If you’re planning a wedding, you’ve probably been faced with the tough proposition of having your cake and eating it too. Wedding cakes are expensive enough that you might well choke on the prices.
The average couple spends $423 on a cake for their Big Day, according to 2011 figures from The Wedding Report. That’s up 10% from last year, and a 20% increase from 2009, when the average was $352. Bakers say you can expect to pay $5 to $8 per slice for a simple, good-quality cake, but prices can easily top $20 per serving for gourmet flavors, towering tiers and intricate designs.
That doesn’t mean your cake has to take a huge slice out of your wedding budget. We asked bakers, wedding planners, and brides how they keep costs low while still managing to get a confection straight out of a wedding magazine:
Buy from the supermarket
“I took the picture of the cake we wanted, brought it to the supermarket bakery, and they were more than happy to make it,” says Aimee Bennett, a bride in Castle Rock, Colo. “It cost just $180 for enough to feed 150 guests and the quality was amazing. We had a number of requests from engaged couples at the wedding as to where we got the cake because they liked it so much,” she says.
Cut back on the cake
Order a cake big enough to feed two-thirds of the guests. That’s probably all you’ll need. “Most brides and grooms end up with a lot of excess cake to take home,” says Jessica Lehry Bishop of The Budget Savvy Bride. “Some of your guests might pass on dessert or leave the reception before the cake cutting.”
Consult your wedding planner
Most planners have preferred vendors, which could land you a price break. “I have worked with certain cake bakers for years that are always willing to throw in extras or negotiate with my clients,” says Gail Johnson, a planner based in Atlanta. “This would be something they wouldn’t do for a walk-in client.”
Supplement with other desserts
Get a small cake for you to cut, and offer guests a selection of cupcakes or other desserts. That’s what certified financial planner R.J. Weiss and his wife decided to do when they got married in 2009. “Doing this saved us a few hundred dollars when we priced it out,” he says. Just pick carefully — some cupcakes are fancy enough that a big cake might actually be the cheaper option.
Rent an elaborately decorated foam cake with a small real layer inserted. “It can slice a cake budget by as much as half,” says Kyla Federowicz, an event planner and the owner of VintageandVeil.com. “It looks legit enough for the cake-cutting photos, and keep a cheaper sheet cake behind the scenes to serve to your guests,” she says.
Pick it up
Have someone pick up the cake rather than get it delivered, says Kelly Confection, owner of Silver Spoon Bakery in Rhode Island. “This is risky,” she says. “But if it’s a pretty simple and easy-to-transport cake, it could save you up to $50 or more, depending on the location from the bakery to the venue.”
OK – admittedly, this solution is not for the faint of heart. But L. Joan Allen of Silver Goddess Gourmet in Baltimore says it’s possible. Try her favorite recipe here. “Layers can be made and frozen, if well-wrapped, in advance for several weeks and then iced and decorated the day before the wedding,” she says. Buy a cake stand with tiers, which is easier than stacking. (Done incorrectly, stacked cakes can sink, she warns.)
Buy your own decorations
“Purchase a relatively plain cake and decorate it yourself,” says wedding planner Wendy Lee of Asian Fusion Weddings. “Fresh fruit and flowers will be significantly cheaper than handcrafted sugar or gum paste ones, and adornments like ribbons are easy to make look good,” she says.
Hire a student
“Why not reach out to your local culinary arts program and see if you can have future chefs create your dream desserts at a fraction of the price?” Federowicz says. “Many are willing to help if you give advanced notice and pay for supplies.” Some schools will also take official orders to teach the class. Back in the day, even Frugal Foodie got her cake from a local culinary school. She paid about $3 per slice for $8-per-slice quality.
Price out components
Ask about the costs and benefits of cakes, filling and icings to best determine where to save and splurge. ”Sometimes simply changing the type of icing can knock $50 off the price,” says Steff Metal, a New Zealand-based wedding planner and blogger behind TheGothicWeddingPlanner.com.
Go plain vanilla
Or chocolate. Specialty flavors for the cake or fillings entail specialty pricing, says Confection. “Leave the exotic fruits and flavors for the honeymoon,” she says. If you want fruit, pick something that’s local and in-season — like strawberries in the summer — to get the best price.
Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie http://www.twitter.com/mintfoodie.