Prom Arms Race: Typical Teen—Or Rather, Her Parents—Drops Over $1,000 on Prom Now

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Smile, honey. This is costing me way too much for you not to.

Last year, we lamented how costly proms were: According to a Visa survey, the average prom attendee wound up dropping $807 on photos, limos, hair and makeup styling, tickets, and of course, a dress or tuxedo. Fast-forward to this year’s prom season, and an $800 tab seems cheap.

As reported by USA Today, this year’s Visa survey has it that families with teenagers attending the prom will spend an average of $1,078 on the big evening. The glorified high-school dance is being pumped up as “the new wedding,” with inflated costs and expectations to match.

Just as weddings in the Northeast tend to be glitzy, ritzy events, compared to more casual, relatively inexpensive affairs in the South and Midwest, the range of money spent on proms is all over the map. As you might imagine, the Northeast leads the way, with families spending an average of nearly $2,000 per child. In the Midwest, by contrast, the average is $696.

(MORE: Today’s Prom Attire Is Either Too Scandalous or Too Sleepy)

In some cases, it’s not the teenager but the parents who are turning proms into ever fancier, ever more expensive opportunities to flaunt their importance, style, and wealth. Kit Yarrow, consumer psychologist and author of Gen BuY: How Tweens, Teens, and Twentysomethings Are Revolutionizing Retail, told USA Today:

“Especially in really affluent households, the parents, in a way, use their kids to proclaim their stature to other parents,” she says. “They use their kids to communicate to the community who they are.”

And yet the Visa survey shows that some of the people who are in poor financial situations actually spend the most on the prom. Those in the $20,000-$29,999 income bracket plan on spending $2,600—more than double the national average, and a disturbing 10% or so of the household’s annual pre-tax income. All for a single night! Teens living in higher-income households, on the other hand, plan on budgeting between $700 and $1,000 for proms.

(MORE: What Teens Worry About: Drugs, Sex, And … Future Salaries?)

Needless to say, there are plenty of ways to trim prom expenditures. A recent U.S. News post names five simple strategies to spending less on the prom, including renting from a site such as RenttheRunway rather than buying a $500 dress you’ll probably wear just once, and nixing professional photos in favor of shots with digital cameras and camera phones—which all teens have nowadays.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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