How to Save Money on Prom
Keep the costs of formal wear, flowers, photos and more under control with these tips.
I recently saw a statistic about prom spending that shocked me. American households with teens are expected to spend $978 in 2014 on this annual high school rite of passage, according to a nationwide survey by Visa. That amount actually represents a 14% drop from last year’s average -- prompting Visa to declare that families are reining in prom spending.
“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,” said Nat Sillin, Visa’s head of U.S. Financial Education, in a written statement. If you ask me, it hardly sounds like the bubble has burst if people are still shelling out nearly $1,000 for a dance.
Maybe I was just clueless about how much things cost when I was in high school, but I really don’t think any of my classmates or I came close to spending the equivalent at the time of $978 on prom. I know it’s been a while since I was in high school, but it hasn’t been so long that the prices for dresses, tuxedos, flowers and a dinner out have risen at such a pace to account for nearly $1,000 in spending on the event. This leads me to believe that a lot of teens truly are attempting to be celebrities for a night with high-priced limos, professionally styled hair and makeup, designer dresses and dinners at the priciest restaurants in town.
If you don’t mind shelling out the big bucks (and can afford it without racking up debt) for your teen to have an unforgettable night, go for it. But if you think $1,000 is too steep, there are several ways to keep prom spending under control.
Establish a budget. Let your child know upfront how much you’re willing to spend. The free Visa Plan’it Prom app for iOS and Android devices can help your teen track spending as he or she shops. Parents can tell teens who want to spend more that they’ll have to cover costs that exceed the budget.
Save on formal wear. Consignment stores can be a great source of gently worn formal wear at a fraction of the cost of new dresses and tuxedos. You also can save a lot by renting a dress or tuxedo. For example, you can rent a designer dress that sells for several hundred dollars for as little as $30 at Rent The Runway. Men's clothing chains such as Men's Wearhouse and Jos. A. Bank offer tuxedo rental. Check online first to see which formal wear store has the best prices and look for coupons at sites such as Coupon Sherpa, RetailMeNot and Savings.com. RetailMeNot senior editor Trae Bodge recommends asking local tuxedo rental stores if they’ll offer a volume discount if your teen and several of his friends rent for the same event.
Another lower-cost option is to purchase a suit if a tuxedo isn’t required. You can find budget-friendly pants and jackets at Kohl’s and Forever 21, Bodge says. And she says Nordstrom and online retailer ASOS have prom-worthy dresses for less than $100. Check Target and H&M for inexpensive accessories and clutches for girls, Bodge says.
Save on hair and makeup. There’s no need to splurge on an expensive prom package at the beauty salon, Bodge says. For hair, check into styling services at a nearby beauty school where the price will be a fraction of what you’d pay at the salon, she says. For a makeover, visit the makeup counters at a department store, Sephora or Ulta. You can use the RetailMeNot app to look for coupons or deals on any of the products that the makeup artists or sales associates use for your makeover. Another option is to attempt do-it-yourself hair and makeup with help from step-by-step guides on YouTube and Pinterest. Search “prom hair” or “prom makeup” for tips and tutorials.
Save on flowers. Bodge recommends doing some comparison shopping for boutonnieres and corsages because they tend to range in cost from $10 to $25 depending on the florist and type of flowers used. If you are crafty, she recommends using this easy corsage how-to guide to make your own for less.
Save on dinner. A great way to save on a prom meal is to host a dinner party at home for your teen and his or her friends, says Mitchell Wischmann, founder of FrugalFinders.com. You might ask other parents to pitch in if you have an upscale meal with seafood or steaks. Or you could keep it casual and serve burgers or pizza.
If your teens are intent on dining out, Wischmann recommends looking for restaurant coupons online at sites such as Savings.com or using the ValPak mobile app to find local deals. You also can buy discounted restaurant gift cards at sites such as Gift Card Granny, GiftCardRescue and Restaurant.com to use along with coupons for even bigger savings.
Save on transportation. Consider letting your teen drive your car if it’s nicer than what he typically drives so he won’t be tempted to ask for a limo. But if your child really wants to impress his date with a limousine, ask him to look for others to ride along and split the cost. Or check your newspaper, circulars or online coupon sites for deals on limo services.
Save on photos. Both Bodge and Wischmann suggest that you avoid hiring a professional photographer or buying the pricey prom photo package. Instead, ask a friend or family member with photo skills to take pictures. You can get inexpensive, quality prints by ordering online through Snapfish or Shutterfly, which also frequently offer discounts on photo books that you can create to document the entire evening. Teens can (and will) snap pictures at the event with their smart phones and easily share them with friends by posting them on social media sites or sending them directly in an e-mail or text message.