Prom has been a longstanding custom of American culture, starring as center stage for the climax of countless teen films and painting the John Hughes-ified picture of high school dreams coming true under disco lights to the beat of DJ Casper's "Cha Cha Slide." What often isn't represented on screen, or in our own imaginings, is just how expensive prom can be. Between over-the-top promposals, spray tans, and stretch limos, the price tag on prom can break into the four figures. Last year, Fortune reported on a study by Visa that revealed parents of prom-going teens were planning on spending an average of $919 in 2015. The estimate is a decrease from earlier years, but still the average spend sits around a thousand dollars.
So what are the options for someone not wanting to drop a grand on a single night of dancing in high school? While prom planning comes with tons of pressure to execute the perfect evening, there are plenty of ways to save money on prom. Cutting down on costs doesn't mean you have to cut back on having a great time. Being frugal can be just as fun. From early planning to reevaluating priorities and considering where to splurge and where to save, creating and sticking to a healthy prom budget is totally doable. Read on for a detailed breakdown of how you can save your money every step of the way.
1. Plan ahead
The best thing you can do to set yourself up for a positive prom experience is to plan ahead. The event should be stress-free and something to look forward to at the end of your time in high school. While prom may seem like a super important rite of passage you have to get just right, almost as soon as you graduate you'll realize it isn't that big of a deal. That isn't to say you shouldn't get excited and have a blast, but eliminate the unnecessary stress from the get-go so you can just focus on the fun.
Figure out what you want to splurge on and where you can save
Draw up a plan of how you see your ideal prom experience playing out, keeping in mind how much each item on your list will cost and how much time it will demand. Putting it all on paper will allow you to see the total cost of your ambitions, and you'll get a better idea of where you can and should cut back and save. Are you obsessing over a certain dress that's a bit out of your price range? You have the time now to search for similar alternatives. Or, buy your dream dress, but know you have 50 dollars less for everything else, so audit your closet for a pair of shoes you already own that complements your new purchase.
Once you have your budget drawn out, you can start saving money from your allowance or job to begin putting toward your prom fund. Having all your expenses planned out beforehand will keep you from overspending at the beginning and not having money when it comes to something important later down the road.
Keep your eye out for deals
While it's not advised to have prom on the brain 24/7, definitely keep it in mind when you're out shopping. Be on the lookout for options starting now so you don't find yourself scrambling and splurging right before the big day.
2. Be smart about your dress
Your prom dress can be where a lot of that money goes. Nearly a decade out of high school, I can easily tell you I totally regret choosing a $300 floor-length beaded ivory dress for my senior prom (I could have told you later that night). It was beautiful for the photos, but before the night was through, one of the back straps had broken right on the dance floor and some of my better dance moves left the intricate beading completely damaged. Needless to say, I've never worn it since, and I'm pretty sure I didn't get my $300-worth when a pretty dress for under a hundred would have sufficed and maybe even survived the night.
While it may be a little late this time around, if you're not yet a senior and have another prom in your future, try buying your dress off-season. You're apt to find discounts for dresses of the prom variety in the summer once everyone's proms are through or during holiday sales.
Find a one-of-a-kind dress at vintage consignment shops
Get a great deal for your money by looking outside of retail stores. Check out vintage consignment shops for one-of-a-kind finds. You may even find vintage designer dresses for the price you would have paid for something at the mall.
Borrow a dress from a friend or family member
There's nothing wrong with wearing something that's been worn by someone else before, especially since they only wore it once. If you have older female relatives or friends your size, see if you can borrow one of their former prom dresses for the night. They'll be happy to see their one-use purchase being worn again. If you have friends your age that go to a different school, see if you can combine your fashion forces and have a dress swap so you can all debut something new at your respective dances without spending a dime.
Find a dress you'll actually want to wear again in the future
If you do purchase a dress and want to get your money's worth, choose something you can see yourself wearing again in the future. A lack of sequins and a timeless silhouette increase the chances of future wear. If you have the ability to dress it down, even better. There will be formals in college, so as long as you don't go so overboard with frills or length that scream "PROM," you'll be able to wear the dress again. If you choose a more versatile option, dress it up with jewelry and accessories for that added wow factor for the night.
3. Skip the spa
Spa appointments can add up to burn a big hole in your wallet. Professional updos, spray tans, waxes, mani-pedis, and getting your makeup done can all amount to a pretty alarming bill. Even individually, these services aren't cheap, so if you're trying to save money, really evaluate what is necessary for the big night. And remember, it's just for one night.
Gather your friends
Everyone knows half the fun is getting ready, so gather your girlfriends and make an event of it. Make a pre-prom playlist you can all jam out to while you get ready.
Save money on your makeup
Forgo a professional and do your makeup yourself. See if you can use what you already have, but if you do need some new products, check out these places and apps to save.
Find makeup tutorials on YouTube
Check out five minute makeup tutorials on YouTube and try your hand at them with your friends. For best results, practice before the big night so you know exactly what products you need and you'll be a pro when you're all getting ready.
Do your hair at home
What are friends for but to make sure the back of your head looks as pretty as the front? Save major money by doing your hair at home, with the help of your friends, and these easy tutorials.
Give each other manicures
Half the battle of doing your own nails is painting with your non-dominant hand. Having your friend paint your nails for you is the perfect solution to this struggle that doesn't cost you a cent (but you might have to return the favor).
Check out prices at a local beauty school
If you really want to splurge on an updo, save money by getting it done with a student at a local beauty school.
4. Keep it simple with the corsage and boutonniere
Though it's considered an iconic prom staple, some couples forgo the corsage and the boutonniere altogether. Speak with your date to decide if it's something you want to be a part of your prom experience and make sure you're on the same page before any purchases are made.
Buy from the grocery store instead of a florist
Skip fancy and pricey florists and pick up your corsage and boutonniere from your grocery store. No one will know the difference but your wallet.
Make your own
Better yet, create a corsage or boutonniere that's uniquely yours. If you're feeling crafty, here's how to make your own corsage.
5. Make dinner a casual affair
Depending on where you go, dinner can get up into the hundreds for you and your date. While a fancy restaurant may seem fitting for the festive night, nothing's more of a mood killer than you or your date worrying about the cost of the bill. Opt for a more casual way to feed yourselves before the dance so everyone can have a carefree time.
Plan a potluck
Gather a group and have someone host a potluck at their house before the dance. Every guest can bring a dish and help prepare a romantic table setting. Parents will likely want to be involved, so let them help out with decorations and serving.
Go somewhere cheap but memorable
If you do go out to eat, it doesn't mean you have to splurge on your meal. I once had my pre-dance dinner at a classic drive-in specializing in burgers and shakes. We stood in line in our dresses and ate greasy quarter pounders in the car — it was certainly more memorable than any pricey restaurant would have been.
6. Get there with a group
After all is said and done with the dress and dinner, there's still the dilemma of getting to the venue. If you want to arrive at your dance in style, party buses and limos are popular choices that come with a big price tag. Consider all your options before committing and determine what really makes sense with your budget.
If you do choose to rent a party bus or limo, gather a large group so the cost will be split among you. Do your research to choose a service with great ratings and a good price.
There's always the option of driving yourself. Discuss with your date whose car you'll take, or group up with friends and carpool.
Have your parents drive you
While in most cases, parents dropping you off in high school is the least cool thing, there's no shame in it on prom night. They're your personal driver, and once you get to the venue you don't have to worry about parking.
Images: Paramount; Unsplash (6)