Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Am I the only mom who thinks prom is ridiculously expensive? April 24, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:12 AM
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HOW WOULD YOU react if you reached into your mailbox and pulled out a letter from the county attorney’s office addressed to the “parents of?”

My heart skipped a beat last Thursday morning when I saw my son’s name on that official envelope. Turns out it was simply a mass mailing endorsed by the Rice County Chemical Health Coalition’s Enforcement Team, Rice County Attorney Paul Beaumaster, Faribault Community Action Team, Rice County Safe Communities Coalition and Rice County MADD.

But talk about momentarily scaring the heck out of me. Seriously.

With prom approaching this Saturday at the local high school, these organizations and the county attorney wanted to remind parents and students about safety and legal issues related to driving and to alcohol use. Message received.

If scaring parents by mailing the flier in an official Rice County Attorney’s envelope was the intended result, then they achieved that with me. But I would have preferred delivery of this important information in a less intimidating manner.

Now about prom…, my son isn’t attending. I’m glad. Why? Prom has become so overblown in importance and expense to the point of ridiculousness.

I can’t understand spending hundreds of dollars on clothes, hair styling, photos, flowers, food and transportation for a formal high school dance.

At Faribault High School, the upfront cost to attend prom is $175/couple. That covers transportation to a European style nightclub in St. Paul, a dinner (I think, although it is not listed on the official itinerary) and a dance.

Add to that the dress/tux, shoes and all the other expenses and you’re looking at hundreds of dollars. For prom. For one night.

Is this affordable for parents and students, in this economy, in any economy? Are too many students being priced out of prom? Won’t many of these same students soon hope for college scholarships at senior awards ceremonies and later borrow thousands of dollars for college?

How can parents and students justify hefty prom expenditures? This mother can’t. And, yes, I am financially conservative. None of my three children ever attended their high school proms. Unlike some moms who would be absolutely devastated by this (and, believe me, I know one mom who was frantic when her daughter didn’t have a date months before prom), I was/am not.

How do you feel about the cost of prom and the importance placed upon it? What changes could be implemented to make prom more affordable for anyone who wants to attend? Is too much importance placed on prom? I’d like to hear your opinions and ideas.

And just to assure you that I’m not totally anti-prom, I like to see teens have fun and build memories from their high school days. But within reason.

And, I do see the economic benefits with all that money parents and students are pumping into prom.

© Text copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Graphics were in the mailing my family received from the Rice County Attorney’s office.


33 Responses to “Am I the only mom who thinks prom is ridiculously expensive?”

  1. dakotagirl Says:

    My daughter’s high school prom was this last Saturday. We are a fairly large high school, 900 students, and only Juniors and Seniors can attend. The prom is at a local event center here in town, and students either eat out on their own, or parents have groups of kids at their homes. BUT her dress was $400, hair and nails and such, $75. I’m glad I only have one kid.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Our local high school is also quite large with 300 or more students per grade level. Did you feel comfortable spending $400 on a prom dress for your daughter?

      • dakotagirl Says:

        Seemed a little crazy to spend that much, and there are some things my husband is better off not knowing, but she is an only child and pretty spoiled I’ll admit. I did sell her dress from last year, that cost about $280 and got back 75% of the cost, so that helped.

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        Ah, some things the husband is better off not knowing…love it. Great idea to sell the dress, especially when you recouped 75 percent of the cost.

  2. Joan Quiram Says:

    Wow, and I thought getting married was expensive! At Cannon Valley Lutheran High School the cost for prom is $45 for a couple and $25 for a single. The school used to have a banquet beforehand, but this year they’re letting everyone eat out on their own. That price also includes all of the expenses for the after-prom party. It shouldn’t have to cost a fortune! My son, a freshman (yes, they let freshmen go to prom….they let everyone go to prom…..an advantage of a smaller school) wanted a suit because he knew how ridiculously expensive it is to rent a tux. So we got him a suit, but the deal was, it wouldn’t be a NEW suit until he quit growing. So we got him one at a local thrift store, but nobody can tell the difference anyway! His girlfriend got a beautiful dress at the Salvation Army thrift store. Again, you can’t tell at all! I am making silk flowers for them from Hobby Lobby. The logic behind it is so that she can keep the flowers forever. My daughters did the same thing their freshman and sophomore years. You can find beautiful dresses and very nice suits at a local thrift store, and if you’re embarrassed that you got it there….just don’t tell anyone! 🙂 As far as the cost of the ticket, what is so wrong with just having the dance at the school or community center? Why does it have to be a river boat cruise or other fancy deal? Yes, it is something you’ll remember for the rest of your life, but really, it doesn’t have to be that extravagant!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Joan, thanks for your thoughtful alternatives to making prom more affordable. I especially like the thrift store shopping idea. I shop those stores often and so do my adult daughters.

      And I agree about a local venue, although I do like the idea of all the students traveling on a bus to the prom site.

      Readers, do you have other suggestions, like Joan, to keep down those prom costs?

      • Cosmos Says:

        I have a friend that purchased dresses after prom for next year at a fraction of the price, definitly under $50. Styles don’t change dramatically in a year.

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        Thank you for sharing this great, cost-saving idea.

  3. Rena Says:

    I agree that prom is over-played and we end up over paying. This past weekend I spent the day shopping for clothes for myself (a very rare occasion for this woman!) because my husband insisted I “treat” myself. I was shocked by the crowds of prom shoppers! Girls were coaxing their parents for dresses that cost gross amounts and revealed gross anatomy… What are we teaching our children by endorsing the new prom attitude? Today’s prom is “Ubber” (over the top) and frankly, quite materialistic and superficial. Some of the dresses I saw girls proudly buying were as revealing, or more, than the average nightie! Should we continue to indulge this sort of practice?

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Since you brought up that point of revealing prom dresses…, readers, do you agree with Rena? I do.

      And might I add that had I been shopping with you, Rena, I certainly could have doubled the length of this blog post. Why don’t parents just say “no” to their kids?

      • Joan Quiram Says:

        I agree with you Audrey! We as parents need to say no to kids, especially when it’s something like this. My daughters were royalty for Eagle Lake and each ended up with 5 or 6 beautiful dresses they bought at thrift stores. They got lots of compliments on them. The other girl who was an attendant often turned up her nose at the fact that they were thrift store dresses, but I thought they looked just as nice as the two she had and spent hundreds on!

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        I’m glad you and your daughters value thrifting like I do. Last Saturday I picked up a black, like-new Liz Claiborne “Villager” handbag for $4 at the Salvation Army in Faribault. What a deal.

  4. Lanae Says:

    I as a florist find that many more of the parents want the expensive corsages/bout. There are kids who don’t want to over spend. What is prom with out flowers?

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I figured I’d hear from you. I’m with you on the flowers. I prefer real flowers, but that’s my preference. Others like Joan and her daughters and son go with the imitation to save dollars. As long as you’re happy.

      Interesting that parents are the ones who want the more expensive flowers. What does this tell us?

  5. amycrea Says:

    My oldest son opted out of prom both years. What he did instead was host his own Prom Night–he had a bunch of friends over for pizza, viewings of the original and remake of the Prom Night movies, and played video games. He got a great turnout, and the kids had a blast.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Another great idea, Amy. Thanks for passing it along.

      I just remembered, too, that when my youngest brother went to prom, my mom prepared a lovely meal served in the dining room of our family’s home on her china.

  6. Claudia Says:

    I lived in Los Angeles in the 80s, when parents were flying their children to Hawaii for a weekend as part of prom. Pre-prom rhinoplasty and breast enhancements were pretty routine in my neighborhood, too. So now that I’m in Minnesota, it seems all so refreshingly simple. It’s a question of perspective, I suppose, but I think it’s good that people here are looking at the expenses and saying “slow down!” Might as well prevent proms from becoming the ridiculous rituals they are in California.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Wow, Claudia, I am nearly speechless. I can hardly believe that parents would fly their kids to Hawaii for prom weekend. And plastic surgery? Incredible. Unbelievable. Perspective, indeed.

  7. Claudia Says:

    I am really impressed with the smart alternatives mothers are suggesting in the comments section. Your children are lucky to have you!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I’m equally impressed. Parents, keep submitting your alternative ideas to prom and/or making prom more affordable. We can all learn from each other.

  8. hotlyspiced Says:

    I think if he really wanted to go and you wouldn’t let him, then that’s a problem but as he doesn’t want to go and you don’t mind if he stays at home then everyone wins. Yes, it’s a lot of money and not everyone can afford it. Things are different here because not everyone goes to the local Government run high school. These schools need to keep the cost of these events to a minimum as people from every economic background attend Government schools. We have a lot of private schools where you pay enormous fees to attend the school and these schools put on formals that are costly. But you know that’s the way it’s going to be when you choose to enrol your child. My daughter’s formal is coming up in a few weeks too. There’s no way she isn’t going – she loves dressing up and she loves to party. But, it’s costing a lot of money and so she’s paying for some of the expense – that’s our compromise xx

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      The compromise of sharing the costs sounds like a good plan. Kids tend to appreciate things more when they need to cover a portion of the cost.

  9. I’m with you, Audrey. Not a big prom fan.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      My issue is not with prom, but that it’s gone so over-the-top in cost and importance.

      • Joan Quiram Says:

        I agree with you Audrey. Maybe some of these parents are giving in to their children because they’re still living vicariously through their child’s life? Who knows. All I know is that my own kids looked forward to the after-prom party more than the actual prom itself. One of my daughters called the grand march a “show put on for the parents” which in reality, it is. As far as the revealing dresses that someone wrote about earlier, I agree that parents should step in and tell their daughters “no.” Many schools now require a dress code for prom which I applaud!

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        You nailed it with these comments, Joan. As far as a dress code for prom, great idea. But imagine trying to enforce that in a school as large as Faribault High. That would be a challenge. Even so, I think it’s an idea worth considering.

        I think the after-prom party is a wonderful event for the kids. My eldest, maybe even my second (I can’t recall), attended and enjoyed that. Much effort goes into planning and pulling off an event like this and I credit all those hard-working parent volunteers.

  10. Joan Quiram Says:

    Yep, I’m one of those parent volunteers! My husband was a chaperone for the dance when both of our daughters were in high school (They’re a year apart, so that spanned 5 years), and I’ve worked at two after-prom parties and will be doing it again this year. I have heard of some larger schools having a dress code (I think it was maybe Mankato East or West?) It was spelled out ahead of time and the students were told if they didn’t meet it, they’d be turned away at the door. Some kids still tried and DID get turned away. The only bad thing about that though is that they may opt to go out and party instead. (Unless they knew their parents were coming for the grand march.) I guess trying to be proactive can’t hurt! The most you can do is try and then stick to your guns. As far as the over-the-top costs, I think too many girls go nuts with the whole hair, nails, makeup, etc. I did my girls’ hair and nails and saved tons of money. Could anybody tell they didn’t go to the salon? I doubt it. Plus, by the time they got to the after-party, they didn’t care what their hair looked like anymore. 🙂 Good luck to all of you parents. I’m getting by with a $10 suit for my son, a $45 prom ticket for he and his date, $10 silk flowers, and the cost of eating out that night. (Her dress cost $20 at the thrift store and is gorgeous!) Oh yeah, and I have to pitch in $10 toward the after-prom food.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      You could write a prom guidebook with all of your cost-saving and other great ideas. Thank you so much for taking the time to share these with readers, Joan. Parents and prom-organizers, take note of Joan’s suggestions posted in this comment and earlier. I like what she has to say.

      • Joan Quiram Says:

        Thanks Audrey. I think I’ll stick with my present job of teaching 5th graders at Trinity. 🙂 Good luck everybody.

  11. Julia Buuck Says:

    Check out this website. I heard about it through our home school co-op. It has links to buy or rent modest prom dresses, some ideas on how to get affordable dresses. And instructions how to restyle immodest prom dresses, and also on how to make boleros and shrugs.


    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thanks for the link, Julia. I’m all for options that will make prom affordable.

      I just heard a report on the 10 p.m. news that the average cost of prom this year is $1,078, according to results of a Visa survey. Students in the Midwest spend about $700, the least of anywhere in the country. Those on the West Coast spend $750. And in the Northeast, the average cost is $2,000, the highest for any part of the country. I was shocked by all of those numbers, which are more than even I expected. As my 18-year-old son said while the report was airing, “You could go on a trip for that.”

      My thought was this: That could pay for a college class or two.

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