Expensive, But Worth It


In the 80s there was a hair commercial that proclaimed that their product was expensive, but worth it. I rather feel like sugar art classes fall into this category. Sometimes paying the price for a class makes me catch my breath. How do we decide whether a class is worth our hard earned money? For the purposes of this blog, I am leaving the teacher element out of the equation at first.

When I was a baby lawyer and money was tight, I had a method to decide whether or not I could buy an article of clothing. I had to be able to wear that shirt, skirt or whatever with at least three items in my closet to justify the expense. When I took Wayne Steinkopf’s shoe class, I debated whether to take it…not because of the cost (incredibly reasonable) but because I had not sold shoes before. I looked at his shoe and several of his variations on his page (Swank Cakes) and decided that I could easily sell that shoe repeatedly at my bakery if I put one on display. In other words, I could sell three (or however many) of those to repay myself for the class cost. And I absolutely did. It was a good investment for me and my shop.

When you look at a class that is primarily project based, think about whether you would be able to sell enough of that design to your customers to warrant taking the class. With a technique class, think about whether knowledge of that technique will make you faster or open up new design possibilities for sales. If you answer yes in either situation, then the class is likely a good investment and you should enroll.

What happens if there is a class you see, but you know that you will never, ever sell a cake like that? Now we are into the next area to consider. Does the class further your overall goals? Will it teach you how to do something you want to do for a cake competition? Will it help you when you attempt to become an ICES Certified Master Sugar Artist? Will it make you a better decorator? Kathy Lange’s Lambeth Boot Camp is a good example of this for me personally. I was never going to sell a cake with Lambeth and I probably won’t do one for competition. I justified the expense, however, because I needed to have a full understanding when I adjudicate certification at ICES. I found, as a bonus, that it made me a better piper. This was a great class for me in my situation. For this area, you have to weigh the benefits to you personally against the cost of the class.

The third motivator for taking a class takes me back to the fashion world and shopping again. There are some class projects you might not ever sell and may not need professionally, but you WANT to take that class. This is like that splurge purchase at the mall. You buy something you do not need, just because it makes you happy. This is where you don’t even try to justify a reason for the class. The reason is…you want to take it and you will enjoy it. This reminds me of taking Lauren Kitchen’s Muppets 101 class. I didn’t do modeling chocolate at the bakery, so I wasn’t going to sell it. I hadn’t planned to use this skill in competition. But I had always wanted to have myself muppetized, from the first time I saw her incredible creations on tv. This was one of the funnest classes I ever took. It was a splurge and worth every penny. And you never know, I may do one of these for a friend or family member in the future.

The fourth motivator is simply because you want to say you studied with that celebrity or well known instructor. We all remember high school when we were advised to take a class, get a job or join a club because it would look good on our resume. Some classes deserve to be taken for the same reason. One of my girlfriends took a class with Ron Ben-Israel. While she wanted to study with him, she REALLY wanted to say she had studied with him. It gave her validation with many brides and booked weddings for her -regardless of whether she was using something she learned from him.

The final motivator I have had is that I did not want to have a regret later. I still remember the last time Frank Sinatra came to OKC. I was a huge fan and wanted to go, but money was tight and the ticket back then was still $100. I decided I would catch the show the next time. He never came to town again before he died and I regret to this day that I did not go see him live. There are a number of amazing sugar art instructors out there that are getting older. My great fear (and part of why I am trying to bring back some older techniques), is that these greats will pass away and we will lose their knowledge. My friend Tanveer Walli is hoping to bring Eddie Spence to the Mother of Cakes Sugar Art Academy next year. He is one of the authorities on royal icing and is a bit older. He would be coming over from England, so I do not want to miss the chance to study with him. What if that is the only chance I will ever get? never pass up a chance to study with the generation that paved the way for us.

So, how do you budget for classes? I think my friend Janice Skinner has the coolest plan. She has a line item in her budget that says “Ruth”. It isn’t to just take a class from me; it is because I used to host classes at my shop and she came in for many of them. Just like financial analysts tell you to do, you have to pay yourself first. In this case, you set a designated amount that you put aside for future classes. This is a savings account for your future…an investment in yourself. I am not going to try to tell you it will be easy, but you must make the effort if you want to study with masters.

Finally, I hope that those of you who simply cannot squeeze out a savings account will consider applying for an ICES scholarship. ICES regularly awards thousands of dollars of scholarships to be used for classes. The application can be found online at http://www.ices.org. The applications are due in January and the scholarships are handed out during the ICES banquet at convention. The only caveat on these is that you must study with an ICES approved teacher. If you look over the list, you will find many of your favorite instructors are on it. Why not apply? You may get the best gift ever!

The next time you see a class you are interested in, weigh the cost against the benefits you will receive. If it will make a difference in your life, whether personally or professionally, you have to try to find a way to take the class. After all, the things in life that really matter are always worth it!

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8 thoughts on “Expensive, But Worth It

  1. Another “like” Ruth! I agree about taking classes with some of our older more experienced teachers – there are so many “short-cuts” available now that the foundation of cake decorating is getting a bit muddled. Classes like Lambeth do strengthen those core skills and I was very luck enough to learn from a great teacher who was one of the first presidents of ICES – She offers so many classes on things I didn’t know exisited! Though some are not in “fashion” right now I do see those old techniques creeping back in! Her classes are so reasonable that I will be sure to take more from her!

  2. Thank you for another great letter. I am 74 and have been a cake decorater for years having taught at adult education classes but never got into gum paste. I take care of my bed ridden husband now and have a lot of time on my hands.I went out and bought everything I need and am now enjoying a new hobby. I am learning from books and the many instructional videos on line from many product companys. I guess your never too old tao learn 🙂

  3. Four years ago, I decided to take classes whenever finances would allow. I have now taken classes or mini classes from many sugar artists that I consider experts in their field and I do not regret one penny spent, I budget monthly, although, it is a meager amount. I save more on years that there is no Cake Camp and ICES is too far from home. Although I have multiple handicaps and my work is not perfection in class, I come back home and practice the skill that I have been taught and have become a much better sugar artist because of it!
    Thanks Ruth for taking the time out of your busy schedule to write these blogs as they are though provoking and very educational.

  4. Another good one Ruth! Yesterday I just took my “Ruth” money and signed up for a couple of Wayne’s classes next month near Memphis. I’m SO excited. I am very thankful for you and the many others that continue to share your talents and “specialties” with us. I am still working at getting my shop up and running. When I do, you will be the first one I contact ~ hoping you will come and teach. Thanks again for the blog.

  5. Thank you for this post, very informative, i too struggle to figure out what class would be beneficial to me. But everything you have said fits me to a T and I guess everyone go through the same situation.

  6. Great article Ruth. But then there is me that just “loves” all the cakers and what they can do. I love taking classes from everyone because I meet so many new “Friends”. I will probably never sell a cake or open a business, but these classes make me a better person and it is humbling to learn from the best. Thank you all for being who you are and doing what you do.

  7. Ruth… thank you for taking the time to write this article. It will help motivate sugar artists to purchase live classes when they are available to them. If anyone gets a chance to take one of Ruth’s classes, I would highly recommend it. Especially her flower and dusting classes. She is a wonderful teacher and makes class fun and enjoyable.

  8. Spot on Ruth…years ago, I had the incredible opportunity to take a Lambeth class with Edith Gates, the “reviver of Lambeth”. I wasn’t even making cakes at that time I had given it up (for the first time) and actually had no money for this “whim”, but as you said I “wanted to”. as we worked into the wee hours of the morning doing thousands and thousands and thousands of tiny little flowers, and worked on our over piping, and worked some more on our over piping, I wondered what in heavens name I had spent my money for, and what I was ever going to do with this. BUT, in that class I met lifelong friends, Earlene Moore and Carolyn Wanke, was 38 years ago, and their friendship, their mentoring,their examples, their skills, have meant the world to me. Secondary to that, I did return to decorating, and loving Lambeth so much I incorporated into to my commercial decorating to give a very special and unique touch.. It set my work apart for several decades. Finally, it was the very last class Edith taught… Do I feel blessed .. You bet.
    One additional point, I might add, is what you learn from other students. The sharing is incredible !!! I have never failed to learn, and use something from each class I have ( and will take.. I am a decorating class junkie).
    Another great blog, Ruth

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