Swirls of buttercream, cascades of iced ribbons and blossoms — wedding cakes are the stuff of dreams, and it’s the rare guest who doesn’t look forward to the prospect of that magical last course. But there’s no sugar coating it; the cost of confection perfection can soar. Especially these days, with desserts (and dessert tables) such a major trend.
(The national average cost of wedding cakes and desserts will be $451 in 2013, jumping to $466 in 2014, up from 2012’s $437. In areas like New York City and Napa, CA cakes can run as high as $1,200-plus.)
No worries! We’ve gathered loads of ways to slice your costs.
Photo Credit: PinkCakeBox.com 
1. As you begin to conjure up your cake, the number-one rule to keep in mind is that it’s the labor — the time spent constructing, icing and detailing — that determines most of the cost, not the ingredients. This isn’t to say that size and shape don’t come into play: They do.
2. Cakes are priced per slice, and since not every single guest is going to partake in your wedding cake, you’re safe asking your baker to allow for 25 fewer slices for a 150-guest head count.
3. Opt for a cake-slicing station (rather than a served course) so that guests can choose from the plated presentation, for a savings of 10 percent.
4. Create the effect of a larger cake by separating each layer of cake with thick, decorated non-cake layers — such as styrofoam squares wrapped with glittering fabric — to turn your three-tier into a six-tier wedding cake. You’ll get the effect of a super-pricey cake for about half the cost.
5. Go smaller. “Most couture cakes are small,” says Ramona Osirka, owner of Perfect Wedding Cake  in Marietta, Georgia. “So choose a smaller, two- to three-tier wedding cake for your display and cake-cutting, and then have a non-decorated, non-stacked sheet cake in the kitchen from which your servers will cut most of the guest slices. This can save you 50 percent.”
Photo Credit: PinkCakeBox.com 
6. Create a deconstructed cake. Osirka says, “When you display each of your standard-size wedding cake tiers on different platters and pedestals side by side, you cut out the costs of stacking and decorating a grander tiered cake.” This strategy saves 25 percent, since many bakers charge a fee for stacking cake layers.
7. Re-think mini wedding cakes for each guest table. According to Renay Zamora, owner and cake artist at SweetFace Cakes  in Mount Juliet, Tennessee: “The amount of labor involved in mini cakes can raise costs. My general rule is one-quarter the size equals four times the cost.” (That said, table cakes can stand in for centerpieces, so you might end up saving on your floral bill.)
8. Go square. A square cake will usually feed more guests, since it’s easier to cut it in a grid pattern and get a larger number of servings from each tier. (Ignore the myth that frosting a square cake takes more time, effort and money: An experienced cake maker can cover and ice a square cake in no time!)
9. Shaped cakes are notorious budget busters. “Topsy-turvy cakes can take three days to make,” says Saint Sepulveda, owner of Layer Cakes  in Pearland, Texas. “They also require extra layers that get carved away in the sculpting process, adding up to large expenses in ingredients and in labor-intensive decorating time.”
10. Instead of a car or football shape, Osirka says that grooms’ cakes cost a lot less when they are square, sporting an image on top made from edible ink (such as a monogram, sports logo or even a photo from a digital image). “Or you can top the cake with a toy motorcycle or other fun item.”
11. Many reception sites charge a per-slice cake-cutting fee that can range from $1 to $8 or more per slice. Some sites will charge this fee if you bring in an outside baker’s cake, and some charge it even for a cake they’ve provided. Since $3 per slice for 150 guests equals $450, this is one charge you should always try to negotiate out of your agreement.
12. Standard flavors cost less than more unusual “premium” flavors. Anne Heap, owner and designer at celebrity favorite Pink Cake Box  in Denville, New Jersey says vanilla, chocolate, lemon and key-lime cakes cost a bit less than red velvet and carrot; vanilla or raspberry buttercream run less than cream cheese or chocolate hazelnut cream.
13. Choose buttercream frostings over fondant coverings. Heap says “Buttercream frostings are $4 per slice, while fondants are $5 per slice.” The extra effort that goes into rolling out and applying fondant accounts for the price bump.
14. Choose standard flavors for the largest tiers, and premiums for smaller tiers to save 10 to 40 percent. And stick to two flavors and fillings, as is often standard. Many bakers will charge more if you order three cake flavors and fillings.
Photo Credit: PinkCakeBox.com 
15. Icing dots are easy and inexpensive, says Zamora, and a cake covered with icing “pearls” is an elegant touch.
16. Bigger sugar-paste flowers make an impression for less. Zamora says it’s intricate bloom designs like stephanotis that cost more. Sugar-paste anemones and peonies are popular budget-friendly accents. Heap says that limiting yourself to one bold sugar-paste flower on the cake lowers the cost by 40 to 50 percent.
Photo Credit: SweetFaceCakes.com 
17. Hand-piped lacy designs are pricey. Instead, “Your baker can achieve a lace-like, damask or chevron effect with a roller pressed over fondant,” says Zamora. “Just avoid the second step of cut-outs, because it costs a lot more if we have to cut out hundreds of tiny little pieces from a lace design.”
18. Encircle cake layers with ribbon, which takes only seconds to apply. Heap says damask ribbon is popular now, adding more effect than solid-colored ribbon. Affix a crystal brooch to the front of a ribbon wrap for sparkle.
19. Instead of sugar-paste blossoms, embellish your cake with fresh flowers or chocolate-covered berries and save up to 40 percent.
20. Ask your site manager if you can eliminate the number of toppings or customizable options at your dessert station. You might be able to save 10 percent by offering three choices of classic pastries instead of six premium versions.
21. Pies are on the upswing, especially at rustic weddings. Make them more affordable by choosing in-season fruit (cherry in spring and summer, apple in fall and winter) for a 15 percent savings.
Photo Credit: CappyHotchkiss.com 
22. Avoid custard pies — they can be among the priciest, nearly twice the cost of a basic fruit pie. Other pricey flavors include peanut butter and pecan.
23. Choose a basic crust for low-effort/low-cost, rather than an intricate lattice-work top that can cost 25 percent more to make.
24. Serve full-sized cupcakes, rather than minis. A cupcake, says Zamora, is like a cake serving. Guests will usually eat one, whereas mini cupcakes can be popped two or three per guest, requiring a larger number.
25. Halve the frosting on each cupcake. Some bakeries pile on three inches of frosting, which can be too messy for some guests.
26. Rising high on the foodie trend-o-meter, doughnuts are the new cupcakes, often found at $5 for a dozen at bakeries. A top cultural choice is malasadas, a doughnut topped with cinnamon and sugar, often priced at 75 cents apiece, compared to a $3 cupcake.
27. “If you want to present an elegant cookie without pushing your budget, remember the cost is in the details. Try a simple monogram cookie over something with lots of detailing. You can save 30 percent on the overall budget and still have a beautiful cookie to represent your special day,” says Michelle Hawkins of Sugar Cookie Creations .
Photo Credit: SugarCookieCreations.com 
28. Shop bulk candy sites like Economycandy.com  for colorful jelly beans and other candies, and display them in inexpensive glass vessels from a party-supply store.
29. Make your own chocolate-dipped fruit. One container of microwavable chocolate sauce displayed by the strawberries will make dozens of chocolate-covered berries for 75 percent less than store-bought berries.
30. Buy basic brownie platters at the supermarket for $7 to $10, and then DIY your own frosting and toppings to create brownies that bakeries might charge triple for.
31. Register for or borrow a macaron-making kit, like the fun one from Mastrad  with easy piping bag and recipe book, to create sweet, colorful macarons that cost 60 percent less than bakeshop-bought.
Photo Credit: Mary Clarke
32. Have friends and family bake for you! Invite your craftiest friends and family to bring a pie, cookies or a platter of brownies for the party, as their gift to you.
33. Pound cakes are another guest-pleasing option. Consider flavors like lemon or orange pound cake, each frosted loaf cut into single-serve squares or slices to get 8 to 12 servings per cake.
34. For your dessert buffet, order ready-made platters of truffles or chocolates rather than individual pieces, says Anthony Cirone, owner of Li-Lac Chocolates . Ready-to-serve platters will run about 10 percent less.
Photo Credit: OmahaSteaks.com 
35. Turn your dessert-hour candy or cookie bar into a double-duty favors station, where guests can select their own take-home treats for a savings of $200 often spent on separate favor bars.
Photo Credit: Li-LacChocolates.com 
A cake stand literally elevates the look of any dessert.
Ask your reception site manager if you can use their wedding-cake platter and cake stands, gratis.
Group small and medium cakes, pies and cookies on cake stands and platters of various sizes and heights for an enchanting and abundant look.
Arrange pastries and other desserts spaced two inches apart on platters to make it appear you are serving twice the amount.