It is difficult for people who don't decorate cakes to understand the ordering and pricing of a specialty cake.
Melanie of Cake Walk could not have explained it better. See below excerpt. To see the full post with her pictures go here.
A clean, pure design but it still looks regal enough for a 4-year-old's birthday party.It's a perfect example that you can get a cake for any budget. Of course, the more you're willing to spend, the more out-of-the-box and show-stopping your cake will be! But this is a great cake, don't you agree?
How to keep costs down if you've already blown your party budget:
-Avoid sugar work. Use plastic figures or silk flowers wherever possible, but don't compromise on the appearance! For example, this is a cute crown. Don't get a cheap-y looking one that will ruin your cake.
-Stick with minimal decorating. While it's definitely more boring for us decorators, keep the decorating simple. The less time a decorator spends on a cake, the less money you'll probably spend on it.
-Avoid fondant. Many decorators, though not all, charge slightly more for a fondant-covered cake. Why do they charge extra? It's logical really. Covering a cake in fondant requires both more time and more material - they've got to cover those costs.
-Tell your decorator your budget. Yes, really! Many decorators are willing to try to work within your budget. They can give you options on your cake to show you what you can get for your money. Just ask! But don't insult your decorator by trying to get a cake dirt cheap - respect her time and effort. If you realize that you just can't afford the cakes, be "man" enough to tell the decorator and order a cake in the future when you can.
*Now, having said all that, I also have to add that cake decorating is an art form. If you can afford it, set aside a little extra money for the cake. Many decorators will really amaze you with what they can do in sugar!
*I'm giving you this advice because it's truly what I believe. I do not take cake orders so none of this is inspired from a particular experience. It's just a little bit of insider information on how to get an adorable custom cake if you can't afford to get the kind of cakes you see on TV.