How Do I Get Better Without Going Broke?

Decorating By Ellyane Updated 9 Nov 2010 , 1:23am by roweeena

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Ellyane Posted 8 Nov 2010 , 1:39pm
post #1 of 30

Ok everyone, I have a problem. Or a few...

I've fallen in love with cake decorating. A couple months ago I decided to try and figure out how people managed to do the gravity defying cakes I was seeing online. I started with a pumpkin, just to test out the recipes and get an idea of how it worked. Then I made a piggy bank. By that point, I was hooked. I want to do this all the time.

But... my piping skills are abominable, and my experience with fondant is very limited. Obviously, I'm not at a stage yet where I could start charging money for cakes. But all of the ingredients are expensive, so making practice cakes all the time, while I'd love to do it, is starting to wear on my budget.

I guess I'll be brave and upload a few pictures so you all can see where I'm at. Please be nice! I did sign up for a cake decorating class at the community college nearby, but is there something else I can do?

29 replies
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Manderly42 Posted 8 Nov 2010 , 1:57pm
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Well, there really is nothing you can do about the cost of the cake decorating items you'll need. That being said, you can probably find cheap/used items on ebay or craigslist or maybe even

As for your piping a can of frosting for $2 and practice, practice, practice! You can pipe different shapes and flowers and writing onto wax or parchment paper, then scrape it off and try again! Keep in mind that not all decorators are born with this skill, it is learned for a lot of them (like me!)

And if you're really feeling down about your work, go on over to and check out some seriously wrecky cakes and you'll feel a lot better!

Hope this helped!

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MAMAWOF4 Posted 8 Nov 2010 , 2:00pm
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I have the same problem Ellyane - I have fallen in love with all things cake decorating and am quickly going broke. I live in Florida, so I cannot advertise a home bakery, and word of mouth is very slow. Also, like you said, how do you get experience and practice? I can't wait to see what others have to say.

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brincess_b Posted 8 Nov 2010 , 2:00pm
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pipe on a plate, cookie traym baking tin, whatever. you can then scrape it off and possibly reuse (if its chocolate, you can re-melt, if its bc/ royal it may start to crust, which may then blcok the tip - but you will get a few goes out of it!)

get some dummies, or see if you can create some - cake tins, cardboard boxes. then you can ice them in your prefered way. its possible to creat a series of dummies with one coat of icing, gradualy adding in elements. (so plain, with ribbon, with bow, with flowers, with piping). if you want to do 3d cakes, then it probably is cheaper to bake than order specially shaped ones, although you can carve up dummies your self, it seems messy!

have a look at your prices - cake and icing only costs me a few £s to make, its the nice boards, boxes, ribbons that add up, then the tools!!!! so see about making your own boards (i use cut up pizza boxes for home stuff - you can buy decorative paper/ foil just cover it in something food safe, or use fondant), attatch ribbons so they can be removed and reused, find out whats at home that can be used as a tool, hit up dollar stores to see what caft stuff they have.

you look like you are off to a good start, but unfortunatly caking is an expensive hobby, so you just need to get creative about it!

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Lemmers Posted 8 Nov 2010 , 2:16pm
post #5 of 30

Just to let you know you aren't alone- I'm exactly the same as you. I desperately want to spend every waking hour decorating but the cost soon mounts up icon_sad.gif

I did find that making my own fondant seemed much cheaper than buying premade (and it tastes better!). I always make my own BC, but I do use a cake mix to make my cakes (I use the durable 3D cake recipe here on CC) and here in the UK they are somewhat pricey if you want a nice Betty Crocker mix- and anything other than devils food or carrot cake you have to buy in a specialist shop!

Unfortunately i don't really have any suggestions, but just wanted you to know you aren't alone. Some of the ladies/gents here do seem to be coming up with some good money saving ideas though! Good luck!!

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Kiddiekakes Posted 8 Nov 2010 , 2:21pm
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I would take a few inexpensive courses through Joann's or Michael's as they are a great way to get more practice and learn more skills.I think most have taken a wilton class or twoo..I did all three when I first got interested..they will at least show you the basics.It really is practice and alot of passion..If you have that you will find a way to learn and get better.

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michel30014 Posted 8 Nov 2010 , 3:00pm
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I am in the same position as you are and I know how you feel. I must say when I read this thread that I am posting below, I found many items in my house that I already had and didn't realize the capabilities these items had in cake decorating. Plus, they are much cheaper. Hallelujuah!

Check it out and maybe, take notes like I did. It has really helped me.

Good luck! HTH!

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Cupcations Posted 8 Nov 2010 , 3:06pm
post #8 of 30

I'm a newbie at this too
i'm getting better & better & so far people love what I'm doing
I never took any classes actually never showed any interest in it until recently
I literally watched every video on Youtube( check the Wilton channel)...& the Wilton website it has allot of "How to's"
whereas for supplies I do allot of e bay shopping like the Wilton 56 pc decorating kit it for $69.99 at Michael's ( Canada) I bought it from the US with shipping for $27...same with my disco dust, flower cutters,etc...
also try making the cake from cake mix $2-3 & buttercream from scratch its easier & yummy-er lol
I always tell my self i'm not the best but i'm getting there icon_biggrin.gif practice makes perfect!!

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Narie Posted 8 Nov 2010 , 3:09pm
post #9 of 30

Make a non-crusting BC with straight crisco and water. Nothing that can spoil easily. Then practice, use your cake pans as a surface, when you're tired of practicing scrape the frosting back into a container and wash your pan(s). That way you are not wasting money on ingredients, When I took my first decorating course, Everyone used their frosting for the full 6 weeks of practice and finally frosted our real finals cake with that same batch of frosting. Reusing that batch of frosting and using the pan saved a lot of money. And no, the frosting wasn't gotty or gray at the end. Definitely a pristine white.

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indydebi Posted 8 Nov 2010 , 3:14pm
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Even tho' it's been more than a couple of decades since i started on this adventure, I remember those days very well.

At every pitch-in at work, I signed up to bring the cake. I had to spend money on a 'covered dish' anyway, so it was a great way to practice cake.

Since I worked in a bldg of 400 women, we found LOTS of reasons to have pitch ins, so there were lots of cakes to make (baby showers galore!). Soon I would overhear co-workers saying they had no idea what to bring for the pitch in, so I'd tell them, "Give me a couple of bucks toward the cake and you can say you went in with me on dessert." I soon had 2 or 3 people "going in with" me on the cake. They covered the ingredients ..... I covered the labor/talent ..... and between us, the dessert was taken care of.

For an office pitch in, this is no different than me collecting two or three dollars from a few people and then using my time/labor/gas to run to KFC to pick up the bucket of chicken that we all "went in on".

Of course I provided the cake for all family events .... birthdays, thanksgiving, anything where we were all bringing food.

Even with these tactics, it does get expensive, but as was already mentioned, so is any other hobby. If you start listing the costs of hobbies such as golfing, remote control airplanes, photography or even buying a bunch of video/computer games, I think we'd find caking was a pretty cheap way to spend our time! icon_biggrin.gif

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luvmysmoother Posted 8 Nov 2010 , 3:24pm
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There's really no way to get out of spending money unfortunately. Even if you use the 50% off coupons at Michaels religiously the costs add up very quickly. But all I can say is that it's been worth every penny to me. Not only do I have something to show for my efforts (unlike golfing or skiing which cost so much and you have nothing but sore muscles to show for it) but it's something I can share with others - noone will refuse a free practice cakeicon_smile.gif The smell of freshly baked cake all over the house is an added bonus too. You can use styrofoam dummies to practice on or maybe just spend a day practicing the decorating, different borders, etc on just one cake (and scraping the icing off then reusing it on the same practice cake) There are lots of ways to trim costs while practicingicon_smile.gif

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trishvanhoozer Posted 8 Nov 2010 , 3:43pm
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I think for beginners the Michael's class kits are a total money saver. With a 50% coupon (or even the 40% coupons) you can get a fondant or buttercream kit for very little money. If you make your own fondant for a while until you are comfortable with it, and if you sell a few items, and put that money back into product and tools, you can minimize your personal cost. I also sell a lot of cupcakes to make the money for new gadgets!!

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Win Posted 8 Nov 2010 , 3:48pm
post #13 of 30

Unfortunately, money is always involved in any hobby that is considered a skill as well. I actually love to bead jewelry, knit, garden, AND cake! All of those are costly hobbies. I have learned to shop wisely, use coupons galore (even Michaels recently had -I think- 40% off on Wilton classes) and keep an eye out for items at yard sales and antique malls. You would not believe what you can pick up for .25 cents! I have purchsed wonderful bakery quality cake pans for that much. This past summer, I got a 5qt Kitchen Aid mixer complete with all sorts of attachments for $20.00 --and it works!

As well, there are all kinds of tricky ways to practice at home without a lot of cost involved. The tips mentioned above are great. The icing of just shortening, ps and water will last a long time for reuse. Marshmallow fondant is cheap to make and you can practice rolling it out and laying it over cake pans, vases, and other ceramic objects to acquire the skill of smoothing, etc. This medium will also last a long time and is easy to replace when it gets grubby from use.

Real cake opportunities come along as Debi mentioned. Those are always good reasons to make a cake. I sometimes think my family and friends will announce they are sick of cake. I can make up an excuse for any occasion, "Going to the laundromat? Let me bring a cake!"


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Susie53 Posted 8 Nov 2010 , 3:50pm
post #14 of 30

I took the Wilton Courses...wish I could take some courses on making figures and gum paste flowers...but nothing in my area....I have watched a view you tube videos on the subjects. I haven't made too many cakes...I always use the Michael's or Hobby Lobby coupons to buy cake supplies.

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amygortoncakes Posted 8 Nov 2010 , 4:40pm
post #15 of 30

I too am just beginning and have been offering to make my sons friends birthday cakes for cost so I could practice. If there is something that I really want to make, I do so, but just in the smaller size. I love my little 6 inch pan, that way you aren't wasting too many ingredients.

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Ellyane Posted 8 Nov 2010 , 5:23pm
post #16 of 30

Thanks everyone.
One question -
is it okay to offer to make cakes for the cost of the ingredients, for friends kids birthdays and such, or is that too much like running a business?

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7yyrt Posted 8 Nov 2010 , 5:46pm
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I have friends bring me food to cook for them all the time.

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Rosie2 Posted 8 Nov 2010 , 5:51pm
post #18 of 30

Hmmm, do cakes only for family (only the nice ones) or close friends (again, only the nice ones) but there's a danger of suddenly having a long list of 'close friends.'
Also, don't give them a choice, it's a free cake so you choose the themes you wanna practice on and that's what they get.

My nephew's b-day is coming and I told him he's getting a fish...I'm dying to make a fish cake!!! btw, he's an adult if he was a kid I'll make him a sesame street cake icon_smile.gif

Good luck!

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Apti Posted 8 Nov 2010 , 6:00pm
post #19 of 30

I cracked up when I saw your thread title! I'm in the same boat, but rationalize that any hobby costs a lot and I enjoy learning. I have to come up with new places to give my cakes to so I can try another technique! I really want to make BIG, wedding-type cakes (at about $60-75 bucks a pop my cost), but hold back because of the cost (AND where do you donate a 4 tier cake???)

As far as the "is it okay to offer to make cakes for the cost of the ingredients, for friends kids birthdays and such, or is that too much like running a business?" Asking that particular question here on CC is like asking a bunch of Republicans and Democrats "do you like Obama?". It can get uuuuggggglllllyyyy.

Personally, (and I could get in BIG CC trouble for this, icon_sad.gif) I am never going to bake cakes for a living--ever. But I don't think that accepting money for ingredients/supplies is going to get me or anyone else arrested by the cake police.

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7yyrt Posted 8 Nov 2010 , 6:32pm
post #20 of 30

No biggie, many people here will never sell cakes/cookies/etc.

CC is a mix of professionals and hobbyists, all sharing together.
Myself, I bake for extended family and local charities only.

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brincess_b Posted 8 Nov 2010 , 6:34pm
post #21 of 30

Ellyane - accepting money towards ingrediants is ilegal. are you going to get sent to jail? probably not! will you get fined? yes - and those can be hefty! are you going to get caught? its a real possibility, it only takes one person. its not about the opinion of cakers on here - its about your local laws. so its for you to weigh up. but there are many posts on the legalities of it all if you want to read up on it further.

susie - im suggesting spending more money, but aine 2s tutorials are well worth it! her web site is called extra icing - and she travels a lot too!

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Ellyane Posted 8 Nov 2010 , 7:14pm
post #22 of 30

So what I'm hearing is that in order to legally accept money for cakes - even if it is just enough to cover costs - I need to get my kitchen licensed. And presumably also register as a business? MA allows residential baking, I just have to work out a few details in my kitchen set up. I was hoping to wait to do that until I could set up as a serious business - meaning I'd have to be at a more professional level. And because we're thinking of moving in the next 6 months or so, so it seems like a lot of work just to have to start over in a new house.

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Ellyane Posted 8 Nov 2010 , 7:16pm
post #23 of 30

oh, and Apti - I solved that part of the cake dilemma by giving my extra cake to students at a local college. College students love cake, no matter what shape/size you want to make it!

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Susie53 Posted 8 Nov 2010 , 9:51pm
post #24 of 30

brincess_b...thanks, I've seen a few of aine 2's videos and have visited her web site....I love her work! I would love to take one of her classes!

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7yyrt Posted 8 Nov 2010 , 10:34pm
post #25 of 30

You can also decorate 8-9 inch cookies just like a cake top.

People love them, as they can still share them, or take them home and munch them all up. You can make a lot of 8 inch cookies for very little money. I just use my cake pans as cookie cutters.

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tesso Posted 8 Nov 2010 , 10:59pm
post #26 of 30

on your original question.. You dont have to make a cake to practice you skills. Go to walmart buy a 50 cent or 1 dollar place mat and practice away. Then scrape all the icing back into the bowl, and reuse. I have reused practice icing for months at a time.

Also with fondant same thing. Make a batch of MMF (really cheap to make) Practice rolling it out, lifting it, cutting out shapes and instead of covering cakes, cover a cooking pot, your baking pans. or even a box if you need to practice square shapes.

Another great way to challenge your piping skills. Get a childs coloring book rip out a page and try piping the outlines. Then practice flo-filling by filling them in. Great way to practice, and very frustrating too, it is harder than it looks. but it is great practice. I was going to make a post on this, something I did recently and I think a lot people on here would enjoy it.

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Ellyane Posted 8 Nov 2010 , 11:09pm
post #27 of 30

I love the coloring book idea, thanks! I'm thinking I could put wax paper over it, so I would be able to do the same page several times...
haha - I could have take a photo series as I improve icon_smile.gif

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cabecakes Posted 8 Nov 2010 , 11:38pm
post #28 of 30

If you want to practice with fondant, make marshmallow fondant. It is a cheap alternative to buying regular fondant...$1.00 for a bag of marshmallows, $2.00 for powdered sugar, and water is free. Put your fondant over a piece of styrofoam and decorate with pieces of color MMF. You can also practice piping on you covered dummy. This is what I did and believe me, I run on a tight budget. Hope this helps.

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mareg Posted 9 Nov 2010 , 1:06am
post #29 of 30

I ditto everybody. Michaels would be a great way to learn lots!!!!

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roweeena Posted 9 Nov 2010 , 1:23am
post #30 of 30

Best thing to practice with and already comes in a tube... Toothpaste! Then you just scrape it off and put it into another bag and go again. And honestly? How much is a tube of toothpaste with these days!
Also Nutella or Peanut butter is good but i am less tempted to eat the toothpaste icon_razz.gif

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