Prom season is mostly over, but the financial effects linger like the smell of an old corsage left under a car seat. A recent survey by Visa found that between tickets, limos, dresses, hair, photos, and all the other assorted expenses, the average family with a high school student attending prom spent about $807 on the experience.
And with the unemployment rate for high school students somewhere around 30 percent, there’s a good chance mom and dad were asked to pick up most, if not all, of that tab. This comes at a time when close to half of Americans couldn’t come up with $2,000 for an emergency without taking out a loan.
A few thoughts: First, if you can’t afford to help your kid pay for the prom you need to be honest about that and not try to make it work when you can’t. There might be some things worth making heroic parental sacrifices for; a high school dance isn’t one of them. A quarter of families admitted that their kids hadn’t gone to prom beause they couldn’t afford it.
I emailed my mother, a children’s therapist with more years of experience than she’d want me to say she has publicly, to see what she’d think. Her response was a diatribe; in recent months, several of her clients have addressed the issue of excessive spending on the prom.
One low-income family spent hundreds of dollars on the event. “Among other things, it left the family with neither food nor gas money for the week and added more stress on the mother,” she told me. “By the way, her bright, beautiful daughter would have looked good no matter what she wore.”
My mom’s advice?
“There is virtually no better value at thrift stores than formal attire. Usually, they are worn once, possibly twice and there are classics that simply never go out of style. If the family takes pictures, drives their kids to and from the prom, and a friend or relative who is good at it helps with nails and hair, the cost of a semi-formal or prom can easily run under $100.”