Caramel Brownies and My Best Grocery Shopping Tip

caramel brownies

Today I am very excited to introduce a special guest here on Tackling Our Debt. Her name is Tanya and through the magic of the Internet she has become a wonderful new friend. She shares some personal budgeting tips as well as a special treat at the end. Please welcome her, and please share out her post. Thank you!

I love food. It's partly why I started blogging. I stuff my face every day for the sake of my readers. :) It's a sacrifice I'm happy to make, minus the days I struggle to zip up my jeans. Those days I resolve to only eat celery sticks, until I remember that celery sticks are yucky and I need to make caramel brownies for my guest post at Tackling Our Debt.

You have to do what you have to do.

Like many of you, I'm trying to minimize my expenses, and one area that had plenty of room for improvement was my grocery bill. I am ashamed to admit that for a long time I had way too much food waste. And even worse, I didn't blink an eye over it.

Thankfully, I finally woke-up and realized my mistake. Since then, I have made significant strides to eliminate food waste and to get my grocery budget under control. I started with all the things you were supposed to do: meal plan, buy things on sale/cut coupons, don't go to the grocery store hungry, etc. But the one thing that made the biggest difference to curbing my waste and saving me money was—know thyself.

Yup, know thyself. This is not a self-help post, but understanding my relationship with food helped me make permanent changes. Let me explain.

Figure Out What Works for You

Initially, I tried to create a monthly meal plan. It seemed like a logical way to cutback on unneeded groceries and all the cool kids were doing it. As an added perk, I would spend less time in the grocery store, giving me fewer opportunities to add extra items to my cart. Yet it never worked for me. In fact, I probably ended up with more food waste and a higher monthly grocery bill.

Why? Because I assumed what worked for others would work for me.

Know thyself.

Some people can plan out their meals a month in advance and religiously follow it. I can't. What sounds good on July 1st may not appeal to me on July 17th, and I will refuse to make it. Plus, I also have this weird habit of making a list or plan of action, then completely disregarding it because I don't want be a pawn of the man. Which is weird on many fronts because, first and foremost, I'm a woman and made the list myself. Eventually, I figured out these are small acts of rebellion since I tend to pretty laid back in real life.

Knowing that I do this has helped out tremendously. I shop on Sundays, so the week prior I start planning next week's meals, looking at grocery flyers as a guide. Doing this has allowed me to plan meals based on what's on sale and my schedule for the upcoming week (i.e. how crazy is my week and will I be eating any meals out). Now I actually look forward to making and eating my meals for the week and seeing how much I can come under budget.

If you've been faithfully following the conventional advice to lower your grocery bills with little success, stop and get to know thyself first. Sometimes we need to be more disciplined and sometimes we need to get to know thyself and accommodate our personalities instead.

Caramel Brownies

My cousin introduced me to these brownies when we were teenagers, and I've been a big fan of them for years. They are unbelievably decadent and an affordable treat. I bought everything at Target and Walmart. I find that almost all pantry items are much higher priced at grocery stores. So these days, unless the grocery store has a great sale, I buy my pantry items at Target and occasionally Walmart. (Walmart had the best price on caramels, saved a $1 over Target).


  • 50 to 60 caramels, unwrapped
  • One box German Chocolate Cake Mix
  • 1 cup evaporated milk, divided
  • 3/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 9x9-inch pan with non-stick spray.
  2. In a large bowl, add the dry cake mix, 2/3 cup evaporated milk and melted butter. Stir together until batter is smooth.
  3. Pour a little over half the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 8 minutes, then remove from the oven. Set aside.
  4. Melt caramels and 1/3 cup evaporated milk in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir until caramels have melted and the caramel sauce is smooth.
  5. Sprinkle chocolate chips over the partially cooked brownie. Spoon caramel sauce over the chocolate chips. Drop spoonfuls of the remaining batter on top. You may not have enough to cover the caramel sauce completely.
  6. Return brownies to the oven and bake for an additional 18 to 20 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned and crisp. Cool brownies completely before cutting.

Makes 12 brownies

Special Notes

I used 50 caramels. There are approximately 35 caramels per bag and if you need/want to save some money, use only one bag of caramels. The brownies cost me $8.75. Caramels=$4; Cake mix=$1.50; Evaporated milk=$1; Chocolate chips=$1.25; Butter=$1.

Frugal but Not Fat-Free

Enjoy the caramel brownies! They are worth the calories and eating celery sticks for the rest of the day. Not that I would actually eat celery sticks. I just eat the brownies. After all, I am trying to avoid food waste! :)


    • DC @ Young Adult Money

      DC @ Young Adult Money 07/10/2013 5:09 a.m. #

      Those brownies look delicious! Thanks for sharing the recipe.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 07/10/2013 10:47 a.m. #

        Yes, I agree! Anything with chocolate works for me.

      • Tanya @ Eat Laugh Purr

        Tanya @ Eat Laugh Purr 07/10/2013 3:42 p.m. #

        You're welcome, DC! They are definitely delicious and just a tad bit addictive. :)

    • Holly@ClubThrifty

      Holly@ClubThrifty 07/10/2013 5:27 a.m. #

      Those look delicious~~~

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 07/10/2013 10:47 a.m. #

        And so easy to make too!!

      • Tanya @ Eat Laugh Purr

        Tanya @ Eat Laugh Purr 07/10/2013 3:43 p.m. #

        Thanks, Holly!

    • Joe @ Stacking Benjamins

      Joe @ Stacking Benjamins 07/10/2013 6:13 a.m. #

      "Know thyself"...what a great rule. I love your commitment to tweaking your plan to fit your own style. I think many people fall of the wagon and never get back on because they think they "can't follow this plan." Instead of changing it they (sadly) give up.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 07/10/2013 10:49 a.m. #

        That is true in so many areas! Many people start a specific diet plan but when they hit a part that is too difficult for them, instead of making adjustments, they quit, as you just said.

      • Tanya @ Eat Laugh Purr

        Tanya @ Eat Laugh Purr 07/10/2013 3:46 p.m. #

        Thanks, Joe! We are all at the receiving end of lots of great, well-meaning advice that sometimes doesn't quite work for us. I used to beat myself up and wonder what I was doing wrong. Many times I would have given up too. Now I try to take into consideration my own personality and figure out how to make it work for me.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer

      Laurie @thefrugalfarmer 07/10/2013 7:01 a.m. #

      LOL, I almost shared this recipe yesterday instead of the Napolean bars recipe - these bars are delightful!!! One of our fave desserts! We've really learned a lot about cutting down on food waste too - it can be a huge budget-buster!

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 07/10/2013 10:50 a.m. #

        I know Laurie, it is so easy to waste food. The things I find myself letting expire and throwing out way too often are things like sour cream. It happens every month too. Weird.

      • Tanya @ Eat Laugh Purr

        Tanya @ Eat Laugh Purr 07/10/2013 3:49 p.m. #

        I'll have to check out your bars as I'm alway searching for another yummy dessert! These bars are definitely one of our family favorites too. I'm ashamed by how much food I wasted previously. It was such a waste of money and living in LA - I see hunger on a daily basis and it makes me feel even worse. I'm glad it's habit I'm breaking.

    • Christy Garrett

      Christy Garrett 07/10/2013 8:01 a.m. #

      These sound awesome. Thank you for sharing this recipe. Too bad I am on a diet.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 07/10/2013 10:51 a.m. #

        You and me both Christy!

      • Tanya @ Eat Laugh Purr

        Tanya @ Eat Laugh Purr 07/10/2013 3:50 p.m. #

        You're welcome, Christy! These are definitely a diet-breaker. :) Maybe you can make them for group where you can just have a bite. Of course, it's hard to just have one bite. I know this from experience!!

    • krantcents

      krantcents 07/10/2013 9 a.m. #

      My wife does weekly menus and it works very well for us. We can even include a treat every so often like this dessert.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 07/10/2013 10:51 a.m. #

        It is good to be organized with weekly meal plans.

      • Tanya @ Eat Laugh Purr

        Tanya @ Eat Laugh Purr 07/10/2013 3:53 p.m. #

        That's great your wife does weekly meal plans. I find that works best for me too. I generally think what I want to make for the month but don't make a firm plan until the week prior. Otherwise I just can't seem to stick to it! And yeah, it's always good to budget in the sweet treats too. I need to do a better job of that! :)

    • John S @ Frugal Rules

      John S @ Frugal Rules 07/10/2013 9:32 a.m. #

      Ok, I think I gained 5 pounds looking at that picture. ;) "Know Thyself" simple yet so true.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 07/10/2013 10:52 a.m. #

        Exactly John! Me too!! And I love caramels, but I haven't had them for a long time.

        • Tanya @ Eat Laugh Purr

          Tanya @ Eat Laugh Purr 07/10/2013 3:57 p.m. #

          Whaaaaaaat!!! Caramels are one of my favorite foods. If it weren't so darn expensive to ship to Canada, I would make you a batch of my homemade caramels. So, so good. You'll have to tell me when you visit the States so I can ship you a batch!

      • Tanya @ Eat Laugh Purr

        Tanya @ Eat Laugh Purr 07/10/2013 3:55 p.m. #

        Oh, I gained 5 pounds making them! I have to sample recipes to make sure they are worthy of you. LOL! I agree it's a simple philosophy but one that works.

    • Kendal @HassleFreeSaver

      Kendal @HassleFreeSaver 07/10/2013 11:05 a.m. #

      Oh man, those brownies look delish! I'm a sucker for melted caramel and brownies so I'll give them a try! I definitely spend more on groceries than necessary, though I'm pretty good and comparing unit prices and sticking to my list. What I have yet to master is meal planning - my husband is the cook (lucky me!) and he hates being restricted by a formal menu. Perhaps I'll try your weekly approach!

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 07/10/2013 12:28 p.m. #

        I know how your husband feels. Some days I hate being restricted to a plan too. Meal planning has pros and cons. The pro is that when dinner time comes you don't have to put much last minute thought into it because you just do what is listed for that day. The con is like Tanya said, what if that day comes and you don't feel like having what is on the list. Gotta be flexible, I guess.

      • Tanya @ Eat Laugh Purr

        Tanya @ Eat Laugh Purr 07/10/2013 4 p.m. #

        I love caramel too, Kendal. It just makes me smile. My grocery budget is higher than I would like - especially since it's just one person. I am doing a much better job at comparing prices and looking for deals. It really does make a difference. You are so lucky your husband cooks for you. I enjoy cooking but some days it would nice to let someone else takeover the kitchen. Yeah, I hate being restricted by a formal menu too so the weekly plan works well for me. I generally remain excited to eat the meals I planned.

    • Corina Ramos

      Corina Ramos 07/10/2013 1:29 p.m. #

      OMG I think I just gained 5 pounds just by looking at the picture! I'm not a fan of celery sticks but it sure looks like it's worth getting on the treadmill for an extra 30 minutes :)

      I was on a roll with my coupons and list and weekly menu plans and was saving some money. Things have gotten so busy that lately I just pick up what I'm going to make for dinner or worse, if I'm in a real hurry, take-out.

      I loved how you said "know thyself" true. I've tried other suggestions with no luck either and you've reminded me to get back on the ball and start saving money in this area.

      So nice to meet you and welcome to Sicorra's blog :) Have a great day ladies!

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 07/10/2013 3:09 p.m. #

        Speaking of celery sticks, did you ever see the cookbook that Seinfeld's wife, Jessica, came up with about mashing up veggies and putting them into baked goods and such? I wonder how mashed up celery would taste in brownies?? LOL

        • Tanya @ Eat Laugh Purr

          Tanya @ Eat Laugh Purr 07/10/2013 4:06 p.m. #

          My mom always puts zucchini in her desserts. Drives my dad crazy. I don't mind some desserts with zucchini but I don't think I can handle celery in brownies. Sometimes you just have to be bad! :)

      • Tanya @ Eat Laugh Purr

        Tanya @ Eat Laugh Purr 07/10/2013 4:05 p.m. #

        I'm glad to meet you too, Corina! It always boggles my mind how much I bust my behind to get into a good habit while it takes zero effort to fall off the wagon! :) When I used to work in Corporate, I was notorious for eating out all the time. Sometimes every meal of the day. So not only was it expensive, but it wasn't kind to my waistline either. Of course, these brownies aren't that kind to my waistline either! LOL! You have a wonderful day too!

    • Shannon @ The Heavy Purse

      Shannon @ The Heavy Purse 07/10/2013 1:45 p.m. #

      These look fantastic, Tanya! You are so dangerous in the kitchen. :) While I have not tried these brownies, I can say that I've sampled some of her other treats and they are delicious! :)

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 07/10/2013 3:10 p.m. #

        You are definitely one of the lucky ones Shannon to have tasted some of Tanya's baking treats. The rest of us just get to drool over the pictures and fantasize :-)

        • Tanya @ Eat Laugh Purr

          Tanya @ Eat Laugh Purr 07/10/2013 4:10 p.m. #

          Thanks! I think we're both pretty lucky. :) She is the one who made it possible for me to leave snowy Minnesota for sunny California!

      • Tanya @ Eat Laugh Purr

        Tanya @ Eat Laugh Purr 07/10/2013 4:08 p.m. #

        You are always so disciplined. Just one bite. Me, I stuff my face as much as possible! And if I remember correctly, you are not too shabby in the kitchen either!

    • Tanya @ Eat Laugh Purr

      Tanya @ Eat Laugh Purr 07/10/2013 4:12 p.m. #

      Thanks for letting me guest post, Sicorra! It's been a lot of fun. :) And I've apparently made everyone gain weight! LOL!

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 07/10/2013 7:19 p.m. #

        Thank you Tanya for sharing an excellent post and a sweet dessert that everyone loves.

    • Jen @ The Happy Homeowner

      Jen @ The Happy Homeowner 07/11/2013 9:25 a.m. #

      Welcome, Tanya! Great recipe--those brownies look so good :)

    • Tanya @ Eat Laugh Purr

      Tanya @ Eat Laugh Purr 07/15/2013 3:55 p.m. #

      Thanks, Jen! The brownies are delicious, although I am probably biased! :)

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