The Price of Prom

Posted April 13, 2012 by jimhigley

I don’t think my kids want to hear how cheap my prom costs were back in the seventies. So maybe I better roll up my sleeves and help them manage theirs!

Ka-ching! It’s prom time!

Having now safely navigated two of my three kids through this rite of passage, I can honestly say I’m enjoying a breather before child number three is ready to step up to the prom plate. Don’t get me wrong, I think prom is awesome. And I think every kid should have the opportunity to enjoy the fun and festivities. But, dang, it’s expensive!

And the reality for some kids is they jump into the prom pool not fully understanding how it’s all going to be paid for. Granted, there’s plenty of moms and dads out there who are able and happy to foot the bill. A shout-out to all you parents who are generous in doing that. I hope you’re kids show you a ton of appreciation.

But for the rest of us, the cost of prom is something that needs some conversation and planning. I’ve been happy to help my kids fund certain aspects of their prom tab. But not all of it. And figuring out what that magic number is takes a little dialogue.

Build a Budget

I’ve made my older son and daughter both build a prom budget to itemize each and every cost of the night. In doing so, I also ask them to make some estimates as to what they think their date is responsible for as well – it’s important that they understand the bigger picture of costs.

Building that list of costs is an eye-opening experience. Anyone who’s been through prom recently knows the list. Tickets, attire, hair, photos, transportation, flowers, dinner, and the after-prom party. And then there’s the more-and-more-common breakfast and play day the day following prom.

The numbers add up quickly. And I’ve watched both of my kids look at the total tally, develop a great, big gulp in their throat, and then ask, “Can you help?”

Make It a Challenge

And, of course, I want to help. But there’s also a great opportunity at hand to show kids how to cut costs. Maybe that expensive dinner gets replaced with a fun, creative event at someone’s home or some other unusual venue? Maybe the flowers can be minimized or even eliminated (sorry to my florist friends!)? Is that limo really the only option for getting from point “A” to “B”?

One of my stand-by strategies is to set a limit as to what I can contribute to something. As an example, when my daughter was a senior, I told her I’d contribute $100 towards her dress and accessories. Everything else was her responsibility. Setting a limit for a parent contribution can really bring out some wonderful penny-pinching qualities in kids.

Watch Your Kids Get Creative!

That budget limit for my daughter helped her as we searched for the perfect dress which, for her, needed to meet two criteria. It needed to be yellow. And it needed to be soft and flowing. Our dress-shopping experience found a number of options – all costing $200 and above. I could see her processing the pros and cons financially as she thought through all of her options. And – to her credit – she was determined to not have to use any of her own funds. At the suggestion of another parent, I ran up to an outlet store for a high-end dress manufacturer. It was about 30 minutes away. And I almost didn’t go. I mean, what were the chances of dear-old dad finding his daughter’s prom dress on his own?

Well, as it turned out, the chances were great. And I found a $39 price tag to prove it. That price tag was attached to the perfect dress. And I mean PERFECT. Like $400 marked down to $39 perfect. And the bonus was that it left extra money for some new earrings and a bracelet. She even borrowed shoes from a friend to keep from forking out unnecessary personal funds.

But you want to know the funny thing? As much as she loved her dress, she was more proud of its price.

Parents Need to be Involved. No Matter What.

The key, as is the case with everything parenting, is for moms and dads to be involved in planning for prom. Even if a parent can’t contribute financially, they can contribute ideas to help their kids manage their precious funds.

And my last bit of advice for parents? Go to a movie or enjoy a nice dinner out while your kids are at prom. You’ll be worried about their every move throughout the night. So go treat yourself and give yourself a pat on the back for helping your kid arrive at this point in their life. A milestone for them? For sure.

But it’s also a huge one for you.



  • Anonymous

    Dang, it was difficult for us this year… we should have gone to the movie like you recommended. 🙂

    • Jim Higley

      I hear ya! I’ve spent way too many nights counting the minutes…

  • Elooby24

    There is a tradition of giving and receiving flowers at prom.  They are designed more as a piece of jewelry nowadays and, in my opinion, should not be overlooked.  Can’t the girls paint their own nails or apply their own makeup?  Flowers are a minimal expense compared to that combination.  Don’t forget the experience of  going into a flower shop and placing an order is another opportunity to grow as a person and mature.    

  • Pasco Driver

    You must be the smartest Dad on earth! If kids want to play they must learn how to pay. I think you taught your daughter a valuable lesson and all parents should follow your lead. Times are difficult financially for most parents and I do not feel they should bear the entire burden for one night’s playtime for kids. I love my kids too and never sheltered them from financial reality. They, too, made good choices for their proms ….had a wonderful experience with lots of photos to prove it. My granddaughter and her six or seven friends traded dresses for homecoming and prom. Did nails, hair and makeup (as a group…what fun!) at my daughter’s house. Having fun and building memories doesn’t have to cost a lot! Wake up parents….throwing money around every time you kid “wants” isn’t teaching the child anything…get a grip!!!