Life in Transition

Navigating Personal Finances During Life Transitions

Soaring Cost of Prom & Cutting Costs

This past weekend, my husband and I went to P.F. Chang for dinner since we had a gift card.  Prom-goers swarmed the restaurant, which made me think about an article I read recently about soaring prom costs.  I couldn’t believe my eyes when it said that the average person spent $1000 on prom in 2011.  I knew that prom is a special night for high schoolers, but $1000 seems over the top for a dance.  Then I started thinking about how much I spent on my own prom.

I spent about $110 at JC Penney and $25 on alterations.  I made sure to get a shorter dress since they are usually cheaper than traditional prom gown.  Besides, I knew that I would more likely re-wear a shorter cocktail dress than a floor length gown.  I also chose a simpler one since it’s harder and more expensive to alter a dress with extensive beading. For shoes, I went to a discount store and bought a pair of heels for $20.  

Hair, Makeup, Accessories
I didn’t spend too much money on hair, just $20, but I spent more money than I had planned on for make-up.  I never wore make-up while I was in high school, so one of my friends set up an appointment the Estee Lauder makeup counter at the mall.  Getting make-up done was free if I purchased two items from the counter.  Unfortunately, going into this I had no idea how much nice make-up costed, so I experienced some sticker shock.  All together, I spent $55 on make-up.  While at the mall, I went ahead and bought a pair of nice earrings which were $23.

The parents of one of my good friends had a membership at a swanky country club, so we were able to get a discount for a really nice meal.  I ended up spending $30 for dinner, since I didn’t want my date to pick up the tab.  I still think $30 is a lot of money for one meal, but it was definitely one of the best meals I ever had.  

At my high school, the senior class didn’t have to buy a ticket for prom.  All we had to do was bring an ID, or make sure one of the teachers chaperoning recognized us.  I skipped out on most of the prom bells and whistles.  I didn’t go to the tanning bed like the rest of the girls in my class.  My friends and I didn’t get a fancy limo nor did we book a block of hotel rooms for the after party. We went over to a friend’s house afterwards, and the next morning another friend’s mom hosted a delicious brunch. I have no idea how much these things would have costed, but I’m sure I saved a lot of money.

So, my total prom tab: $283 which according to an online inflation calculator, is equivalent to $314 today.

I managed to keep my prom costs low, but I guess the $1000 average shouldn’t have surprised me too much.  I knew a girl who had traveled to Italy to buy her prom dress, and I one of my friends rented a Rolls Royce for the fifteen minute drive from her house to the country club that hosted our prom.

Ironically my sister, who has a tendency to blow lots of money shopping, spent way less than I did on her prom three years ago.  She borrowed one of my cocktail dresses that I had bought for a wedding, so she didn’t spend a dime on her dress.  Instead of picking a fancy up-do, she picked a hairstyle that she could easily recreate on her own: a side pony-tail with large curls.  An artsy friend did her makeup, and she made sure her date paid for her dinner.  The only money she spent was on a $50 pair of shoes.

Did you go “all out”for your prom, or did you try to reign in the costs?


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10 thoughts on “Soaring Cost of Prom & Cutting Costs

  1. I can’t believe people are spending $1000 on prom! I spent about $150 for my dress and that was a HUGE amount. Dinner was paid for by my date and we did split a limo (I think it ended up being about $70 ish). I bought a boutonniere for him and also got my nails done the day before but I still think my total cost was less than $300. I can’t imagine paying more for it – especially because I was really spending my parents’ money at that point.

  2. I wasn’t caught up in prom fever at all. I had a steady boyfriend and my group of friends was pretty chill. I did spend a ridiculous amount of money on a dress ($400 – nearly as much as my wedding dress, as it turned out!) – I’m not sure why that happened or my parents let me do that. I wore shoes I already owned and didn’t do my hair (I had very short hair then) or makeup. If there was any cost for tickets, it wasn’t much. We had dinner and pictures at a friend’s house, drove our own cars to the hotel the prom was at, and then went to another friend’s house to spend the night. No big deal. I had low expectations for the dance itself, and it was okay – the outside-the-dance time was more fun.

    $1000 on prom is completely shocking to me, especially if it’s on food and cars and such (not the clothes, which you could rewear). It makes me wonder if those kids have anything else going on in their lives. We only had a senior prom so everyone was looking forward to college by then, ready to move on from the high school experience. Participating in the national competitions in my spring sport a few weeks earlier was way more fun and exciting than attending that dance.

  3. I didn’t go to my prom. Although I did go to other formal dances and I never even spent close to $1000. My parents always limited my dress budget to $100 and sometimes I would get my hair done for around $40 and sometimes I would just do it myself. I think $1000 for prom is a bit much. But to each their own.

  4. AverageJoe on said:

    I’ve blocked all of those expenses out 😉 but we did nothing special. For me it was a tux and nice dinner (I paid for my date’s dinner also). Some nice flowers for my date. We went to a friends house and watched movies afterward (about 10 of us), so it wasn’t costly at all.

    $1000 is ridiculous.

  5. I don’t understand the need to go all out on prom night. At the time it seems like it’s so important, but for myself… I just didn’t want to get into the hype. I bought my fancy dress at Jessica Mcclintock for $20! It was nice and it was a gown, and I got many compliments. For my hair, I went to a salon that my friend recommended, but it was probably $30 max. My shoes were just regular heels that I had before… I wasn’t into spending too much at the time. I also knew that prom was a one night thing, and it didn’t make sense to blow it all on one day. I will not spend that much on my future children’s proms!

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  7. I feel like most of the other post. Yes prom is an important day for teens but now days they have a prom for every grade not just the senior prom. Cutting cost id very important these days. You can still make the day special on a budget. Great article.

  8. Yeah, it’s crazy what some people spend on prom. I remember when I was in high school I had to work that night, so I didn’t even go to my prom.

  9. I am also surprised by the cost of prom! I actually went to prom 3X. I went to prom my freshman year with best girlfriend, junior year with one of my girlfriends, and senior year alone. My mom also never spent more than $30 on a dress. We would buy the dress a year in advance. Since I always had band recitals, banquets, and dances, I always used the dresses. Parents also dropped off us, since we didn’t have cars.

  10. Taking your time to find the perfectly priced dress is worth it and a great way to cut costs. 🙂

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