Friday, January 16, 2009

Ideas for Frugal Wedding Cakes

Is there a wedding in your future? Whether you are the parents of the bride or the bride herself, the wedding cake is one aspect of planning the celebration which can make or break your budget.

Some current statistics from the Bridal Association of America's Wedding Report for 2009 bears this out:

  • With the average wedding costing $30,860 (yeah...rrrright.), the reception gobbles up 46% of that
  • The wedding cake is at least 5% of the total food costs for a reception, not including the bar (save $2,826 by not having alcohol -- WooHoo!)
  • The average cost of a wedding cake for 2009 (including cutting fee????) is $543
According to, the average cost per slice adds up like this:
  • $1.00 per slice: a smaller, tiered chocolate or vanilla cake with traditional buttercream frosting, minimal decoration, and a sheet cake on the side
  • $5.00 - $6.00 per slice: two- or three-tiered cake in chocolate, vanilla, carrot cake, or lemon poppy seed with a few fondant decorations
  • $10.00 and up per slice: multi-tiered cake in gourmet flavors with elaborate fondant or gum paste and sugar decorations
Now, considering what constitutes simple, mid-range, and elaborate cakes, take a look at these two wedding cakes:

Our wedding cake, 1985
(included one sheet cake)

My little sister, Melissa,
and her husband, Albert, 1990

(included one other little cake
out of sight on the right, plus
two more sheet cakes)

Now, tell me which one you think cost more.

Okay, so it's a no brainer, right?

How about if I told you mine (top) cost $250 and my sister's (bottom) cost only $150?!

Please learn from my big mistake. Never take for granted that people in your church or among your family and friends will give you a discount. There was a very friendly, grandma-type lady in our church who had a wedding cake business. She operated out of her home and was only an average baker with average experience. So, I assumed she would be at least reasonable. Mother and I went to her home and looked through her portfolio. I at first chose one with a fountain. But, when we found out the cost would be $1 a slice (the mid-range back then), I went back through the cakes and chose the simplest one I could find.

On the other hand, my other sisters all got their cakes from church members and other Christian acquaintances and got them ultra-reasonably priced. In fact, my sister, Robin, got hers for free. I understand her baker was so happy she was finally getting married at age 35 that she donated the cake out of jubilation. :)

Moral of the story: Ask the baker what they charge per slice before you set up an appointment to look at their portfolio.

Also, look for hidden costs such as delivery and cutting fees. While I would not suggest picking up and assembling a wedding cake yourself, you could save on cutting by asking any able-bodied person not otherwise occupied to do it for you.

The topper can be expensive. However, if you see one at a thrift shop, yard sale, or on discount that you really like, buy it and put it in your hope chest. In lieu of a topper, many brides now choose a spray of flowers matching their bouquet or in the color pallet they have chosen for decorations. I made my sister Robin's flowers and supplied the baker, at her request, with leftover flowers to make her cake topper.

With all this talk of cutting costs, some of you ultra-frugalites out there will no doubt consider making your own. Here are three reasons why I would not suggest you do that:
  1. Even if you are an experienced baker, you don't need the extra stress of making a cake which is usually expected to be perfect in every way. That goes for both the bride and mother of the bride. Other family members or close friends may qualify, however, if they are not already involved in the wedding itself.
  2. You may think you can bake it early and freeze it, then thaw and frost it later. Most flour-based cakes have such a delicate flavor and, like most baked goods, will easily absorb odors from the freezer. Even the best protective covering may not keep this from happening. I just wouldn't chance it if I were you.
  3. Having a professional baker or their assistant transport and assemble your cake will also help relieve stress on the day of the big event. The last thing you need is a cake disaster! These folks are most likely experienced at transporting and setting up tiered cakes and have everything needed to get the job done. If you have someone else cut the cake, some bakers will even coach your designated cutter on the best way to do that.
Those are just my thoughts on having a frugal wedding cake. If you have any other ideas, please leave them for us in the Comments section below.