The shocking cost of the senior prom
The shocking cost of the senior prom
The average tab is now $1,078. Yes, really. But it doesn't have to be.
By Donna_Freedman 19 hours ago
A national survey by Visa indicates that families will spend $696 to $1,944 on their kids' prom costs. That's a 33.6% increase over the 2011 average expenditure.
Startling, huh? But it gets worse: Parents who make less than $20,000 a year plan to spend more than the national average. They'll fork over $1,200 for this evening to remember.
Trouble is, the kids may not remember it for very long. Do you remember yours? Pop quiz: What color were the flowers in your girlfriend's corsage? Where did you eat before the prom? Do you still have the photos?
"The prom is a high school dance, not a wedding," notes Visa spokesman Jason Alderman, "and parents need to set limits in order to demonstrate financial responsibility."
Good luck with that. After all, the parents surveyed are willingly paying nearly two-thirds of the prom costs.
I don't think you need to drop a small fortune on a school party. And I'm reaching out to you, the readers, for tips on keeping costs down while preserving the fun.
Frugal yet magic
It's an uphill battle, since expectations get larger every year. Some teens expect mani-pedis and professional makeup jobs, glittering gowns and glamorous tuxes, limousines the size of studio apartments, hotel rooms for after-parties.
But not every adolescent expects a prom-night version of "My Super Sweet 16." Ann, a South Carolina reader, "lucked out" with her daughter's 2011 bash. Laura has a lot of cousins and, by extension, an impressive selection of loaner gowns. She bought "sparkly" shoes cheaply online, and Ann found a brand-new sequined bag at a thrift store. A classmate's parents hosted a formal dinner for 15 prom-goers, eliminating the cost of a restaurant meal. One of the dads took pictures and later put them on CDs for each teen -- no need for those pricey, stiffly posed portraits.
"We could have spent more," Ann said, "but it wouldn't have (made the evening) any more fun."
In a post on the Money-crashers personal finance site, blogger Casey Slide acknowledges that the prom is a big deal to teens. "But it's only one night out of their entire lives," she says.
"Talk to your kids about the budget you've set aside for the prom and work together on ways to save money, without squashing the fun."
Remember, "budget" does not translate to "no fun at all." It means being creative. For example, Slide notes that wrist corsages are all the rage but they're more expensive than the traditional type. Her solution: Get the pin-on type, then use a ribbon to tie it to a wrist.
That's the kind of clever, common-sense tactic I'm hoping readers will share. What techniques would you suggest to keep prom costs reasonable?
You can leave the tips below or e-mail them to SmartSpending@live.com. I'll run the best ones next week.
To get the ball rolling, here are a few ideas I've already received:
Skip the souvenirs. Andrea, who blogs at So Over Debt, says her $40 prom favors -- a photo frame and a gel candle -- were "a complete waste of money."
A professional face. Schedule an appointment for a makeover at a department store's cosmetics counter, suggests Kimberly of The Girl Next Door's Guide to Finance. Technically this service is free; in reality, it's expected you'll buy something. Get a lip color or mascara you know you'll use.
Thrift-store tuxes. "You could rock a 'Dumb & Dumber' look for under $15 super-easily, and then you have it for Halloween too. Of course, it takes some confidence -- and a date with a sense of humor -- to pull it off," says blogger J. Money of Budgets Are Sexy.
Thrift-store gowns. "Plenty of gals get rid of their prom dresses. You see a decent number of bridesmaids' dresses there, and some of those might pass as prom dresses," says Abigail Perry of I Pick Up Pennies. (Full disclosure: Perry, who has written for MSN Money’s Smart Spending blog, is my daughter. For her own prom she drove my Nissan Sentra with a "COMPACT LIMO" sign in the window.)
Choose the right date. Here's a tongue-in-cheek suggestion from Gail Cunningham of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling: Invite a girl whose parents are really strict. "They'll never let her go to the after-party, so you'll automatically save money."