How Much Does Prom Cost? One Family’s Expenses

Kids and Money / Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

This week CNN Money ran an article with the headline Teens (and their parents) spending hundreds on prom. In it were these figures:

  • The average family expects to spend $1139 on prom this year (up 40% from 2011)
  • The Northeast average is the highest at $1528
  • The Midwest average is the lowest at $722
  • Teens pay 41% of the costs themselves

All of these numbers came from one Visa survey of 1000 teens, for what it’s worth.

Still, they caught my eye because our family is living through the prom years and those figures seem high.

Really high.

And our family is not even especially frugal when it comes to prom.

We don’t buy suits at Goodwill or make dresses out of duct tape (although you can win a $5000 scholarship by doing that). We do the pretty standard “buy a new dress/rent a tux, order the flowers, and pay for dinner at a nice restaurant” thing.

My son and his friends even rented a limo/party bus this year.

And yet I still didn’t feel like we spent anything close to the numbers in the CNN Money article. So I decided to check with my son and pull together some of my own info to see what our actual numbers were.

how much does prom costHere’s what we spent:

Tickets: $50.00
Tux rental: $106.59
Corsage: $38.12
Limo rental: $60.00
Dinner: $80.00
For a total of $334.71

Now, I realize that he’s a boy and tux rentals don’t cost nearly what a new formal dress does. But as luck would have it I also have a girl who went to two proms not that long ago, so I pulled those numbers too.

Junior Prom:
Dress: $171.76
Boutonniere: $10.80
prom expenses
Senior Prom:
Dress: $193.59
Alterations: $48.82
Boutonniere: $10.80

I’m certain there were some hairstyling and manicure/pedicure costs in there that I haven’t accounted for, but notice that – in our area anyway – the boy pays for tickets, dinner, and the limo if they rent one, so that offsets some of the girl’s costs. Also, boutonnieres for boys are much less expensive than girls’ corsages.

So I’m left kind of scratching my head about how the average family is spending over $1100.

What am I missing? A much more expensive dress? A more extravagant dinner?

What are your thoughts on and experiences with prom expenses?

29 Replies to “How Much Does Prom Cost? One Family’s Expenses”

  1. The only difference I see in your expenses than ours is the ticket price and we always end up buying earrings/necklace/bracelet usually from Kohl’s to co-ordinate with the dress. Prom tickets are $180 for a couple at our school. Also girls pay a lot of money for up-do’s and spray tans. I’m not sure how much that costs since my daughter doesn’t do that – thank goodness:). $1,100 seems very high for the “average” family which makes me so glad that we’re not “average.”

    1. Rebekah, that’s a big jump in cost from the price of our tickets. I had no idea. Interesting the differences in different areas.

  2. Prom was this past Saturday, in a small town in East Tennessee. I spent a total of $539.00 (dress 389; alterations 45; hair 35; mani/pedi 50; boutonniere 15; last year shoe repair 5). My daughter’s dress was mid-price range for our town of 3 formal stores. We started shopping in Febuary and found two dresses that fit well on a petite, soccer players frame – the one she chose, and the one she wanted (the dress she wanted was $548 before our 9% sales tax). We looked online and out of town, but if you find one, the problem you face is another girl wearing the same dress because it isn’t on “the registry”. Her school also had a Winter formal that usually ends up costing about $300. It’s crazy, not the idea of prom, because that is a right of passage, but the cost of the formal wear is of this world. This was her junior year (and 2nd prom), next year she has already been warned that she is getting a job (after soccer season) and will be chipping in towards the cost….

    1. So interesting, Lori. We bought prom dresses at Macy’s, etc. and didn’t encounter those kind of costs. Even still, you are way below the average. Thanks for weighing in!

  3. In our area, prom tickets are $75 each or $150 a couple. And a limo/party bus would be way over your costs even with sharing the expense (Approx $100 to 200). For the girls, a manicure/pedi would add $80 and hairstyling another $50-80. Plus some girls add tanning in at $25-50. Then the pictures are another expense too. Lastly, girls in my area spend $400-500 on a dress and shoes with another $25+ on jewelry. I can see where those numbers come from although it is very possibly to keep the costs reasonable. Now I am very happy that I have boys!

    1. Diana, I can see we are very lucky to have cheap prom tickets, compared to other areas. Thanks for sharing costs in your area.

  4. We actually just concluded back to back Prom weekends as my son’s girlfriend attends a different HS. We decided to buy my son a tux, using a local “Tuxedo Outlet”. For $110 we got jacket, pants, shirt, (these items were considered “used” & I presume they come from rental companies) and a brand new cumber bun and cufflinks. He loves the tux and now has one for any other formal event (or costume party!) in the future. Here’s our breakdown:

    Prom #1:
    Tux purchase: $110
    Shoe purchase: $35
    Dinner $80
    Limo: $70 (his date paid her share)
    Tickets: $50

    Prom #2:
    Tux: $40 for different vest/tie rental (we messed up here…if purchased as the outlet would have been much cheaper)
    Dinner: included in tickets
    Bus: $50 (his date paid her share)
    Tickets: $0 (his date purchased)

    So for both Proms: $435 (+ we gave him some cash ~$40 to tip drivers as well, not sure if it made it to them though, lol)

    My son probably wishes I’d read this post BEFORE his proms because we really gave him a hard time about the cost. His job does not start until summer, so it was all out of our pocket. In fact, we told him the limo cost would come out of his upcoming birthday.

    I really had no idea people spent this much! Just 3 years ago my older son’s costs were tux rental, tickets, and dinner (and they dined very reasonably). No transport costs.

  5. Wow….. the costs you quote from that article are way above and beyond what proms here in NC have cost the past 3 years. First off, our high school charges kids $25 per year “student dues”, which they then use to cover the cost of proms, graduation ceremony, etc. Kids do not have to purchase prom tickets. If you’re up to date on your dues, you get an invite to prom. Here’s what I recall spending the past 3 years for both my son and daughter’s prom expenses.

    Daughter Junior Prom
    Dress $175
    Shoes $35
    Accessories $50
    Hair and Nails $75
    Chip in for Limo $40
    Boutonniere $12
    Dinner– Date paid for her
    TOTAL = $387

    Daughter Senior Prom
    Dress $350 (I caved on this, but it looked so gorgeous on her :) )
    Shoes – $0 – Wore last years pair
    Accessories $40
    Hair and Nails $80
    Chip in for Party Bus $35
    Boutonierre $15
    Dinner – Date paid for her
    TOTAL = $520

    Son’s Junior Prom
    Tux Rental $160 (this I think is high because we got a complete package with designer tux w/shoes and cufflinks….he never wore the cufflinks and he probably could’ve worn a pair of his Dad’s black dress shoes now that we look back on it)
    Corsage $30
    Transportation $0 – used Dad’s car
    Dinner for himself and date $65 (this came out of his own pocket)
    TOTAL = $255

    So the most expensive prom for us to date has been my daughter’s senior prom coming in at $520. It’s a big chunk of change but when I compare this with the figures mentioned here I feel like we got a bargain and most of all my kids hopefully made some wonderful memories to last a lifetime.

  6. Jr Prom by far was cheaper than Senior Ball. Last year on prom we spent $465 on a dress/alterations, $50 on shoes, $40 on flowers/garters, $65 on hair, $50 on makeup, $25 on earrings, $40 on corrective spray tan, $50 on manicure/pedicure. My daughter’s date covered the cost of the tickets $120 (for both), dinner, and transportation. So we spent out of pocket $785 and yes my daughter contributed to the cost of the dress because she went over my pre-set budget.

    For her Senior Ball we will spend $650 on a dress/alterations, $75 on shoes & bag, $30 on jewelry, $40 on flowers/garters, $65 on hair, $50 on make-up, $70 on her portion of limo rental, $50 on her portion of overnight hotel stay, $40 on tanning, $50 on manicure/pedicure, $50 on pictures for a total of $1,170. Her date paid for the tickets which include dinner at $150 (for both) and I’m assuming we will split the cost of flowers. Which will bring our total down to $1,150. And this is pretty standard for our area (bay area Northern CA) And yes my daughter contributed a third of the cost of her dress because she went over budget again.

    Lucky me I get to do this all over again next year when my younger daughter goes to her prom.

    1. Wow! I will have to hug my son when he gets home from school today and apologize for complaining about Prom costs. I used to think my mom was naive about “things” and now I see that I am just the same.

      It’s a shame though, because these same kids will be heading off to college in a few months when an extra $1000 matters (when does it not!?).

      On the budget front….we try to allocate our money so specifically (retirement, vacation savings, college savings, household, etc) that we just wouldn’t have had an extra $1000 laying around that wouldn’t impact something listed above. We even opened a specific ING account to save for Graduation Gift (a macbook and fancy dinner), but the idea of having to plan/pay for Prom wouldn’t have been on my radar. Shoot, even our “inexpensive” $500 for two proms isn’t trivial imo.

      1. Yes, I bought my wedding dress off the rack and spent less than $1500 on my entire wedding. The costs for prom these days are steep. Basically between myself, my daughter and her grandmother we have split the expenses three ways. And yes my daughter is going off to college in September to a University and we’ve already started paying deposits etc. In California it is next to impossible to find a dress for less than $200, I am realistic and we have been shopping for prom dresses since her sophomore year when she attended junior with a friend. She went to her own last year and another friend’s as well (we borrowed the dress but still had the hair, make-up etc). This year with it being her senior ball the kids asked for a Limo since they will be attending prom in San Francisco and traveling to Santa Cruz (south of the bay area) after the dance, the $70 limo contribution was more than sufficient for the peace of mind we have knowing the kids will arrive safely in Santa Cruz after the dance. Dinner is included in their steep $75 per person ticket price and I’m sure it’s not going to be a 5 star meal. As I stated before my daughter is paying for a third of the costs on her own. My daughter is an honor roll/NHS student with stellar grades and we have not asked her to work in high school because of her extra curricular volunteering and sports activities but she chose to get a part time job to help with her senior expenses. We don’t have the extra money laying around the house either, we’ve been paying as we go along leading up to the day, a little here a little there.

        1. Very wise to know what you were going to be dealing with and planned accordingly. I wish I’d thought of it, but I was going from my older son’s Prom. He only went as a Jr as his g/f was a year older and they didn’t bother with it when she was off at college as a freshman, so it’s actually been 4 years since we dealt with that….and I guess things have changed since they ate very modestly and drove themselves.

  7. It’s very high. My daughter is going to the prom this year and I anticipate paying for a dress and shoes, and maybe her hair. BUT I will wait until she needs a cut anyway. She will share the cost of the tickets and dinner, and there will be no limo. She is going with her boyfriend (who is broke) and does not have family help, so…. I anticipate it not costing more than $200.00. $1,100 is a bit on the high side, but I can see where one could spend that. If they had a limo all night, bought a designer dress, ate at a 5 star restaurant, but really? So.not.necessary.

    My son will probably go next year, and I anticipate the same costs.

  8. At the risk of sounding old, I didn’t spend this much on my wedding dress and beautification – 23 years ago – yes, but even with inflation factored in.
    With 2 young teenagers, who have yet to go to prom, I can honestly tell you who won’t be paying for prom – the parents. Somehow we have gotten away from kids paying for these events themselves. Parents have been suckered into thinking we should pay for it when really we should be paying for our retirement.
    Thanks, Julie! I just made a mental note to self ~ :)

  9. Wow… this post takes me back. I never actually went to any of my proms specifically because of the cost and partially because I couldn’t dance ;-) But to imagine kids are paying over $1000 for prom is absurd. Glad to see you did what you do best and kept cost low without sacrificing your son’s experience.

  10. If you search The Buffalo News Last Thursday, Friday, or Saturday (can’t remember which, sorry) there was a big story in the Spotlight/Lifestyles section about how just asking someone to the prom has become a big event to be broadcast on YouTube. Thet referred to it as a “Promposal”. Apparently it is a status thing. The examples they gave included lots of roses, lots of balloons, scavenger hunts,etc.

    I hope this passes before my sons need a prom date! :)

    1. This is the case at my children’s school. Even if your date is your girlfriend, you must do “something” for the invite. I even saw where a kid paid the local NHL arena to have his “invite” appear on the Jumbotron. Most of my kids’ friends have just done inexpensive things (decorating cars, painting T shirts, signs). I even saw one where they went out for pizza and the boy got the pizza place to spell out “PROM?” in pepperoni, which I thought was pretty cute!

  11. I saw these stories in the media too. My son is a sophomore. His gf is older so this will be his second prom. He goes to a school where not being a part of the norm is ok. They decided last year and this year not to do flowers. My son paid for the tickets so I am not sure of the expense. His tux rental is $77 (very basic tux, no shoes and I had a $40 off coupon). Last year I offered and made dinner for them. This year I am not sure. He has a nice sized gift card to a restaurant they might use.

    This is certainly one of those things I need to budget for in the future. Julie, I would be interested in a similar article on some of the expenses that happen during senior year of high school.

  12. Yes, an article with expected senior year costs would have been so helpful. Unfortunately I am currently experiencing the hidden fees from everything to test score reporting to college orientation costs. The high school sure comes at you with hidden costs too. Next time I will be prepared.

    1. Just yesterday I signed my son up for a 2 day orientation for his college. It was $260 dollars! Granted that includes an overnight dorm stay for each of us plus 4 meals, but I didn’t even realize it would be 2 full days (my older son’s was just 1 day, it was free and we paid for our lunch in the cafeteria).

      1. I know my daughter’s one day orientation costs $125 and if I want to attend its going to cost another $110. No overnight stay. Amazing how they nickel and dime us.

  13. Hello, fellow Family CEOs. Your comments and numbers are so interesting. Thanks to all of you for commenting.

    Shannon and Michelle, I’ve taken note of your interest in senior year costs. I’ll pull some numbers from three years ago and see what I can come up with. Great idea!

  14. I’m thinking this is all crazy!I’d love to know what all the parents spent on prom “back in the day”, and what that would be in today’s dollars.

    I lived as an ex-pat and went to a very small private school for HS. We had dinner part around Xmas time that was our prom. Everyone was invited, date or not and it was held at a really nice restaurant. I wore a beautiful gown of my Mom’s by some Hawaiian designer.

    We also had a graduation prom for the Junior and Seniors to which everyond was invited and there was no cost. My parents did buy me a dress for that. I’m forever grateful for the democratic nature of my school as I’m sure whatever the cost, noone wants to be left out.

  15. We haven’t hit the prom yet though I’m sure my oldest son is expecting to go next year when he’s a junior. Even so, I don’t think our tickets are terribly expensive, and I certainly can’t see spending that much – $1,100 – on the prom. I think I need to do some research and planning. It’s going to be super expensive when the next 4 kids are ready for the prom!

    Thanks for sharing this at Fabulously Frugal Thursday! Definitely thought-provoking!

  16. I am writing an argument essay about why prom is worth it. I wanted to know if you have evidence for something I used as a reason, I put you don’t have to buy expensive dresses or tuxedos. Can you help me, Thank you!

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