How to Reign in Prom Spending

As the mother of two daughters, I know how easily prom spending can get out of control. This is especially true if you live in an area where there’s a lot of keeping up with the Jones.

For example, prom is such a big deal in our daughters’ high school that they dismiss students at noon on prom day. This gives them time to go to the salon to get their hair done and more.

The salon? I’m sure I styled my own hair for my 1982 prom below! Boy, how times have changed.

Did I mention the professional makeup artists that girls hire? It’s really too much.

And the poor guys. They’re expected to go all out with their prom-proposals.

Putting prom spending back on track

I know that everyone can benefit from some money saving tips for prom. This is especially true since spending on the annual high school ritual of the prom continues to outpace inflation.

In the past year the average high schooler (or their parents) spent about $1,200 on prom. That’s nuts.

That’s why I decided to write this article on how to reign in prom spending. This is based on our family’s own experience cutting costs for prom.

For example, when my older daughter Jane was a high school senior, she only spent about $250 on prom. How did she do that? 

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Smart shopping and some frugal DNA. Here are some money saving tips for prom based on last year’s shopping.

Shop for prom in a non-prom location

For starters Jane found her prom dress in the formalwear section of JC Penney. It was not in the prom section.

Her empire waist, pleated black gown was priced at $50. She plans to have that dress shortened as a future LBD (little black dress). 

Another place to shop for an inexpensive prom dress? A thrift store.

My local Goodwills have $.99 Sundays, and I try to go weekly. I’m always amazed at the gorgeous dresses on the racks there for barely any money at all.

For real savings at Goodwill, you need to check out one of their bin stores.

prom dress consignment clothes

Can you do a prom dress swap with another friend? Then your prom dress would be 100% free–unless you need to get it tailored. Did you know that stores like Nordstrom will do alterations on clothes you buy elsewhere? 

Spending less on prom shoes

Keeping the frugal theme going, Jane focused her shoe shopping at Payless Shoe Source. For years we’ve had luck buying shoes from Payless.

We are a family of women with wide feet. Payless carries wide shoes. 

Jane chose a pair of black pumps with a hot-pink sole; they cost $29.

While the brick and mortar Payless stores are gone, you can still shop Payless online.

Other stores have affordable options for wide-width women’s dress shoes, too.

Shop in your own closet

Jane borrowed a black clutch from me. Also, she borrowed a wrap. 

Even though prom is a rite of spring, it was chilly on prom.

For past formal events my daughters have also “shopped” in each other’s closets for new-to-them dresses. It’s a free way to get a new outfit. 

prom spending thrift store

Some of the ways that guys in their school save on prom is to recycle the tuxedos they are required to wear as music students. Sure, they’re not the nicest tuxedos in the world–think lots of polyester–but they are free.

Often the only parts of the outfit the guys will switch up are the tie and cummerbund or vest so that they match their date.

Earlier this year both daughters brought dresses they’d worn to the homecoming dance to a local consignment shop so they could make extra cash to offset this year’s prom spending. They took their tips from me on how to make money on their unwanted clothing.

Pooling resources with friends

Groups of friends frequently pool their resources to rent a bus or limousine to take everyone to the prom. And with the advent of high-end cameras in today’s iPhones, no one needs to hire a photographer to pay for formal pictures. 

Thankfully, the high school culture here isn’t for people to have a big dinner before prom, which can cause those prom costs to add up. I guess they realize that the food at prom isn’t half bad so why not just eat there. 

After prom we hosted kids back at our house. We supplied the soda and pizza.

Saving money doesn’t mean you can’t splurge

Jane’s one splurge was having her hair professionally styled for the night; that cost $100. Oh and the prom tickets themselves–$80, since she was the one who asked her date to go with her.

Another prom year we weren’t as lucky in finding super inexpensive prom dresses. Both my daughters ended up spending about $200 on a dress. 

However, we’ve talked about how they are going to cut back in other areas of their spending. For example, since they decided to spend the money on dresses, this year they could go to Sephora to have their makeup done for free. (Yes, they’ll buy something, too.) To be honest, it’s something I’ve done myself before special events.

Final thoughts on reducing prom spending

I’m really proud of my daughters for keeping their prom spending in check. This, along with other money lessons, have set them up to be financially savvy.

If you have additional tips for saving money on prom, I’d love to hear them.

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