Planning for Prom: Hidden Budget Busters

Going to the high school prom is bigger than ever these days—and we’re not just talking about the hair and the punch bowls. We’re referring to the price tag!

Would you believe a 2015 study shows the average American family spent $919 on prom? What’s more, the teens doing the dancing are doing very little of the paying. Mom and Dad typically shell out nearly 75% of that whopping prom bill.

The price you pay for prom also varies a bit by gender. Young ladies and their parents are pushing four figures for the big night out, spending an average of $989. Guys get by a bit more cheaply, but not much—they are still paying just under $900 to dine and dance in style.

Where Should You Splurge and Where Can You Save?

If teens in the past could have a blast at their proms without taking out a mortgage, there’s no reason today’s teens can’t do the same! Here are some of the prom budget busters to pay attention to. 

“Promposals”

We know. You thought finding the perfect prom date was as simple as asking. Well in case you’ve ignored social media for years, it’s just possible you’re unaware of this teen fad. A promposal, in a nutshell, is when one student goes to great effort (and often great expense) to wow their crush into saying yes!

For budget-minded teens and their families, the savings potential for skipping this expense is obvious. There are plenty of creative ways to ask someone to the prom with little or no cost. Write a funny poem with a promposal in the punchline. Or recruit a few friends to join you in an a cappella rendition of your dream date’s favorite love song. 

Apparel

The prom outfit is usually the main expense—everything else is gravy. But just because it’s the biggest-ticket item doesn’t mean the sky’s the limit. This is one area where you’ll need to set a budget and stick to it. Here are some tips:

Ladies, renting your dress is usually less expensive than buying. Bonus tip: Borrowing (or claiming) an already graduated friend’s gown from last year’s prom is free!

Gentlemen, the opposite advice applies to you. If you compare the price of a tux rental to a purchase, the costs are about the same (possibly even cheaper!). And owning a tux you can wear at any future formal events will save you money in the long run!

Be sure to factor in alterations as you perfect your look.

Grooming

Been to a spa or salon lately? When you factor in hairstyling, a manicure or pedicure, and makeup, you could easily spend hundreds getting dolled up. One great way to trim this part of your prom budget is to find friends to share in the makeover fun. Plan to meet up early in the day and help each other look great for the big night.

Accessories

Your teen’s list of “must-haves” can get long, and quick—shoes, handbag, jewelry, hair clips. It’s another budget buster that can quickly get out of control. The only way to head off excessive accessories is by the power of a budget. Clearly define what goes in this category and set a budget amount that works for you. Then remind them they’ll have to prioritize where they would like to splurge or save—would they rather have the fancy shoes or new jewelry?

Pre-Prom Dinner and Events

Know the plan in advance so your teen isn’t surprised by peer pressure or roped into something pricey that will blow the budget. A $100 steakhouse dinner isn’t the only option in town. The point of the evening is to have fun, not stress over a big bill.

Transportation

For the sake of safety and budget, this is a prom expense worth thinking about. Expenses like a limo or other professional services can add up fast, even if they’re shared with other teens. Make sure the plan for each venue is discussed so there are no surprises or overcharges.

There’s plenty of fun to be found in your prom budget—you just have to know your priorities. Determine how much you have to spend, and be sure you or your teen are clear that if you can’t afford something, you simply can’t have it. And whatever you do, don’t put any prom expenses on a credit card!