How to Attend Prom Without Spending a King's Ransom

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From tickets to dresses and tuxedos to shoes, hair appointments, a limo, and dinner, the costs of prom continue to rise.

A new study by Visa reveals that American families are paying an average of $1,139 per prom-goer in 2013, up from $1,078 in 2012. Costs for the big night vary widely by region. Those in the Midwest will pay an average of $722, families in the West will pay approximately $1,079, attendees in the Southern states will pay just over $1,200, and those in the Northeast will pay a whopping $1,528.

The survey also found that households earning less than $50,000 a year will spend over $100 more on prom than families whose income was higher. But an even more surprising contrast is between single parents and married ones: Single-parent households expect to lay out $1,563, nearly twice the $770 that married parents say they'll spend.

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How to Attend Prom Without Spending a King's Ransom

The price tag for prom can quickly get out of control. A beautiful dress that's too expensive, friends with extravagant plans, or a desire to compete for attention with the expected prom king and queen can turn planning for a prom into a nightmare.

The Visa survey found parents will cover 59 percent of prom costs, and suggests that teens might behave more responsibly about their prom budgets if they were expected to pay for more of the expense themselves. (Visa's free prom app can help with budgeting and tracking prom spending.)

While the cost of the ticket is often set in stone, everything else -– dress, hair, nails, transportation –- offers options for frugality that don't have to make the evening any less magical.

The people at Visa offered some helpful ideas on keeping your prom budget under control. But we came up with some additional tips to whittle down the costs, so both parents and prom-goers can enjoy the night without waking up the next day with a debt hangover.

Dave Parker, Flickr.com

The dress can be one of the largest expenses of prom, but buying new isn't the only option. Becca's Closet, a nonprofit started by 20 high school students in Freehold, N.J., has collected 400 dresses from its Monmouth County community to lend, free of charge, to girls in need. The organization offers confidential consultations, and fellow prom-goers will be none the wiser. Similar programs are run throughout the country, including in Illinois, Virginia, California, and Oregon. Search for similar programs in your area at DonateMyDress.org.
Vintage is back in style, and secondhand shops have a wide variety of dresses, many of which have been worn only a few times. Bridesmaids dresses -- worn only for a few hours! -- can be easily altered to be worthy of the most discerning dancing queens. Trade last year's dresses with friends from other schools, and dye shoes from a previous occasion to match.
A limousine, expensive after-parties and even prom photos can be skipped in favor of more self-reliant and cost-effective options. Plus, they can be a nice way to get family and friends involved.

Kerri Zane, single mom and author of It Takes All 5, says she's surviving prom by keeping the event modest. Her 18-year-old daughter is going only with her date and not a large group of friends to avoid limo and hotel costs. They are eating at a lower-key restaurant, and instead of going to a salon, they're paying an older sister's friend to do hair and makeup. Additional costs for the ticket and dress have been contributed by family members, and her daughter is using savings to pay for shoes.

Many companies offer prom promotions, which can lead to big savings without curtailing the memories of the evening. Olive Garden's Instagram challenge will award winners a $500 prepaid gift card to help offset prom costs. Some tuxedo shops are offering ways teens can earn free rentals by becoming prom reps and referring their fellow students as customers.

Some department store counters like Origins and Clinique will offer free prom makeovers (be prepared to buy a lipstick for the evening's event).

Do you have old florist vases lying around the house? Ask a local shop if they can be exchanged for a boutonniere or corsage.

How much are you spending on prom? What are your budget-savvy plans? Tell us below for the chance to be featured in an upcoming article.

Mkealcoran, Flickr.com

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