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Paying for Prom: Big Dance, Big Money. Who Pays for All that Fun?

By Laura Richards

Going to prom is often seen as a must-do rite of passage, but it can wind up being a very pricey evening.

“Prom costs have definitely skyrocketed in recent years as prom events have become more elaborate,” says Lindsey Bennett, who designs dresses and studies trends for Azazie.com, an online special occasion dress company. “What was once a dance in a gym has now become a formal affair at an outside venue with pre-parties and after-parties.”

Paying for Prom

For most teens, the prom is their first formal event, and how much is spent comes down to individual budgets. Some parents opt to pay for expenses, while others don’t have the financial means to do so—or, regardless of parental resources, they expect their teens to foot the bill.

Colleen Hildreth, a mom from Framingham, Massachusetts, has two teen daughters who have attended two proms each. Hildreth was willing to pay for these special occasions—to a point. “I buy the dress and shoes, and then I pay half for some of the rest, such as hair, makeup, nails, and transportation,” says Hildreth. “The tickets, flowers, and after-prom activities were the responsibility of my daughter and/or her date.”

How to Save

Barbara Greenberg, a clinical psychologist who specializes in working with adolescents, recommends this kind of cost-sharing approach for several reasons:

  • It helps teens learn to budget and prioritize different desires.
  • If teens contribute, they will feel more engaged with and place more value on their prom experience.
  • Even if they grumble, paying for things with their own money gives teens a sense of empowerment.
  • Teens will learn to talk about—and negotiate—finances, “an invaluable skill” that Greenberg says many adults lack.

You might want to sit down for this number: In 2017, teens spent an average of $600 each on prom.

Of course, costs can vary by region, with major metropolitan cities costing more for limo rentals and tickets compared to more rural areas.
Nevertheless, the spending categories—attire, beauty treatments, transportation, and tickets—are similar everywhere.

Where You Can Save

Below are some common costs and areas where money can be saved.

The dress: The dress is one of the biggest contributors to the price increase on overall prom spending through the years, says Bennett. Online shopping, though, is a way to compare prices and potentially save on costs. Hildreth agrees, recommending the site promgirl.com, where there’s an entire section of under-$100 dresses.

Hildreth also recommends local online yard-sale sites. “People sell their $600 dresses—which they probably wore once for five hours—for half price.”

Beauty and accessories: Teens can save by doing their own hair, makeup, and nails, and by skipping the spray tan. Turn this into a fun occasion by hosting a pre-prom primping party—the girls can help each other get ready. They may also want to get a fresh (and free) new look by bringing goodies from home to share in an accessory swap.

Transportation: Driving yourself to the prom is the cheapest option. Another idea that’s cheaper than a limo, says Hildreth, is dividing the cost of a party bus.

The tux:  Most guys will rent a tux—the classic prom look for boys—since they’re still growing. But depending on their location and budget, they can always go with a suit or a more casual outfit, says Bennett, such as a blazer and slacks.

Parties: Finally, consider ways to keep a lid on pre- and post-prom costs, says Bennett. “Kids should consider hosting a parent-approved celebratory party with friends at home, which is definitely cheaper and more intimate.”

With a little creative thinking and careful budgeting, prom costs don’t need to be outrageous. As Bennett says, “Teens shouldn’t have to break the bank to enjoy their big day in style.”

Laura Richards

Laura Richards is a writer, journalist, and mother of four. She resides in the Boston area and has written for many outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe Magazine, Redbook, House Beautiful, Martha Stewart Living, and is a frequent Your Teen contributor.