Reining in prom expenses

Finance expert gives tips for cutting costs

If you've got teenagers, you already know how expensive high school can be.

Besides food, clothing and school supplies, a whole host of extracurricular activities are competing for a share of your wallet, even as you frantically try to save for college and your own retirement.

One of the biggest expenses you'll encounter is prom. Gone are the days of borrowing dad's suit and crepe paper streamers in the school gym. Today's proms are often more like a Hollywood premiere with limousines, designer gowns and swanky after-parties.

I'm not kidding. According to a recent nationwide survey conducted by Visa Inc., the average U.S. family with a high school student attending the prom expects to spend $978 this year. Surprisingly, that's down 14% from last year's survey average of $1,139 per family.

A few other interesting statistics the survey uncovered:

* On average, parents plan to pay for about 56% of prom costs, with their kids picking up the remaining 44%.

* Parents in lower income brackets (less than $50,000 a year) plan to spend an average of $733, a considerable share of the family budget. Thankfully, that's down significantly from last year's $1,245 estimate.

* Those earning over $50,000 will spend an average of $1,151.

Here's a breakdown of how those prom dollars typically get spent:

* New prom dresses often cost $100 to $500 or more.

* Plan on spending another couple hundred for shoes, accessories, flowers and professionally styled hair, nails and make-up.

* New tuxedos cost several hundred dollars, not to mention the formal shirt, tie, studs and shoes you'll need. Even renting all this will likely run over $150.

* Figure at least $80 an hour plus tip to rent a limousine for a minimum of four to six hours.

* Prom tickets typically cost $50 to $150 per person, depending on venue, entertainment, meals, etc. And don't forget about commemorative photos.

* The couple will probably need at least $50 for a nice pre-prom meal.

* After-prom parties can run anywhere from a few bucks at the bowling alley to hundreds of dollars for group hotel suites.

As with weddings and vacations, spending on a prom can easily spiral out of control, especially if your teenager isn't used to sticking to a budget. Use this as a learning experience by getting your student involved making tough decisions, helping to prioritize expenses from vital to non-essential.

To help with the prom budgeting process, Visa launched a free smartphone app last year called Plan'it Prom. You simply enter your budgeted amounts for each item and then track actual spending on your phone or tablet as you shop. The app also includes budgeting tips, a photo gallery and a timeline for tracking pre-prom deadlines.

Plan'it Prom is available at the iTunes store, the Google Play store and from

Here are a few prom cost-saving ideas:

* Shop for formal wear at consignment stores or online. As with tuxedos, many outlets rent formal dresses and accessories for one-time use.

* Have make-up done at a department store's cosmetics department or find a talented friend to help out.

* Split the cost of a limo with other couples, or drive yourselves.

* Team up with other parents to host a pre-prom dinner buffet or after-prom party.

* Take pre-prom photos yourself and have the kids use their cellphones or digital cameras for candid shots at various events.

Bottom line: You want to ensure your child has a memorable high school experience, but not at the expense of your overall budget.

Jason Alderman directs Visa's financial education programs. Follow him on Twitter,


Posted by Nose Better, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2014 at 8:55 am

Proms are now completely out of control - both the expense and what goes on. The idea of proms being a huge extravaganza in the City with limousine transportation and plenty of drugs, booze and sex is just nuts. Great way to get pregnant, contract STDs, get your brain fried, or get in trouble.

Posted by mooseturd, a resident of Pleasanton Valley
on Apr 17, 2014 at 9:35 am

mooseturd is a registered user.

Did anyone out there marry their prom date and live happily ever after? Probably Cholo.

Posted by mooseturd, a resident of Pleasanton Valley
on Apr 17, 2014 at 9:38 am

mooseturd is a registered user.

I have to add another thought. Long, long ago I saved money so I could go to the Prom. As the day grew close, I realized that I had a choice. I could spend the money on a nice handgun and lots of ammunition. I did that. I still have the gun.

Posted by Pie, But Good, a resident of another community
on Apr 17, 2014 at 9:57 am

I bet your prospective prom date was grateful, too!

Posted by Jack Mioff, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2014 at 10:21 am

@ Mooseturd....awesome that you would compare a once in a lifetime experience like going to your prom with buying a gun. My guess is you bought the gun because you realized it was the only thing that would go to the prom with you.

Posted by finished, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2014 at 8:31 pm

Son rented tux; shared limo (a dad helped by getting a good deal - knew people). Son paid for the dinner.
Daughter tried outlets (too large), found something reasonable, found girls with whom to swap dresses. Need girls about the same size - very nice if you have friends at both high schools :) They don't want to wear the same dress twice. If dress seen at AVHS on one girl is worn by a different at Foothill, you can easily share. Yes, I've seen the same dress on girls at the same prom (even in the same color).
We gave out budgets for clothing and additional expenses to each. Any additional had to be earned by kid. However, we started with allowances so they could save up to buy the toy they wanted (K-3rd grade) and later a "clothing allowance" before school began so they were trained before prom.
It really helped when they went of to college - first few months were eye opening but after that, very much settled in (and wondering why friends were not.)

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore
on Apr 18, 2014 at 8:06 am

I never heard of the "prom" until I became an American. I guess the prom is here to stay?

Posted by Bungwad, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2014 at 9:23 am

[removed because it was offensive]

Posted by Al P, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2014 at 11:03 am

Or... Prom can be a great night, rewarding years of hard work in academics, sports, etc. It's a rite of passage for many students, something they've looked forward to for years. Think of what you as an adult would pay for a big night out. Bachelor or Bachelorette party comes to mind, minus the fancy dress, but that comes the next day.

The Princess Project provides full outfits for girls who can't afford anything - for free. Many schools have scholarships for the students who need free or reduced ticket prices. Limos are totally optional, as is a dinner out. Suits are fine for guys. Lots of ways to have a great time for less.

It's a shame people bash prom prices every year. But I guess that's part of the culture every spring, too.

Posted by San Ramon Observer, a resident of San Ramon
on Apr 18, 2014 at 2:20 pm

San Ramon Observer is a registered user.


I received your message, but I can't remove the offensive post because this is not my article. I shall forward your concern to the Editor and Publisher to ask them to remove the offensive comment.


Posted by Loved Our Proms, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2014 at 4:28 pm

@ mooseturd who asked?

Did anyone out there marry their prom date and live happily ever after?

Yes. She went to mine. I went to hers. Now, we are in our 40th year of marriage. And living MORE than Happily, thank you.

I hope all the Prom goers enjoy their time...You will remember it for a lifetime. Make it a good memory, and be safe.

Posted by Mike, a resident of Highland Oaks
on Apr 18, 2014 at 4:35 pm

As long as the kid can rock the gown or tux, go for it. Looking at the picture on the top page, however, I think it might serve our youth better if we were to donate whatever money we might spend on their proms to more effective physical education and health programs.


Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore
on Apr 18, 2014 at 5:09 pm

Thank you Roz.

Posted by San Ramon Observer, a resident of San Ramon
on Apr 18, 2014 at 6:27 pm

San Ramon Observer is a registered user.

My mother saved my prom dress. The dresses in the photo are much more formal than my 55 year old dress.

Mother sent it to me 15 years ago when she sold our house in New Rochelle. Even if I had a prom to go to, there is no way I could fit into that dress again.

Is there anyone here over 50 (I'm over 70) who could still fit into your old prom clothes?


Posted by Formerly Dan from BC, a resident of Bridle Creek
on Apr 18, 2014 at 11:05 pm

Formerly Dan from BC is a registered user.

Jack Mioff??

Hahaha, so juvenile!

Come on Pleasanton Weekly editors, up your game!



Posted by Jack Mioff, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2014 at 5:44 am

@ Dan.....EXACTLY. Just as juvenile as all of these lame posts. My point.

Posted by Allen., a resident of Downtown
on Apr 21, 2014 at 7:17 am

I didn't go to my Graduation Dance because I didn't have a suit. They are called prom's now because they cost more.

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore
on Apr 21, 2014 at 2:48 pm

Lots of students don't have suits and they still attend and have a great time!

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