Spicing up your foods is a great way to turn a mediocre meal into something spectacular. Unfortunately, if you browse your grocery store spice rack, you're going to spend a small fortune for a few tiny bottles.
Luckily, there is a solution! Well, there are a few solutions.
You can grow fresh herbs in a sunny window or small outdoor pots. That will take care of the easy ones like basil, oregano, rosemary and chives. But if you want something more exotic, you might need to find another route.
Check out the ethnic food sections of the grocery store. These sections often offer a selection of low-priced herbs and spices. Don't look for tidy little jars, though. Generally, seasonings offered in ethnic sections will be packaged in cello-bags with paper labels. Once opened, you'll need to transfer the remaining contents into a better container.
If you tend to use a large quantity of a particular seasoning (in our house that means garlic powder, cinnamon and ginger) check warehouse stores for bulk packaging. Store the larger container away from heat and light and use it to refill smaller, user-friendly dispensers.
Don't shun dollar stores in your search for seasonings. Many dollar stores offer at least a limited selection of herbs and spices at far less than you would pay elsewhere. Make sure you check expiration dates and quantities before purchasing. Spending $1 for a 4" container of bay leaves becomes far less economical when you get the jar home and open it to reveal a pitiful offering of 5 or 6 leaves covered in brown spots.
My favorite seasonings that make cents?
A rosemary bush that has decorated the corner of my small flower garden for nearly ten years and has lent a pine-y aroma and delicious flavor to countless dishes definitely tops my list. My favorite ethnic section find was a small package of real saffron snagged from a shelf in the "Mexican" area of a local Wal-Mart - enough for over 10 recipes for less than $3. I shop Sam's Club for bulk garlic powder, cinnamon and ginger, and once found whole nutmegs for a bargain price. A dollar store once saved our Yuletide holiday when I needed a large amount of poppy seeds for a traditional Polish recipe - the store was the only place I could find poppy seeds in more than tiny jars, and we ended up buying all 9 jars that they had - for $.50 each.
I understand the desire to have all your spice jars in the same style. It just looks nicer in the cupboard. Instead of going for the expensive branded seasonings, try putting your random purchases in 1/2 cup size jelly jars. Most boxes even come with a sheet of labels so you'll never wonder if that strange green leaf is basil, oregano or tarragon. And, trust me, if you want basil on your pizza and you mistakenly use tarragon... you'll always remember to label your jars!