Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The cost of prom and ways to save money April 28, 2012

A 1984 bridesmaid's dress I donated last year to the Faribault High School National Honor Society Prom Dress Drive.

EVEN I WAS SHOCKED when I read the number: $1,078.

That, dear readers, is the average amount American teens are spending on their high school proms this spring, according to results of a Visa Inc. Prom Spending Survey.

Surprised?

I knew the cost of prom was over-the-top, but not to that level of out-of-control spending.

If it’s any solace, here in the Midwest, prom-going teens spend $696, the least of anywhere in the nation. Those in the Northeast shell out $1,944. Southern teens spend an average of $1,047 and those on the West Coast, $744.

Surprised? Shocked? I am.

But wait, there’s more. According to the survey (click here to read a complete report), prom spending is up nearly 34 percent from the 2011 average of $807.

Surprised? Shocked? I am.

That all said, there are ways to cut prom costs, still look great and enjoy this special high school event. Readers of this blog offered plenty of creative money-saving ideas earlier this week after I posted about prom. Since I expect not all readers peruse the comments, here are the suggestions they offered:

No one was more adamant about cutting prom costs than Joan, who advocates thrift store shopping to save significant dollars. Her son picked up a second-hand suit at a local thrift store and his date is wearing a $20 dress from the Salvation Army. Joan spent $10 for the silk flowers she purchased at a craft store and then crafted. Another $45 goes for two prom tickets. She’s spent $10 for after-prom food and will spend an additional amount for her son’s dinner out. Add those numbers, and the cost for Joan’s son to attend prom will likely be around $100.

Affordable? Yes.

A friend of mine, a young mother who lives in Washington D.C., sent a link to a Utah-based business that rents prom dresses for $39 – $99, plus a cleaning fee. Modest Prom lists its mission: Help you find a modest prom dress. Click here to learn about this rental option.

Another reader, a South Dakota mom who last year spent $280 on her daughter’s prom dress, recouped 75 percent of the cost by selling the dress after prom. This year that same mom shelled out $400 for her daughter’s gown.

A similar strategy is recommended by another reader. Her friend bought a dress after prom for a fraction of the price. “Styles don’t change dramatically in a year,” she says.

In Australia, another mom says her daughter is covering some of the costs for attending her school formal.

And then there’s the Twin Cities metro area mother who offers this alternative. Her son, on prom night, invited friends over for pizza, prom night movies and video games. “He got a great turnout, and the kids had a blast,” she says.

My 18-year-old isn’t attending Faribault High School’s prom tonight. His older sisters never attended prom either. I, however, went to my high school proms in 1973 and 1974. Things were different back then. I sewed my dresses. Girls and guys could go solo. We didn’t get our hair or nails done or pay photographers or dine out or ride in limos or… Prom was much simpler back then and certainly way cheaper.

Times have changed and as much as I’d like to sometimes turn the clock back to those simpler days, I can’t.

But I do have two ideas to cut prom costs. How about cooking a fancy meal in your home for your prom-going son/daughter and his/her date? My mom did that for my youngest brother back in the day. Today my brother’s married to his prom date.

The other idea isn’t really mine, but is one the Faribault High School National Honor Society came up with last year. The NHS held a Prom Dress Drive, collecting and recycling prom dresses. You can read about that by clicking here. I know this has been done elsewhere and I consider it a fabulous alternative to spending hundreds of dollars on a new dress.

So there you go. Prom can cost less than the nation-wide average of $1,078 if you’re willing to think creatively, shop thrift stores and simply say “no” to your son/daughter.

IF YOU HAVE ADDITIONAL cost-saving suggestions or prom alternatives, please submit your ideas via a comment on this post. We can all learn from each other. Thank you to all who earlier submitted their great ideas.

FYI: Visa survey results were based on 1,000 telephone interviews conducted nation-wide between March 30 – April 1, 2012.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling