Am I the only one who has struggled with buying spices and herbs? I love to cook and good herbs and spices are essential, but I used to dread buying them because they're so expensive. How can the contents of a half-ounce jar be so expensive? I bought garam masala a few weeks ago and the cheapest I could find a bottle of it was five bucks (I realize now that I could have made my own mix. D'oh! P.S. you have to try this recipe for chicken tikka masala. Totally worth buying the garam masala for. Absolutely heavenly.). Yes, the spice section of the baking aisle can be a scary place for your grocery budget.
So my suggestion is to skip that spice section in the baking aisle altogether.
Spices are much, much cheaper if you skip the bottle. I buy my spices in the international food aisle, by the Mexican foods (the brand is "El Guapo", which always makes me think of Three Amigos). There I find packages of the exact same spices I would get in the baking aisle in a jar, but they're sold in a bag instead. You can't find every spice in this section, but I've found the ones I use most regularly in that section, like ground cinnamon. Other spices I've bought in the international aisle include rosemary, cloves (whole and ground), curry powder, cayenne pepper, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, and cumin. I haven't noticed a difference in quality between the bottled or bagged spices. The bagged ground cinnamon tastes as good as the bottled kind, in my opinion.
The bags aren't the most convenient method for storage, so I simply wash and reuse my other spice containers and pour the bagged spices in them. I filled an entire spice bottle with the bagged curry powder, with some to spare. The bottled version of curry powder ranges in price, depending on the brand and size, anywhere from $3-5; the amount of curry powder in the picture above cost me a whopping 88 cents.
So what if your store doesn't carry these bagged spices and herbs in the international food aisle? Try buying them in bulk at other stores. Stores like Whole Foods, Sunflower Market, and WinCo (those are just the ones I'm familiar with) let you buy spices and herbs according to weight (check out this link about savings at Whole Foods, this link about savings at WinCo). I've purchased bulk spices and herbs at Whole Foods and it's awesome. If you have a recipe that calls for a teaspoon or two of a certain spice, you can actually buy that exact amount if you want (helpful for herbs and spices you don't use often -- in my case, cardamom.). Even if you want to stock up on spices and herbs you use regularly, the total to fill a single reused jar will usually be less than a dollar.
Use up the bottled herbs and spices you have. Save and reuse the jars. Buy the bagged or bulk spices and herbs. Succesfully avoid highway robbery.