10 Ways to Keep Your Kid's Prom From Ruining Your Budget

By Mikey Rox on 2 May 2016 1 comment

You knew this day was coming, moms and dads, and you've dreaded prom at least since the beginning of the school year, perhaps even longer. But this penultimate high school milestone for your kid doesn't have to clean out your bank account. By being proactive about your purchases, using your resources, and applying a bit of savvy spending, you can send you junior or senior off to the last(ish) dance in style. Here are a few ways to save on the big night.

1. Create a Budget With Your Kid

Prom spending can get out of hand quickly if you're not vigilant in putting your foot down. Your kids will push you to buy whatever they can get out of you because they want the best. They also know that your emotions are vulnerable as they head toward graduation, which makes you and your wallet a prime target for swindling. According to a Visa Inc. survey published by Fortune last year, the average American family will spend $919 on prom, one-third of which is the elaborate "promposal," which has become the requisite method of inviting a date. One guy skydived out of a plane to pop the question, and I recently saw a teen ask his date with a huge sign at a Dodgers game. Kids these days.

Nonetheless, the key to keeping costs down is to create a realistic budget. Make prom an opportunity to teach your children about budgeting and money management.

Saving expert Andrea Woroch suggests having your son or daughter create a spreadsheet of all the expenses related to the event, and ask them to research prices so estimates are accurate.

"Once they see how much the dance will cost, talk to them about which expenses are most important and which ones can be economized," she says.

2. Share the Cost of Some Expenses

I believe wholeheartedly in teaching kids the importance of work ethic at an early age. You don't have to sentence them to 40 hours at the shoe factory at age 10, but by age 16 they should at least have a part-time job to pitch in for gas, weekend recreation activities, and some additional things they really want/can't live without — like pricey prom purchases.

"Though we want to give our kids the very best in life, going into debt to do so is not smart, nor does it set a good example," Woroch says. "Suggest to your kids that they share the cost for prom and contribute money toward the dress or suit, dinner, transportation, flowers and more. Encourage them to chat with their friends about sharing costs too, so everyone's expenses can be reduced."

Plus, it's easier than ever for kids to earn extra cash these days.

They can take on extra jobs around the neighborhood or sell unwanted clothes on consignment. In fact, Macy's is partnering with consigner thredUP to help consumers trade gently used clothing in exchange for a Macy's gift card. If you have old gadgets lying around, suggest they sell them for cash through sites like Gazelle, Nextworth, or Glyde.

Bonus — it'll help cut some of their clutter before they abandon it for you to deal with when they leave for college. Totally gonna happen.

3. Scour Savings and Compare Prices

If you practice good personal finance in your day-to-day dealings, the same principles should be applied to prom shopping. Look for deals and compare prices before you commit to anything.

"If your teen falls in love with a certain dress, tux, or limo, suggest they check the price of that item or service in multiple places," financial expert and SAFE-Money Alliance founder Mark Goldstein recommends. "This is always a great habit to teach. Remember, prom is a great way to get their attention and teach them skills they will use the rest of their lives."

Skills like how to use coupons and discounts to shave off a significant amount of money from purchases will come in handy now and later.

"Point them toward such money-saving tools as discount gift cards and daily deals, and suggest they haggle for the best price on transportation or tuxedo rentals," Woroch says. "Some of these strategies are easier than others, but all offer tools for use beyond prom night."

4. Consider Dress-Buying Alternatives

Purchasing a dress is typically a big expense, especially since the garment will only be worn once. Instead of buying, scan sites like Rent the Runway for designer gowns at a fraction of retail prices. Often times, celebrity-worthy dresses can be rented for less than $100. You also can suggest shopping consignment stores and sites like Poshmark, Tradesy, or even Bridesmaid Trade, which offers thousands of formal dress styles for a discount.

OfferUp is another great local resource that makes prom dress shopping on a budget a pinch. Users/parents take a picture of the item they want to sell, set a price and category, then post. From there, you can easily chat with sellers through the app to settle on price. Plus, at the end of the night, you won't have to hang your dress up in your closet to sit there for a few years — you can easily post it right back on the app and sell it to another girl in your neighborhood looking to pinch pennies on prom.

5. Spring for a Forever Tux Instead of a Rental

There are plenty of differences between boys and girls, one of which is that most girls wouldn't be caught dead in their prom dress twice while guys will wear the same tux over and over for the rest of their life (or until their waistline starts to reject it). What I'm getting at here is that it may be more economical to spring for a tux that your son will own outright — saving him a good chunk of change down the line on a would-be rental when life calls for formalwear.

"The average cost of a groom's tuxedo — or your teenage son's prom apparel — is $197, according to the Bridal Association of America. Tuxedo rentals cost anywhere from $50 to $100, and if your son attends all three proms in high school (plus a host of other formal events), it's better to invest in a nice suit than pay exorbitant rental fees each time he needs one," says Woroch.

6. Skip the Real Flowers

Real flowers are so passé — and downright costly. There are several alternatives to flowers (that you also can cherish as a keepsake well after the event), like boutonnieres and corsages make from paper, ribbon, fabric, and even feathers. I personally own a fabric flower boutonnieres, and I enjoy when I get to wear it very much. Check out this awesome tutorial for some exquisite DIY paper corsages and boutonnieres.

If real flowers are a must for your kid, Woroch recommends keeping it simple to keep costs lower.

"Carnations and alstroemeria are cheapest (up to $20) while Calla lilies will cost upwards of $55. Roses and orchids are moderately priced and can typically be used singularly to save costs," she says.

7. Shop Online (Smartly)

While this is an obvious tactic that offers the potential to save you a bundle, it's wise to make educated decisions regarding purchases, especially dresses. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Don't let the deep discounts sway you if you don't feel good about the purchase.

"Deals on attire and accessories can be found online, but the parents and prom goers should be wary of dress scams," Woroch warns. "Some websites with overseas inventories offer beautiful-looking gowns for very cheap prices, and the garments rarely meet expectations. Quality, fit, color, and style can be drastically different than advertised, so it's better to work with trusted sites and brands."

As an alternative, look for prom coupons for big savings from places like Kohl's, Macy's, Lord & Taylor, and other reputable brands known for slashing prices.

8. Schedule an Updo at a Beauty School

Part of the prom experience is getting your hair and makeup professionally done. Seek out salon or cosmetology schools in your area and ask about services from students. For example, an updo at Phagans School of Hair Design in Portland, Ore., will cost only $22, while a blow dry style with shampoo and conditioner runs only $8. If you go this route, make sure you reserve a time well in advance; you won't be the only parent with this bright idea.

9. Play Amateur Photographer

In today's camera-at-the-ready society, your smartphone can capture all the memories you'll need with brilliant clarity and color. Plus, they're instant — you can edit and share immediately so your friends and family can experience the day with you. If you want to frame a few, upload your favorites to the online photo shops at CVS, Walgreens, or Rite-Aid, and pick up your prints in about an hour.

10. Host the Pre- or Post-Prom Party With Other Parents

I'll be honest, when I was a kid I didn't want my parents involved in much of the prom experience. I wanted to go out and have fun with my friends — without parental supervision — ASAP. But, if you have one of the "good" kids, Woroch's last tip might work well for you.

"Cut back the pricey pre-prom restaurant meal by hosting a formal dinner for your kids and their friends," she says. "Head to a warehouse club to save on bulk ingredients if the party consists of a big group. While a house full of high school students at odd hours of the night may not sound very appealing, hosting the after party will help everyone save money. Connect with parents to split food costs and possibly a DJ to make the at-home party more appealing to your teens."

Is your child going to prom this year? How will you save on expenses? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.

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Guest

You're a little late for this article. Proms have come and gone in some parts of the US.

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Guest

What if he never gets another chance to wear a tuxedo. At that age some are still growing upwards as well as outwards.