One of the keys to cooking tasty meals for less is a selection of useful and inspiring cookbooks. Here the 4 cookbooks that (along with the Internet) provide 99% of my information and recipes:
More Make-A-Mix Cookery
This book teaches you how to make pantry and refrigerator mixes (similar to the store bought cookie dough, muffin, cake, bread, shake 'n bake, etc mixes).
Reason I love it: this is a great guide for what kinds of things are shelf stable, but can create the tastes you want. This is my go to book for non-freezer, make-ahead foods.
Cost: I picked mine up for 50 cents at a garage sale
The Joy of Cooking
This book provides explanations about ingredients and recipes that will allow you to tweak recipes to get the taste you want. It also provides almost every basic recipe you could want.
Reason I love it: although it lacks pictures, this is the backbone of my cooking. Want to make a more delicate muffin, richer soup, learn about an unusual ingredient to accommodate someone's dietary needs? this is the first place I go.
Cost: about $25 (or check out garage sales)
This book is a great introduction to how to decorate baking of all sorts. Once you have the concepts down, the book provides beautiful pictures for inspiration.
Reason I love it: The materials needed (ziplock bags and candies) and the concepts are simple and
accessible to everyone. I use this book for inspiration in creating my own themes snacks and treats.
Cautions: I have not had great success with the cupcake recipes at the back (dry and an odd taste). I far prefer the lightening cake recipe from the Joy of Cooking.
Cost: about $20
Great Fast Food
This book's recipes just seem foolproof. I get something unusual and delicious every time, it's a great way to add some variety to your family's staple meals. Best of all, the recipes are quick and fairly simple to make and every recipe has it's own picture.
Reason I love it: Even recipes I think will be strange end up tasting wonderful. The recipes immediately become family favourites and teach a few time saving tricks along the way.