Would you spend 6% (or more) of your gross annual income to send your teen to the prom? A survey by Visa Inc. indicated that families earning less than $20,000 per year planned to shell out $1,200 for the annual school dance.
I don’t know what’s scarier: The fact that parents are willing to do this or the fact that kids think it’s necessary.
Obviously prom costs vary depending on where you live. Here’s how the survey broke it down
- Northeastern families, $1,944
- Southern families, $1,047
- Western families, $744
- Midwestern families, $696
While parties in New York City or Miami probably skew the numbers – there’s simply more to do in those places than there is in, say, Fairton, New Jersey — access to cable and Internet have made proms an industry.
Kids who live way out in East Nowhere can now buy drop-dead-sexy gowns online. They know that the cool kids book hotel suites for after-parties. They want spray-on tans, mani-pedis, new shoes and jewelry, professional makeup, dramatic hairstyles. Dinner out beforehand is an absolute must, although you think they’d worry about getting food on those rented tuxes.
The last hurrah
Why are parents willing to pay for this? Some may go along because they want their kids to have what they presume the other kids have.
Others, remembering their own proms, may believe that this is some kind of pinnacle and they want it to be memorable. Of course, they probably also believe that high school constitutes the best years of your life.
Some parents are unable to deny their kids. They gave in on the expensive Christmas toys and the big-ass birthday parties and they’ll give in on the $600 prom dress, too. (The best option is to shop for more affordable prom dresses that offer the same or better elegance.)
I also expect there are parents living vicariously through their children: Their sons or daughters are the vessels into which they’ve poured all their hopes, and everything must be absolutely perfect.
The prom is part dress-up and part last hurrah. It’s a bunch of kids putting on their parents’ clothes and being shocked at the effect. Look at us! We’re beautiful! They’re close enough to what they see as freedom to be intoxicated by the idea, and young enough to think that everything they want is easily attainable.
Some teens, of course, are already disillusioned. They know that this is the pinnacle. Life after senior year may mean college or trade school, but it’s just as likely to mean living at home while looking for a job, or working and taking care of/paying support for the babies born while they were still in high school.
So you better believe you want to make a grand entrance, and to cut a dashing figure on the dance floor. Those memories and photos are your last chance to shine, your last shot at the carefree life. Even if you plan to spend the next four years in college, those years will have a price tag.
Holding the line
I think there’s a middle ground that some parents are afraid to inhabit. That would mean getting real both with our kids and ourselves. It sounds something like this:
Prom is coming up in a couple of months. I know you’re very excited. Here is what I can afford to contribute. We need to come up with ways to make those dollars work really hard.
While working on a piece about prom for MSN Money, I heard from people who got creative about the party. One young woman bought a bridesmaid’s gown for a dollar at a yard sale, then cut and hemmed it to tea length and embellished it with tulle. Total cost: About $15.
Another young woman had her pick of 10 dresses previously worn by her cousins. She chose a floor-length, strapless, periwinkle-blue sequined gown and wore it quite happily, rather than throw a hissy fit about wanting her own dress. She also carried a sequined bag that her mom found at a thrift store.
Other suggested ways to save: Calling a car service instead of a limo (or, I don’t know, borrowing your dad’s car); hitting a beauty school instead of a swanky salon (or doing it yourself); making your own corsage; borrowing jewelry from a relative; taking photos at home; having dinner at home before the party.
It’s up to us, the adults, to keep things real. Even if your kid is 18, he or she is still likely to be tempted by bright shiny objects. This is one night of their lives. Help them keep that in perspective.