will not reach the end of your life and wish you had spent more of your time scrubbing pots and pans. There needs to be a balance of work and pleasure in life!

      I think you're doing great!

  3. Lili--

    I enjoyed this morning's post, as well. I used paper baking cups when we had small children, both because they were cute and because they seemed to be "handier" someway. But I stopped using them probably 15-18 years ago, partly because you DO lose a lot of muffin in the paper, sometimes (and I never could figure out why sometimes they came out great and sometimes they didn't. Maybe someone smarter than me here knows the answer???)

    I also realized that I sort of missed the cooked exterior that reminded me of the blueberry muffins my grandmother baked in her woodstove in the summers. And frankly, not price, but just time/space considerations, paper baking cups just seemed like an extraneous thing to buy/store when I already had oils I could use.

    Which brings me to a question... I LOVE butter and use it on everything, and I do butter pans for some baking; but I don't use it for muffins. I just brush peanut oil on my tins for muffins. Oil tastes fine with popovers, and most recipes have oil in them; so I never thought it wouldn't be fine for muffins. Oil is also what my grandmother used, so that's good enough for me! :) So, if I'm buying gallon jugs of peanut oil, and using that, seems like that would be even cheaper than butter, most of the time, don't you think?

    One other reason I've not purchased paper baking cups in years (and haven't even used up a few novelty ones I have left in my baking box from when my kids were in elementary school) is that I bought cast iron muffin tins. My husband found a big old antique one at a garage sale about 12 years ago; and then I splurged and bought three cast iron mini-muffin pans from Vermont Country Store or Lehman's (can't remember which). These are the NICEST muffin tins EVER, and everything comes out perfectly every time -- corn muffins, fruit muffins, gluten-free, cupcakes, popovers, egg frittata doodads -- everything. All with just a couple of brushes of oil, which doesn't even really feel like a "step" in the process, it's such second nature. I never was this happy even with any other muffin tin, and clean-up is easy, as well.

    So, no more paper cups for me, at all.

    Oh, and Alice, I agree about lining pans. I don't always do it, but I value my time with my family after dinner more than the pennies the liner costs us. And yesterday I put parchment paper on a packing list for a camping trip we're taking, because I REALLY don't want to waste vacation time (or limited water resources) scrubbing out a pan. Besides, greasy parchment is a great fire-starter!


    1. Hi Sara,
      So, other people also noticed the muffin sticking to the papers, and it bothers them too! I'm so glad to know I'm not the only one who feels this way! LOL!

      I'd never thought to oil a muffin pan. I think we often just do what we've seen done by others, usually our mothers. My mom always buttered pans, but she used a paper towel. The paper towel part always bothered me, because sometimes I could see bits of paper lint stuck in the butter, AND it seemed to me that the paper towel would absorb some of the butter, instead of depositing the butter on the pan. (I use those waxed paper wrappers from butter, for the buttering.) Right now, my one and only kitchen brush is dedicated to my spice grinder. But if I decide to change that and/or buy another brush, I'll try buttering my muffin tins. Thanks for the suggestion!

      I must admit, about paper baking cups, there are some awfully cute ones on the market that just look fun. Maybe for a special party or gathering. . . :-)

  4. I am currently on a mission to save pennies, that when done often and repeatedly, amounts to a few dollars per year...just like your muffin paper baking cup calculations. And that is just one action in a day that is packed with tens or hundreds of small actions. Most often we don't ponder the financial consequence of seemingly small choices, but they do add up. Frugality is a lot of work, mentally and physically. It is not for the lazy person who is picky and likes things a certain way no matter what the cost. Or for those who feel thinking about pennies is not worth their time. I like to save my pennies for the one off splurges, though that too is also not extravagant lol


    1. Hi YHF,
      my son made a good point about saving pennies. I would definitely stop to pick up a penny on the ground. So, if buttering a muffin pan saves me several pennies at a time, I have already decided in my own mind that I'm willing to take a minute to save those pennies.

      And you're right about frugality taking mental as well as physical energy. I was at a couple of markets this morning and after spending so much time doing mental math as I figured cost per unit, and compared various prices, I felt so very tired.

      Good luck with your current mission!

  5. I like to think I do quite a few things that save just pennies, if even that. For instance, if someone doesn't finish their glass of water, it goes into the pet bowl. Composting scraps and/or feeding them to the chickens (we missed our chickens and got 5 pullets about 10 days ago now!). Buying a bulk container of yogurt and putting into our own reusable small plastic bowls for school lunches (I know, not as cheap as homemade, but liked better here and a reasonable "convenience" at times).

    As for paper muffin liners, it really varies as to what kind of muffins I'm making. For blueberry, I use the liners because I find they stick more and make the pan messier without. Whereas something like banana doesn't. And I use parchment as well for certain dishes that result in a messy stuck-on pan otherwise.

    1. Hi Cat,
      Exciting that you got new chickens!
      I've noticed that as well, with some muffins sticking less than others. I suspect it has something to do with sugar content. My sweetest muffins leave a stickier crumb residue, as does cake batter. I do still always line cake pans with waxed paper. The cakes come out of the pan so much better for me than when I simply butter and flour the pans. I'll be making a sponge cake roll for a tea this coming weekend, and I'll have to lie the jelly roll pan with paper, if I want it to come out of the pan without tearing.

      So, sometimes,to me it seems appropriate to use the paper liners, in order for the product to turn out successfully.

  6. Separate from the cost savings, not using paper liners decreases waste also. There's nothing to throw away:)

    1. And one other thing that nags at my mind about using paper baking cups -- the cheap ones are white and have been bleached. I'm not sure how I feel about that.

  7. I never use liners for muffins except for blueberry and strawberry ones. Those are very juicy fruits and the juices can leach out of the muffin and bake onto the pan, so they get the paper. The rest just get a smattering of whatever I have on hand. For savory muffins I have even greased the tins with cleaned bacon fat and have had no issues. I tried greasing and flouring tins for cupcakes but I found it costs more in irritation than the savings so I will continue using muffin liners with them.

    1. Hi Anne,
      I feel like some of you are way ahead of me in making assessments about your muffins. Such as you've figured which muffins bake "cleanly" in the pan and which don't. Very smart! For me, I was either using baking cups or I wasn't, based on availability/price of cups, not on the particular type of muffin. I will think differently in the future, I'm sure, due to all of this input.

      Bacon fat for savory muffins sounds delicious. I hadn't thought about using bacon fat with muffins. (I do it with cornbread, though, so don't know why muffins wouldn't occur to me.)

  8. While I was reading the beginning of your post, I thought that papers were cheap and butter was expensive, so was it really a cost savings? Then right below the picture, was your careful analysis which I always appreciate.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      Well, in the grand scheme, paper is inexpensive. And in my calculations, I did find that the cost difference was not all that great. So it does seem like it could go either way, depending on prices in your area. If butter were more expensive, then the papers might be the economical choice.

      For me, all of this just demonstrates that if I want to know if a typical frugal practice is truly frugal or not, then I need to do the math myself. (See, all of those math classes did have a purpose, after all! LOL!)


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