How to Make Any Boxed Cake Mix Amazing


I feel like I’m always making cakes or cupcakes of some type between birthdays, class parties, holidays, even National Firefighter Appreciation Day.  I’ve really taken a liking to it, and baking my own always is less expensive than buying from a bakery.

So in light of Ben’s birthday party this Saturday, I thought I’d collect all my favorite baking tips, tricks, and easy switcheroos on how to take any $.83 boxed mix and make it taste like its from a bakery.

Ben’s 1st Birthday; and How to Save on Kids’ Parties

Egg Whites– Remove the yolks from the eggs recommended on the back and use just the IMG_6927whites. Then replace each yolk removed with 1 tbs of melted butter. This makes the cake lighter and fluffier and also lightens the color of white cake mix.

Extra Eggs– For a richer denser cake, add one or two extra eggs.

Trade Oil for Butter– Butter obviously makes everything better, but its even more obvious with cake, and it improves the texture.

Instant Pudding– Add a package of instant pudding to the cake mix. This is where I sometimes get creative too. Have a white cake mix? Add a package of strawberry pudding mix. Play around with flavors a little bit and you might discover something you really like.

Switch Out Water for Whole Milk- This makes the cake taste denser like you would get from a bakery.

Switch Out Water for Brewed Coffee- To bring out the flavor in chocolate cake. Ive actually never tried this one before but I’m going to this weekend when I make Ben’s chocolate construction site cake. If you’re not into brewing coffee…

Use Hot Water- For chocolate cakes in the same amount recommended in the box directions. This will bring out the flavor.

Sour Cream- Adding 1/2c of sour cream adds richness.


People also rave about home made frosting, but personally I’ve never done it. Here’s a quick one from good old Betty Crocker.

For more boxed cake mix tips, here are some links:

All Things Mama

Rachel Ray

Happy Baking!


Spring at the Bailey’s


Spring is in full swing here at the Bailey’s! There is so much going on here I haven’t had a lot of time here to post much at all, and I’ve been mostly using Instagram, but I’m trying to get better with that.

IMG_3353Preschool and kindergarten are winding down and we’re getting dates for move up ceremonies and back packs full of completed workbooks and projects. Abby will be in pre-kindergarten next year (basically the same thing as preschool) because of her December birthday, and I can’t believe it but Sam will be in first grade. When he started preschool I was a “My Baby is Growing Up” mess. Kindergarten I was ok. Now he’s a “grader” and I’m a mess again.

The weather here has been on and off hot and sunny followed by cold and rainy. We’ve been having so much fun doing outside things on the hot days. The other day I bought an 8 foot kiddie pool (not a budget friendly purchase but one that will definitely get lots of use). We’ve also done mini golf, IMG_3335lunches at the lake since there’s no charge for admittance for another few weeks, and visited the playground near our house that no one is ever at.

The rainy days have been for spring decluttering and working my side hobbies like crochet and Poshmark. Poshmark has been pretty dead this month but crochet actually picked up a bit so that’s nice. As far as decluttering, I’ve tackled our bedroom closet and the kid’s playroom (again). Jeff is working on a beautiful shelving unit for the playroom complete with reading bench that I can’t wait to install.

IMG_3422We’ve been participating in a No Spend May challenge with intermittent success. We have a couple of events that call for gift giving this month. Especially Mother’s Day and my sister’s High School Graduation, and of course some (not really) mandatory summer purchases like a float vest for Ben for when my mom opens her pool, summer shoes for all three kids after striking out at the consignment shop, the kiddie pool, and a dress for myself for the grad parties we have this month, which I actually got on sale for $9.99.

We’ve faltered a few times with our spending ban, but earlier this month I was still ableimg_3428.jpg to pay off my Mohela student loans and making some awesome progress with my next debt, a different student loan through Navient. At the beginning of the month it was at $3,220 and 7.25% interest, which is 2% higher than my next highest student loan. As we sit it’s at $2,800, and Jeff got some travel reimbursement through work, and all of that $245 is going right towards this loan. I’m really hoping to be able to pay this off by the end of the summer, and then I’ll be down to ONE student loan! I can’t believe it.

Last but definitely not least, the most exciting news for the season is that we’ve decided to have a family vacation next year! I’ve written about a previous family vacation before here. Other than over nights and day trips, we’ve never had a family vacation. If you follow me on Instagram, you know that growing up, I was used to week long camping trips and trips to the beach every summer. We had a camper and then bought a bigger one, went to amusement parks, ate out and did whatever we wanted. My parents were also drowning in credit card debt that they remortgaged the house three times to cover, became upside down on their mortgage, eventually divorced and last I checked, there are foreclosure proceedings beginning for my childhood home (my dad still lives there and we haven’t spoken since 2011 due to his alcoholism and other poor choices that I won’t go into).

IMG_3321Anyway, we were sitting looking at adorable lake cabins on the computer the other night, talking about how great it would be to take a real family vacation. We’d have our own place to stay and not worry about noisy neighbors or finding an affordable place to eat. A nice calm lake with no waves and a private beach is perfect for someone like me that is constantly worried about big waves knocking little people over and who’s running in which direction. We could cook our own food and grill out and take the kids out in a canoe. Then we looked at each other and said, you know what? Let’s do it! We’re thinking my loans will be paid off by then, leaving only Jeff’s student loans and the mortgage for debts, and the kids are only little for so long, its time to make some memories! We created a separate savings account, created a ballpark budget and figured out how much per month we would need to save up over 12 months to make it, adjusted our current budget and away we go!

I’m working on a Mid-Year Report type post based on the goals we set on New Year’s, so stay tuned for that! Happy spring!

Ben’s 1st Birthday; and How to Save on Kids’ Parties


My baby turned one last month and I can’t believe it. It feels like last week we were bringing him home from the hospital in the middle of a blizzard. Now he’s walking, he has a few words and word sounds, and is sleeping through the night in his own crib! That last part is pretty much a miracle compared to when Sam and Abby were his same age.

His party was an adorable lumberjack theme that I stole from Pinterest. We kept it simple; home made treats and cake at our house with only our family on the guest list, though that still totals about 30-40 people. I made all of the decorations or used what we already had.


Treats included chocolate dipped pretzel rods made to look like birch logs, marshmallows on sticks dipped in chocolate and rolled in crushed graham crackers like s’mores and chocolate birthday cake. I also had pancake shooters (mini pancakes in shot glasses with syrup and butter curls), but they really didn’t go how I planned and were kind of a flop. We actually ended up having even more food than planned because family members brought a couple of dips and baked treats and things. IMG_1283

As far as decorations, I made a ONE banner out of some scraps of fabric and twine. Jeff made a log cake stand out of a firewood log from the basement and a flat slice of natural edge wood I bought at Michael’s, AND the marshmallow stick stand by drilling holes in another firewood log. The tablecloth, lanterns and copper cups we already had, and we clipped some green branches off of last year’s Christmas tree in the yard.

He already had his shirt, boots and jeans, but I did sew buttons on to add suspenders.

All in all, his party was pretty consistent with all the kids parties I’ve thrown in my six years of birthdays.

I never understood the desire to throw these huge ridiculous parties for kids. We’ve been invited to parties for children of friend’s and family that were big elaborate affairs. Rented halls, hired performers, centerpieces and commercial decorations, catered food, dozens and dozens on the guest list.

IMG_1295And why? Kids have fun at parties whether there’s a magician or just cousins to play with.
Don’t feel obligated to spend your week’s paycheck (or worse, put it on a credit card) on a 2 year olds birthday because you think they’ll see other parties and feel bad. They won’t. They aren’t going to remember it in a month either so stop parent shamming yourself into debt. Realize that setting a budget and sticking by it is a small sacrifice that is going to pay off in the long run.

Setting realistic expectations to live by, and explaining to children how to use money responsibly makes you just as good of a parent as those that break the bank making sure there are enough mini horses for pony rides at a first birthday, but can’t pay the electric bill. 

That being said, here are my tips in how to have a great birthday party without going completely overboard:


Set a budget and stick with it. Make sure it is realistic and do this with cash if you have to.  For Ben’s party it was about $150. I planned ahead and budgeted a month in advance for what I thought we would need so I wasn’t pulling from other resources when the day came.

Its very tempting to over spend and then justify to yourself that its “for the child” and “mothers make sacrifices for their children’s happiness” and blah blah blah. Thats a cop out to make yourself feel better. Real talk, stop making excuses for bad financial habits.

IMG_0131Tone it down. Themes and guest lists and decorations and entertainers make a birthday spiral out of control. My second tip is chill out your expectations.

If you have to rent a hall, its too much. If you can’t fit all the guests in your house, pare down the guest list or change venue. Lately we’ve reduced the number of people we invite to things because our house is just too small. And guess what? Every one has survived. Instead of inviting the whole class, have the honoree pick one or two best friends to invite. If your house or apartment is too tight, move the whole thing outside or to a local park. However, I did have a birthday for my brother’s 21st for about 20 people in our old 650 sqft apartment. So, it can be done.

You can execute an adorable theme without buying a cart full of commercial decorations at a big box party store. Let’s be honest, guests go home and immediately throw out the goody bags and party hats you spent your hard earned money on.

Also on the chopping block, entertainers like musicians, face painters and magicians. Instead: set up a kid’s area with puzzles and games and toys your child already has. I find that when you clean up and organize something, and lay it all out on a table top, an old toy or activity becomes brand new. What about a Coloring Station with free birthday coloring pages printed offline?

Skip the party aisle. Instead of hitting up the party aisle or store for paper goods, go to the  paper products lane. A pack of color coordinated paper cups at the party store is $8.99 (!!!!!!!!). I know because I was just there looking and almost had a cardiac event.

Solo cups from the paper towel aisle serve the exact same purpose for less than half the price, AND they have different colors and designs. The same thing applies for plates, cutlery and napkins. Do adults need a My Little Pony plate, cup and napkin? No. If you’re having a lot of kids, pick one paper item and get a small package just for the kids.

IMG_1270Bake your own cake. You can do it I promise. I’ve baked many a cake over the past 6 years of birthday throwing; some were hits and some not so much. I can say now, I’m pretty good at it. Do they look like store bought? Probably not. But the kids really enjoy picking out what style they want, helping to bake it and decorate. It’s a fun memory and activity for them.

Grocery stores are chock full of every type of cake mix, frosting, flavor, color and decorating item you could ever want. Even some stuff I’ve only seen on Cake Boss like fondant and gum paste and sugar sheets, and every type of decorating tool you could imagine.

Get creative. If you don’t have a Pinterest account, make one immediately. It’s full of tips and tricks and ideas and its FREE. YouTube can teach you anything you need to know.

Seriously a kitchen novice? Find a cake decorating class on the basics. They have them at IMG_0126most craft stores. They’re affordably priced, and I feel like they’re justifiable to pay to take because you’ll be learning a new skill that you can use over and over for yourself, or to help someone else out. You can even make yourself a small side business out of your new hobby.

If you’re not a group class type of person, go to They have video tutorials on everything under the sun, and some mini classes are free.




So that’s how I keep my budget under control when I throw a birthday party. Even the new pared down guest list in our family is around 30 people, so it still takes some determination. I think my best tip though, is to know that your child loves you and you love your child. You’re amazing and doing a wonderful job. No house full of over priced decorations or catered food or rented venue is going to change that. ❤