“I think people are realizing that prom is a dance, and you don’t have to spend like a celebrity to have a great time,” says Nat Sillin, head of U.S. financial education for Visa.
While I’m glad to hear spending is down, I’m still a little startled by the average price tag: $978.
Regionally speaking, the West Coast region pays the most and the Midwest the least (although more than last year). The Northeast registered a 27 percent spending drop since last year and the South 23 percent.
Here’s how that shakes down per family, per region:
- Western, $1,125
- Northeastern, $1,104
- Southern, $926
- Midwestern, $835
Doesn’t that sound like an awful lot of money for a high-school dance?
It’s not that I begrudge any kid a nice party with friends. But show of hands: Would you spend $978 on a single night out?
Keeping costs down
The drop follows three years of steady increases that were possibly fueled by too many hours cruising reality TV and social media. (“The Rich Kids of Instagram” – really?)
As with everything in life, there’s an app for prom spending. Visa developed the free Plan’it Prom to help youths make detailed budgets and track spending as they go. (And, of course, to share via social media. If we don’t tell everyone all the details, did something really happen?)
You can get the app in the iTunes store, the Google Play store and from www.practicalmoneyskills.com/prom. What I’d like to know is where the entitlement comes from, and whether there’s an app for dispersing it.
A couple of years ago I wrote an MSN Money article called “The shocking cost of the senior prom.” Some of the readers were pretty, uh, vocal about their disapproval of the evening of excess. I invited readers to suggest cost-cutting measures, and followed up with “31 ways to slash prom costs.”
Some tried-and-true ideas were offered in both articles, including:
Forget dinner out. One woman’s daughter was invited to a formal dinner at a classmate’s home. They were served a splendid meal by waiters (parents).
Ditch the pix. With all the smartphones in use, do you really need those stiff-grin shots in front of a sparkly background? At the dinner mentioned above, one of the fathers took photos and put them on CDs for each guest.
Forget the salon. That fancy coiff is going to sweat up/fall down after a couple of fast dances. Nobody is going to remember (or even notice) what kind of nail polish you wore, either. If you’re lucky, you’ve got a friend or relative who’s good with hair, and you and your friends can do one another’s nails.
Or how about:
Buy a tux. Formalwear shops have sale racks. One reader told me his son spent $99 on a monkey suit that he wore to three proms and three weddings before passing it on to a younger brother. “A classic tux never goes out of style,” he said. They also show up at secondhand stores; DF has bought a couple of tuxes that way, which he and his sons have worn to all sorts of occasions.
And if you must rent? Get a bunch of guys together and call to ask the manager if you can have a group discount. Should the answer be “nope,” then look for tuxedo rental coupons on sites like Retail Me Not and Savings.com.
Don’t buy a dress. Quite a few people sent me this tip: “My daughter borrowed a dress from a friend/relative.” If your teen is dead-set on glam, keep in mind that you can lease evening wear at sites like Rent The Runway. But remind her also that the famous “little black dress” with a bit of jewelry and a sleek updo will also let her make quite the entrance.
Think “thrift.” As in, secondhand shop. My daughter suggested that plenty of young women donate their dresses. Then again, she drove my Nissan Sentra to the prom with a cardboard sign in the window: COMPACT LIMO. At that point in her life she was staring college tuition dead in its unblinking eye, and decided that every dollar she didn’t spend on stuff like limo rentals was a dollar she wouldn’t have to borrow.
Which brings me to my biggest beef: Wouldn’t a thousand bucks do a lot more good toward paying for college or trade school than for tuxes, limos, tickets, dinner out and so help me, prom souvenirs. Despite themes like “A Night to Remember,” I’d bet $978 that quite a few folks are fuzzy on the details 10 years later – or even five.
No doubt some people do have the times of their lives. I still think it’s an awfully expensive evening.