Thursday, December 22, 2011

Last Minute Gift Idea: Cake Mix Cookies! And, Free Downloadable Gift Labels

So I made a gift guide a few weeks ago, but I know most of us spent the past week or so running around like crazy trying not to succumb to the horrors of Finals Week. Now that it's over with, let's all breathe a big sigh of relief (PHEW!) and then try to scramble around and figure out what to give everyone for the holidays!

Picture of Retorte's Cake Mix Cookies
The easiest, most wonderfully delicious and inexpensive idea I've come across this year are Cake Mix Cookies. What are cake mix cookies? Well, exactly what they sound like - cookies made from cake mix! Except they don't bake like cake, they bake like delicious cookies, and then when they're done you don't have to decorate them. The reason I love these cookies and am making them in spades this year is because they are easy and cheap. A box of cake mix is typically around $1.00 - don't pay any more than that for it. Hit up your local dollar store or Wal Mart to snag a couple boxes. I highly recommend getting a Butter Yellow or Golden Butter mix, from any brand - it's MUCH better than regular old yellow cake, and it's the most adaptable mix out there. Duncan Hines, Pillsbury and Betty Crocker all have their own version of Butter cake mix. If you're a chocolate person, get some sort of chocolate mix, and if you're adventurous, try a Spice Cake mix or a Cherry Cake mix or Funfetti or whatever catches your fancy!

Here's what you need:
- 1 Box of cake mix (any kind)
- Eggs
- Oil or butter
- Water
- Chocolate chips, M&Ms, nuts, peanut butter chips, butterscotch chips, dried fruit, candy, ANYTHING you want to put in your cookies

Here's How to Do It:
Preheat your oven to 350°F. Dump your cake mix in a bowl. Add 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup oil or butter (if you're using butter, that's half of a stick.) Add 1 egg if you want cookies that rise but don't spread much (they will be puffier and fluffy inside),  2 eggs if you want your cookies to spread and flatten out more (they will be slightly more crispy). Mix furiously. The dough will be sticky and tough, that's perfectly normal. Work those arm muscles, and pretend you're burning off some of the calories of the 92862768276 delicious cookies you're going to be eating later. Once your dough is all mixed together, add whatever mix-ins you want to add and mix again. Now that you're all mixed and ready to go, grease a cookie sheet and form little dough balls/clumps on the baking sheet, spaced about an inch or two apart to allow for spreading. Try to make them as roundish as possible, because especially if you only used 1 egg, they probably won't spread enough to become magically round on their own. Once your cookie sheet is all filled, pop those suckers in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the tops of the cookies have hardened and the bottoms are slightly browned. Wait for them to cool before eating one!

Here Are Some Interesting Cookie Ideas:
Chocolate Cake Mix Sandwich Cookies from Annie's Eats
- Peppermint Holiday Cookies! Stick an Andes mint inside each cookie, or crumble up some candy canes to use along with chocolate chips.
- Cookie Sandwiches! Ice your cookies and stack them on top of one another. Roll the edges in holiday colored sprinkles.
- Ice Cream Cookie Sandwiches! Sandwich ice cream between your flattened, cooled cookies. Roll the edges in holiday colored sprinkles and freeze before wrapping.
- Pinwheel Cookies! Make 1 batch of "white" dough and one of chocolate or red velvet dough. Using this technique,  roll out your dough onto a big rectangle of wax paper and place in fridge until firm. Stack your doughs one on top of the other - place any fillings you want rolled inside on top - and roll carefully into a log. Wrap log in wax paper and roll on surface to achieve optimal round log shaping, and firm in fridge again if necessary. When log is well shaped and firm, slice cookies. A knife might flatten your log so you may want to use unflavored dental floss instead. Voila!
- Cherry Chocolate Chip Cookies! Add dried cherries and chocolate chips to your cookies, and possibly walnuts too.
- Chocolate Caramel Cookies! Get some chocolate caremel candy such as Rolos or Milk Duds and roll one inside of each cookie to create a melty chocolate caramel center when cookies are baked.

Package your cookies by putting them in a cookie tin from the Dollar Tree, or sticking them in plastic sandwich baggies and tying those up with ribbon. Gifts for everyone!!

Also, for those of you who ventured down the homemade alcohol route I discussed in my gift giving guide, I've made some labels for my gifts that I want to share with you all to download and use on yours! I created these in Adobe Illustrator, but they are all converted to plain .JPGs that you can color in yourself. The Skittles basic logo is easily customization just by using the "Paint" fill bucket tool in any photo editing program (heck, even MS paint will work). I added the flavor names for my labels and I've included a .zip file of all of those labels, which are for the "Blenders" Skittles. The Apple Pie Moonshine label is pretty much ready to go, you can fill in the background with a color if you want and then just slap it on your mason jars! Note: the images are very large, so make sure to measure your containers and then scale the labels down to the correct size.

To Download: Click to open full-sized in a new window, right-click and "Save As."
To Download these labels as a .zip compressed set of files: Click Here
To Download: Click to open full-sized in a new window, right-click and "Save As."

Enjoy and have a wonderful holiday break!
- The Broke Student Guide

Want to know about new freebies, samples, deals and money-saving as soon as they happen? Follow The Broke Student's Guide on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Broke Student Finals Survival Strategy: Make-Your-Own Starbucks Part 1

Ah, coffee. A must-have for most college students, especially during the hellish weeks that we all know as "finals" (or "f*** I never learned sh**" if you're into that). You'd be hard-pressed to find a student in the library this week without a cup of coffee clutched in their trembling little hand. But at what cost?? No, I'm not talking about the expense of your sanity, health, or sleep-deprived car wrecks; I'm talking about how expensive Starbucks coffee is. Oh my god, IT IS SO EXPENSIVE. How expensive, exactly? Well say you're a casual Starbucks drinker. You only buy a coffee 4 days out of the week when you have class, and you just get a tall of whatever holiday drinks happen to be out, so it's only about $3.60. Sadly, that $14.40/week habit adds up to $57.60 per month, $230.40 a semester and $460.80 in a school year! And that's not counting the times when you got a Grande or some extra syrup or went to Starbucks on the weekends. It adds up, guys! But don't worry - I'm about to save you that $460, and it will only cost you maybe $30 MAX if you really go all out.

My in-home coffee shop, complete with rainbow-organized tea bags!
I resisted coffee for a long, long time. I was a green tea girl, and I drank those big canned energy drinks when I needed a boost. But then one summer I lived in an apartment that had a 100% free unlimited fresh-brew, fresh-roasted coffee machine filled with fresh Starbucks coffee beans. You just pressed a button, and the beans were ground and brewed before your eyes. It was amazing (and made paying rent totally worth it). I became a daily coffee drinker that summer, and when I moved back onto campus, I use one of my Swagbucks Amazon gift cards to buy myself a cute little one-cup coffee machine that came with a travel mug! Since then I've built up quite a little coffee empire on my kitchen counter, which you can see in that picture there. The orange coffee machine, which is actually not currently used for anything aside from making my kitchen look adorable, was found at Goodwill. And that brings me to the point of Part 1: How-To: How To Make Your Own At-Home Coffee Shop.  (PS: this would make a neat gift idea for your favorite Starbucks-addicted broke student friend!)

How To Make Your Own At-Home Coffee Shop.: What You Will Need and Where to Get It

1. Coffee Machine I mean, duh. But have no fear! Not only are coffee makers cheap and easy to find and use, but you can have one in your dorm room! Yay! The best places to get a good, inexpensive coffee machine:

  • Thrift Stores like Goodwill and the Salvation Army sell small appliances and frequently have coffee machines. Expect to pay anywhere from $2-$7 for one.
  • Post and ad on your local Craigslist or your school's Online Classifieds asking if anyone has a cheap one to sell for around $5.
  • Ask for one for free on your local Freecycle board. To find your local Freecycle chapter, visit
  • has some nice little ones for around $10-$15. I really like the one-cup machines that come with travel mugs so you can brew it and then take it right to class with you. There are some good cheap ones listed below. (Remember: you can use your Swagbucks points to redeem for Amazon gift cards!)
2. A Mug After you've got yourself a coffee maker, the next thing you need is something to put that coffee in once you brew it. If you bought a machine that comes with a travel mug, skip this step. If not, head to your nearest thrift store - they usually have some good mugs, and most of them end up being unintentionally hilarious (#1 Grandma? Hot Tasty Butts? ...that second one is a restaurant in MO, I didn't just make it up.) Or ask on Freecycle, most people have lots of mugs lying around. If you want a convenient little travel mug to take with you to class, hit up Amazon. DON'T go to a store, they usually tend to run about $15-$20 at a Target or Starbucks. Here are some fairly cheap travel mugs:

3. Coffee Again, kind of a no-brainer, but this one is a bit trickier. When I first started out brewing my own coffee, I went straight to the Dollar Tree and bought some coffee from them. As you can imagine, it was sub-par quality. So don't feel bad if you opt for the $8.99/lb coffee beans from Kroger or your local health food store - it's probably worth it, and it's way cheaper than Starbucks anyway. Grocery and health food stores typically have fresh beans and a grinder right there in the aisle. Dunkin' Donuts also has decent ground coffee, and of course there's always instant coffee like Folger's if you're not picky.

4. Creamer and Syrup Now that you've got the basics, it's time to have some fun! The flavored creamers and syrups you get are what will transform your at-home coffee into a Starbucks-esque dream come true. (You can also always stick with plain milk, though!) First you need some tasty creamer. Here's where to pick that up:

You can get creamers like this one at
the grocery store!
  • The Dollar Tree occasionally has International Delight creamer bottles, in flavors like Hazelnut and French Vanilla. Those are the same creamers in the little cups at gas stations and whatnot, and they are delicious!
  • Grocery Stores usually have tons of different creamers in both powder and liquid form. They'll also have fun flavors like Peppermint Mocha and Creme Brulee. Kroger in particular has a great selection of creamers. Pick out some fun flavors!
  • Gas Stations You know those little creamer cups I mentioned earlier at the gas station? Well as long as there isn't a limit to the amount you're allowed to take, why don't you go in there and buy a coffee and then, ahem, grab a couple of extra creamers to take along for the ride? I wouldn't condone this if I hadn't tried it myself many times in full view of the gas station attendants and confirmed that it is definitely NOT stealing - they've never said anything to me about it, and if there's a limit on the creamer you can take there is usually a sign. That said, don't steal.
Syrups are the other add-in that take your coffee from basic to baller. They can be expensive and difficult to find, though - I found mine (pictured above) at The Dollar Tree for $1 each! They will also have them at Grocery Stores, though they tend to be a bit on the pricey side. But if you always get a splash of Sugar-Free Hazlenut in your Starbucks, it might be worth the cost.

5. Sweeteners, Extra Goodies The last part of your DIY at-home coffee shop is the sweeteners and other extra goodies! You know what kind of sweetener you like best, so I suggest stocking up on it. Again, as long as it's free and unlimited, go ahead and grab some sweetener packets at a fast food place or gas station - just make sure it's REALLY free and unlimited, and buy something while you're there so you're not being a total dick. As for Extra Goodies, here's where you can have a bit of fun and get creative (or don't, because this stuff is totally optional.) How about Whipped Cream or Cocoa Powder to top off your drinks? Or Sprinkles? Or Cinnamon, Vanilla Extract, or Chocolate Syrup? In some of the recipes I'll be mentioning in my next post, we'll be using goodies like Hot Chocolate, Peppermint Extract (or candy canes, or peppermint candies) Eggnogg and Canned Pumpkin. So get creative in your grocery aisle! Like I said at the start of this article, even if you spend $30 on your at-home coffee shop today, you're still saving yourself from a $460/school year habit. Or to put it more simply, if you make your own drinks at home instead of going to Starbucks for 2 weeks, your at-home coffee shop will have paid for itself.

Of course, some of you are probably making a face right now and rolling your eyes and thinking "oh my god, this is way more work than just actually going to Starbucks, $460 be damned!" And, yea, you're right. So for those of you who just prefer the convenience of having someone else make your own coffee, I've got you  covered too! Here are your alternatives:

Circle K has tons of yummy coffee options for only $.99!
  1. Buy Your Coffee Somewhere Cheaper Just hear me out on this one: there ARE cheaper places to buy coffee than Starbucks, and they DO taste just as good. Some of the best and cheapest coffee drinks I've had come from gas stations, especially Circle K and QuickTrip.  Both of these gas stations serve 16oz flavored cappuccinos for $.99! You can make your own coffee drink by mixing and matching yummy stuff like French Vanilla Cappuchino or Pumpkin Spice Latte or plain old flavored coffee. Not only is it cheaper, but you get MORE coffee, and it tastes DELICIOUS. (Plus: free unlimited flavored creamer!) If you buy one of these coffees 4x a week for a school year, you'll spend only $128 - practically 1/4 of what you'd spend going to Starbucks!
  2. Use Gift Cards Sometimes it's just gotta be Starbucks. I get it. So for those times, why not use a free Gift Card? Where would you get those gift cards for free, you ask? Why, that site I keep talking about getting Amazon gift cards - you can ALSO redeem your points for Starbucks gift cards! I'm talking about  Swagbucks, of course. They offer $5-$100 gift cards to Starbucks. They are slightly more expensive than the Amazon gift cards, but the average daily Swagbucker can usually make about 2250 points in a month - enough for about $15 in Starbucks gift cards. Not bad, eh? At least that's one week's worth of Starbucks paid for each month! That adds up to a savings of $120/school year. To learn more about earning Swagbucks, read this entry. 
Stay tuned for Part 2: Make-Your-Own Starbucks Drink Recipes!!

Want to know about new freebies, samples, deals and money-saving as soon as they happen? Follow The Broke Student's Guide on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...