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31 ways to slash prom costs

Don't want to drop a grand or more on a school dance? Try these tips from the high school trenches.

By Donna_Freedman May 9, 2012 11:44AM

Image: Prom couple (© Digital Vision/Digital Vision Ltd.)Last week, "The shocking cost of the senior prom" revealed an average expenditure of $1,078. I wasn't the only one startled by that figure. A number of readers left some fairly pointed comments.

One parent, however, defended a $900 prom tab: "We feel she deserves to celebrate the end of her childhood and the beginning of the next chapter of her life."

How much to spend is a completely personal choice but not necessarily a rational one. If a school dance can cost a grand or more, how much are you prepared to throw at a wedding?

Readers and experts offered suggestions on keeping costs down. Read these tips and stay within your budget when the next prom looms.

The dress, for less

1. Go retro.
Hit the thrift store: Thanksto the "Mad Men" television show, "anything vintage is so in," says Stephanie Berenbaum, who blogs at Fabulous & Frugal.

2. A second chance.
Nothing good at the thrift store? Look for a consignment shop. It's pricier, but nowhere near dress-shop pricey.

3. A long shot. My niece's classmate bought a bridesmaid's dress at a yard sale. Total cost, with tailoring and embellishment: $15.

4. Lend to a friend.
Several readers say their daughters borrowed and lent formal wear.

5. Short and sweet.
Floor-length gowns cost more (and are harder to dance in). Consider a shorter dress, because less can be more. Especially if you . . .

6. Keep it classy.
Berenbaum knows a girl whose strapless black dress stood out in a sea of teen-age bling. The sophisticated look made her the talk of the prom. Bonus: She already owned the dress.

7. Shop the clearance rack.
Readers paid as little as $10.(Post continues after video.)

8. Shop online. Price comparison sites such as can track down deals for specific styles. Shopping code sites provide deep discounts, too.

9. Craving fashion?
If you must have designer wear, check out Rent the Runway


More than one way to dress a guy
10. Group discounts.
Take a bunch of friends to the tux shop and ask for a price break, suggests consumer expert Andrea Woroch.


11. Use coupons. Tuxedo rental discounts are available through sites like Retail Me Not and


12. Buy, don't rent. Formalwear shops sell surplus suits, says reader "Dad of Eight." His son's $99 find served for three proms and three weddings, and is now being worn by a younger brother: "A classic tux never goes out of style."

13. Vintage works for men, too.
Christine Martinello's son spent zero dollars on prom attire -- he borrowed his father's wedding suit. The Atlanta mom called it a "retro" look but her son said the choice was purely practical: "It looks good and I don't have to waste time renting a tux."

14. Thrift it.
I have seen tuxes and nice menswear at secondhand stores. Speaking of menswear, you could also . . .


15. Forget the monkey suit. Who says it has to be a tux? A friend's son recently attended prom in a suit jacket and slacks. Or your teen could wear a suit he already owns and "dress it up with a vest," suggests Lori Felix, who blogs at More With Less Today.


Hair, makeup and bling
16. Get schooled.
Check out beauty schools in your area for a discounted 'do or makeover.

17. Buy vouchers.
Salons are frequently featured on social buying sites like Groupon and Living Social.Or you could . . .

18. Do your own hair.
Or ask a relative to style it. "You are going to be up all night dancing anyway, so an expensive up-do will just end up falling out," says Erika Katz of the blog  Bonding Over Beauty.


19. Do your own nails, too. Years from now "you're not going to remember what nail polish color you wore," says Kim Collins of


20. Hit the cosmetics counter. Major department stores offer free makeovers. (It's expected, but not required, that you buy something.)

21. No new shoes.
The dress is what gets the attention, so wear sandals or heels you already own. Besides, you'll likely ditch the shoes after a few dances.

Borrow, don't buy. Ask a friend or relative for the loan of jewelry, purses, wraps, cummerbunds, pocket squares and other accessories.

Wheels, flowers and food

23. Split the limo.
The more the merrier, especially when it's time to pay. And speaking of time: Some choose to rent for dropoff and pickup only.

24. Skip the limo.
One Denver teen says that limos are "so not cool any more." He was part of a group of 50 teens who rented a school bus (!) for the night. Cost: $10 apiece.

25. Borrow a car.
Your mom's. Your dad's. Your brother's. No charge!

26. Cheap blooms.
Order boutonnieres and corsages from the supermarket floral department.

27. Cheaper blooms.
Buy the flowers and do the work yourself.

28. Cheapest blooms.
That would be "none at all." Reader "GCB52" said her son's peer group chose to forgo flowers.

29. An intimate dinner.
This USA Today article says an average pre-prom dinner costs $75 per couple. With help from other parents, prom mom Ann Albertson hosted a formal, four-course meal for 14. Her share of the cost was $35. "Enjoying the kids was priceless," she says.

30. A slightly bigger bash.
Get friends together and negotiate a group price. David and his 49 friends paid $650 for an Italian feast, including tax and tip.

31. Eat with your family.
Have a regular supper, then get dressed and go out. That way you won't spill food on that fancy gown or rented suit.

More on MSN Money:

Jun 20, 2012 2:05AM
i think you can buy from china there are many cheap and good quality prom dresses and wedding dresses.

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.