It's the time of the season, as the Zombies sing, when love runs high -- especially for the nation's adolescents, many of whom face the titillating prospect of that teenage rite of spring, high school prom.
But the pleasures of prom -- elegant dress, alluring flowers, fancy transportation -- don't come cheap: Last year's Visa (V) Prom Spending Survey found that families spent an average of $807 on the event. Spending varied widely by region, from $1,073 in the West to just $542 in the South.
And prom is getting significantly pricier. According to USA Today, spending on the spring formal is set to rise this year to an average of $1,078. "Where is it all going?" the paper asks. "Mostly towards the dress or tux, but limo rides, professional hair and makeup services, visits to the nail salon and new shoes and jewelry are also contributing to the increasingly hefty bill."
Any expense of that magnitude is worth approaching carefully, and that's doubly true for a one-night event. With that in mind, DailyFinance consulted consumer expert Andrea Woroch to find out how you and your teens can save on prom. Click through the gallery below for a baker's dozen strategies.
Perfect Prom on a Budget: 13 Ways to Spend Less, Still Shine
Prom costs can add up quickly, so make a plan before things get out of control and you wind up with a hefty credit card bill. Sit down with your teen to determine a realistic budget -- and stick to it. Also, make sure you're having them contribute to the bills. This is a great money-management lesson.
Stick to basic dress styles and colors your daughter could wear to another special occasion, like a college formal or a wedding. A short black, nude or grey cocktail dress, for instance, will always be in style, and you can spice it up with bold jewelry or glitter heels to make statement on prom night.
Ask close friends and family if they have any dresses, shoes or accessories that your daughter could use for prom. Even if she insists on a new dress, you could save on the extras.
Girls dream about their perfect prom dress, so many forgo frugality in favor of feeling like a princess for this special night. The reality is that a smart shopping strategy can go a long way. Shop sale racks at luxury retailers like Bloomingdales (M), or hit up stores like Marshalls (TJX) for discounted name brands. If your teen turns up her nose at department-store styles, shop sample sales via sites like Hautelook.com or Gilt Groupe for discounts of up to 70% on designer styles. You can also find designer brand sample sales in bridal shops, which offer heavy discounts on last season's bridesmaids dresses.
Thanks to celebrity magazines, reality TV and social media, teens' style consciousness and brand awareness are at an all-time high. Unfortunately, a designer frock can run anywhere from $250 to $1,200. Since most teens will never wear the dress again, renting may be a better option. At sites like RentTheRunway.com, you daughter can step out in fabulous dress for 10% of the retail price -- from $40 to $200. The site also rents jewelry.
If you find an item that you just must have, but the price tag is a shocker, go online. Oftentimes, you'll find a website selling the same style for less. You might find exclusive online coupons, along with free shipping. Compare prices via PriceGrabber.com and grab a free shipping code and money-saving coupon from sites like FreeShipping.org before checking out.
High-end consignment shops offer luxury brands at pocket-friendly prices. Many times you can find new pieces, with the tags still on them, at a fraction of department store prices. So scope out deals on dresses, tuxes and accessories at your local consignment shop before heading anywhere else.
The average cost of renting a tuxedo these days is $141, but that includes all the trimmings -- vest, shirt, shoes and cuff links. You may be able to rent the basic jacket and pants for less and fill in the gaps with items you already own -- or skip the rental altogether and opt for a suit. Some tux rental shops may offer group rates, so get a few friends together and see if you can negotiate a better price.
Limos are fun way for teens to arrive to prom, but the cost, depending on the number of passengers, can run up to $100 per person. Consider a party bus -- they offer better rates. Or, skip the limo altogether and cab it.
You need to make budget compromises somewhere. If you splurged on the dress or shoes, do your own makeup, hair and nails. This could save you up to $150 after you factor in tips. Make it special by inviting your closest pals over for a pre-prom beauty party and do each other's 'dos. Or ask mom, sis or an aunt for help.
Lots of teens get skin peels and facials before the big night. Instead, try at-home skin treatments with products from stores like Sephora, or find a deal via Groupon or LivingSocial to cut costs. For those who go to tanning parlors, consider less expensive (and much healthier) sunless tanning alternatives. Consult with your favorite beauty magazine online for product recommendations and reviews. Or, just skip the skin treatments altogether.
Professional prom portraits can cost up to $75, but unless you marry your prom date, those images will likely end up at the bottom of a box in your attic. Have your parents take a few shots at the pre-prom party, and use your smartphone or digital camera to capture moments throughout the night. Then share pictures via Facebook or Snapfish, where friends and family can order prints for as little as 15 cents apiece.
To pay for everything from pre-party decorations to prom essentials such as dresses, shoes and flowers, first, buy gift cards, which can be discounted as much as 30%. You'll find them at sites like Tip GiftCardGranny.com for such major retailers as Target (TGT), Macy's, 1-800 Flowers (FLWS), and many more.