I figured there had to be a cheaper way, and I started making my own vanilla extract. It's incredibly easy.
1 large bottle of vodka
3-4 vanilla beans
I try to buy a bottle of vodka that's somewhere in the middle of the price range I see at the store. It doesn't need to be expensive, but I'm a bit leery of buying the cheapest option. I've found vanilla beans at small health food stores, Amazon, and even ebay. They may seem a bit expensive, but the overall cost of the extract is a huge savings.
Put the vanilla beans in the bottle of vodka and let sit in a dark closet for a few months. When it starts to turn dark, it's ready to use.
I just leave the vanilla beans in the bottle as I use it. In the past, I've sometimes poured the extract into a prettier glass bottle that was a more convenient size for my spice cabinet. Lately I've been lazy and just pour straight out of the original bottle.
I'm adding this money-saving recipe to the Frugal Family 2013 link-up, and I'm also counting it as my V contribution to Blogging through the Alphabet.