At this time of year I bake more and if you like to bake, here is a great thrifty tip for making your own pure vanilla essence.
Buy a real vanilla bean, then take a knife and split it end-to-end. Add the bean to a glass bottle, then fill it to the top with vodka. Let it sit in a dark spot of your cupboard for two weeks, shaking occasionally. It will darken but not as much as the shop bought variety. As you use the vanilla up, simply add more vodka. Last about 6 months depending on how much you bake.
If your recipe calls for using real vanilla from the bean instead of throwing the bean pod away, add the empty pod shell to a small glass jar of sugar. Shake occasionally to allow the essence to seep into the sugar nicely. Use for tea, coffee, and baking.