Smart SpendingSmart Spending

Prom spending tops $1,100

The average cost of the 2013 prom is $1,139, according to a new survey. But you don't have to spend anywhere near that.

By Donna_Freedman Apr 30, 2013 11:08AM

Prom couple (Tim Jones/Getty Images)The cost of the high-school prom rose by 5% this year, according to a national survey by Visa. Although parents are paying for a little less -- 59% of the tab versus 61% last year -- they and their kids will shell out between $722 and $1,528 for the one-night fling.


Parents who make less than $50,000 a year will spend more than the national average, forking over $1,245.


Some of those free-spending parents may have budgeted for the expense. I'm willing to bet that others want what they see as "the best of everything" for their children, even if it means going into debt.

I understand that desire. But sometimes "the best" isn't necessarily "the most." Or the most expensive.

Teens have come to expect high-end prom prep: professional makeup, mani-pedis, new jewelry, designer gowns, dinners at fancy restaurants, giant limos, hotel rooms for after-parties. I think it's time parents put on the brakes.

So does Visa, which may sound counterintuitive; after all, doesn't the company make its money from credit card usage? But a spokesman called prom season "an opportunity to teach teens how to budget."

"Prom has devolved into a competition to crown the victor of high school society, but teens shouldn't be trying to keep up with the Kardashians," said Nat Sillin, the company's head of U.S. financial education.

"If they want that sparkling dress, fancy dinner, and limo ride, this is the opportunity to set a budget and save."

It's not that anyone begrudges the kids a party. But how many of their parents would spend $1,139 for a single night out on the town?

College is looming

Casey Slide of the Money Crashers blog understands the excitement. But in a post called "28 high school prom planning ideas to save money," she notes that "it's only one night out of their entire lives."

"It shouldn't cost a fortune, especially when paying for college is looming on the horizon," Slide says.

A few simple strategies can save you a bundle, according to consumer specialist Andrea Woroch. For example:

  • Print photos at home versus spending up to $125 for pictures at the prom.
  • Lease a dress for as little as $50 at a site like Rent The Runway.
  • Skip the orchids in favor of something simpler, like carnations or a delicate corsage made from baby's breath.
  • Forget the limo -- drive the family car.

"Though prom is an important milestone in your teen's life, there's no need to spend an exorbitant amount of money to make it memorable," Woroch says.

Chances are your kid is already well into the prom zone by now. If you haven't already set limits, time to check in and see how much has been spent and how much more is "needed" for the evening.

If you're startled by what's already slipped out of your wallet, speak up: "I had no idea we've already spent this much. I will contribute X dollars more and that's it. How can we come up with some creative ways to stretch that money?"

Great ways to save

Here are some tried-and-true ways to cut costs, courtesy of parents, bloggers and former prom-goers.

Avoid frills.
Going retro (a la "Mad Men") or sleek and simple (the famous "little black dress") for a sophisticated look. More to the point, you've got a good chance at finding such dresses in thrift stores or clearance racks.

Reduce, reuse.
Borrow a nice frock from a friend or relative. Check thrift shops and consignment stores for prom or bridesmaid dresses. My niece knows a girl who wore a bridesmaid's dress found at a yard sale for about $10. This works for guys, too: One parent told me her son wore his father's wedding suit for a look that was both retro and practical.

Buy a tux.
Check the clearance rack at formal wear shops and you'll wow 'em at fancy events for years to come. One guy spent $99 on a tux that he wore to six formal occasions; his brother used it, too. Tuxes also show up at thrift stores, so keep your eyes peeled.

Or avoid a tux.
Wear a regular suit, or slacks and a sports coat. Just wear it like you mean it.

Compare and contrast. Find the best deals for specific styles with a price comparison website like or Then use an online coupon site like Rather Be Shopping or to deepen your discount. Note: Online coupon codes exist for tux rentals.

Sometimes less is more. How much jewelry do you really need? Wear one or two nice things you already own, or borrow them from someone. "Hats, gloves and handkerchiefs can either be eliminated or purchased on the cheap at a store such as Claire's," suggests Andrew Schrage of Money Crashers.

Forget footwear.
Wear heels, sandals or flats from your closet. Everyone's looking at the dress, not at your feet.

More budget-friendly tips

A free hairdo.
Skip the salon and do it yourself, or have a hair-handy relative do the honors. After a half-hour of dancing it'll be a sweaty mess anyway.

A (mostly) free makeover.
Department-store makeup counters usually offer free makeup sessions. It's best to schedule an appointment, according to blogger Kimberly Couzens of The Kimberly Diaries. She suggests buying a lip color or mascara that you will actually use.

Skip the mani-pedi.
Seriously: You can't do your own nails?

Rethink the flowers.
Supermarket floral departments can do a lovely job that's cheaper than a florist. Some teens skip the flowers altogether.

Don't buy dinner -- serve it.
Instead of pricey restaurant outings, restaurant meal, get together with a few other parents and host a special meal. Set the table formally and serve the prom-goers as if they were in a restaurant. (It's up to them whether they tip you or not.)

How much will your family spend on the prom?

More on MSN Money:

Apr 30, 2013 12:45PM

Any parent who agrees to spend  more than $200 needs to have his/her head examined.


This is a party that lasts one night. Hello, perspective.

Apr 30, 2013 6:47PM
Are you kidding me?!?  I'm sorry, but what idiot would pay out that much money.  Believe me it isn't really going to scar the kid for life if he/she doesn't get the expensive tux and or dress.  They don't need a limo or to eat at a five star restaurant.  This is why kids are growing up with an entitlement attitude. 
Apr 30, 2013 6:48PM
My daughter just had her prom, and we spent NO WHERE near that much money!!  We served her and her date dinner at home, bought her dress from a dress swap site ($600 dress for $100) and had a friend help with hair and make up. Her big "splurge"..... mani-pedi for $40.  Oh, and new shoes at Charlotte Russe. We drove the kids in the family car, (neither her nor her BF have cars or licenses) and made the night magical for them. Parents need to wake up and stop spoiling the heck out of their kids. You have to set limits or else they never learn. 
Apr 30, 2013 6:38PM
I understand it's a milestone in a teen's life but, to spend that much money on one night is just ridiculous. If they spend that much on Prom just wait till the bill for the wedding comes in!!!!!!!!!
Apr 30, 2013 6:51PM
Why do they need a limo and a hotel room ???? I think it ridiculous
Apr 30, 2013 7:13PM
Our HS is a rural one with many low income families. They choose to have proms that everyone can attend using themes like "beach prom" shorts and summer dresses, Rodeo prom. The kids have fun, the cost in minimal and we also have a cinderella closet if , like this year, they did a casino royale theme. Schools need to help these kids out by not encouraging it to be a competition and keep it simple!
Apr 30, 2013 6:52PM
Bless my daughter- we found 3 prom dresses from the previous years designs for under $100.00. One was$20.00! She looked magnificent- and we both were thrilled with her bargains!! Parents- from a retired teacher, counselor, and administrator- YOU CAN SAY NO!

Apr 30, 2013 7:10PM

"Teens have come to expect "..


Can't imagine where these kids get such a feeling of "entitlement" LOL.

I asked my son if he was going to prom,, he said "No thanks, I'm not wasting my money on that". I offered to chip in on the expense, being a Senior, and never having been to the prom, I thought maybe he'd change his mind. "No mom, that's ok, it's NOT a big deal".

THAT'S MY Boy!... I raised him right. :).

Apr 30, 2013 6:44PM


Pffffftttttt! Sprinkle a few unwanted pregnancies on that and watch the cost skyrocket.

Apr 30, 2013 7:02PM
This is insane. I went to my senior prom three years ago and spent $100 (ticket, dinner at nice restaurant, dress and gas for my car). Granted my sister paid for my hair and make-up to be done, but that was only $75 and I could have gone without it. I wore shoes and jewelry I borrowed from others. It is just a few hours. The dance floor makes you hot and gross in an hour. Don't need a limo, fancy dress, jewelry, etc. It is high school--Please don't let your children spend over a grand on prom.
Apr 30, 2013 6:43PM
Is this the poverty in America we've been hearing so much about? LOL!!!
Apr 30, 2013 6:53PM
No way Jose.  It can be done much cheaper.  Rent or borrow a gown or a tux.  Make a corsage out of silk flowers.  Split the cost of a limo.  There is no reason to spend a fortune on a prom.
Apr 30, 2013 9:07PM
At my prom which was about 7 years ago I actually paid for everything. In my head I didn't realize parents did such a thing at 17 I got my first job as a cashier at a grocery store and on my first day my mother told me that from here on your responsible for paying your car payment which was 205 at the time and all my other personal expenses. So when Prom started coming around I knew I wanted a nice dress so I began to SAVE and bought me a gorgeous gown from Tadashi which was about $350 dollars and I paid for my own nails, hair and got my makeup done at Mac and it was AWESOME! Oh yeah and my date bought my dinner at a nice restaurant we went to. Also my mom and dad are financially doing amazing and could've bought everything and more for my prom but they taught me how to respect money and how to save. These parents are TRIPPEN!
Apr 30, 2013 7:10PM
Start out early and tell your child about the facts of life, namely that fun and satisfaction are not related to how much money you spend.
It is alright to go a little bit overboard on special occasions.
Your sons or daughters are worth spending a little extra for a memorable prom, but there is a limit and that limit does not limit your fun.
Limos and Champagne don't define a good time.
Spending quality time with someone you care about is what it is all about.
If you are going to the prom with someone with whom you have not spent a lot of quality time then you are probably there with the wrong person.
Let the Big Dogs spend all of their money on you, but don't forget that your real friends and  future lovers are the ones who you liked and didn't have the nerve to ask you to the prom.
Apr 30, 2013 7:29PM

Our daughter attended prom all four years in high school.  Her freshman and senior years we spent around $85- for her formal long dresses and that was at Macy's.These dresses also did double duty for pageants  Shoes were from Payless and jewelry from Claire's.  In fact, she wore the same pair for all four proms and for pageants.  She still uses the jewelry.  .  Her sophomore and junior years she opted for shorter dresses and found those for under $15- at Sears.  Two of these prom dresses she took to college where she wore them for other functions.  She and her friends wanted a limo junior and senior years  which, due to the number of people riding, would cost about $100-.  We told her that if she wanted to ride 'limo', she could pay for it herself so one year she worked cleaning houses in the neighborhood and the other she worked at Sonic as a car hop (I refused to let her boyfriend pay for her limo trip since he had his own to pay for plus dinner).  The restaurants these kids chose were reasonable - Red Lobster, Papasitos, Olive Garden. As a matter of fact, while the guys paid for the dinner, the girls paid the tips, not only to the wait staff but to the limo driver and paid for their own tickets.  Most of the girls, even if they had a date, paid their own limo ride. 




Apr 30, 2013 7:23PM
This is beyond absurd.  I know I'm old, but I don't understand parents supporting this.  I sewed my own dress, and double dated, and I know that we ate out, but we sure didn't spend alot, and we drove the parent's car...a station wagon!  You know, it really is up to the parents to stop this stuff.
Apr 30, 2013 7:17PM
sport coat , white shirt and slacks from the modest closet, spit shined school shoes and a borrowed tie; $2 gas for the car I bought myself; made a corsage and a nice matching bouquet for date's mother from my mom's garden, nice dinner for two at the nicest place in town ( $9 including tip.)  My parents paid ZERO; it was my prom not theirs.  Dating myself a little?   Maybe, but $11 for one night was a big I'll never forget.
Apr 30, 2013 7:01PM
And then comes college debt, SUCKERS !!!!!
How dumb have parents gotten?
No wonder this country is broke.
Apr 30, 2013 8:20PM
I kind of doubt people actually average this much money on a High School dance.
Apr 30, 2013 7:44PM
The only thing I paid for when going to prom was the "ticket" to get in. My mom bought one of these, out of three because I didn't have a job for my first prom. They cost about $50.
Borrowed dresses, and did everything else myself. Drove around in our own cars.

Prom is not that important, and nothing like it ever happens again in your life, unless you are a celebrity or politician or something.

How often do adults put on elaborate dress, go out to fine dining and dance?
Maybe I'm just missing something.

Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Smart Spending brings you the best money-saving tips from MSN Money and the rest of the Web. Join the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.