The $807 prom

The average prom-goer spends $807 for tickets, clothing, flowers, photos, dinner and limo rental, reports CNN Money, citing a Visa survey.  That’s too much for many families.

The days when a committee of girls decorated the gym with crepe paper are over.

Prom inflation has run amok,” (Visa’s Jason) Alderman said. “Ever more extravagant proms create a cycle of teenagers continuously trying to outdo each other, making the evening more and more expensive.”

Samantha Goldberg, an event designer in New Jersey, says that the parties she plans get increasingly more elaborate year after year. “They want tents, lounges, ice sculptures and bars. Girls want a prom dress and a post-prom dress, some want custom designed gowns. You might as well call it a wedding.”

I know teens who take after-school jobs to earn prom money, but it’s harder for high school students to find those jobs now and some of them are using their earnings to help Mom pay the rent.

Some non-profits collect donated prom dresses and offer them to girls who can’t afford a new dress. (I have two dresses of my daughter’s to donate. Must actually do it.)  Some parents are organizing parties to serve as low-cost prom alternatives. But it’s hard to ratchet down expectations.

About Joanne


  1. Better yet: Skip prom. Who needs it?

  2. We be spoiled.

  3. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Oh for Christ’s sake — it’s not a “battleground” for the haves and have-nots. It’s just the haves having and the have-nots not having. Big deal. This happens all the time. You think people are going to riot in the streets over this?

    Not likely.

    As for the poor kids who have to make do with a tux rental and getting dropped off by their older brother while their classmates rent a stretch Hummer and a floor of the Hyatt Regency, well, some kids do something fun without you because you can’t afford it. Yeah, that sucks. Welcome to life. If it means that much to you, find a way to get the money (preferably legally). You’d be better off in the long run paying attention to your studies, though.

    As for the rich kids who are spending (what has to mostly be their parents’) money on this displays of excess, well, if the parents were more ascetic, less concerned with ostentation and social status for their kids, less materialistc, then they’d reign this in. But they’re not, and they don’t. That’s their prerogative; it’s their money to spend.

    I just don’t see the big deal. But maybe I’m just hard-hearted, having sat out many a school dance, many a group vacation, many a trip to the movies or to restaurants, all for want of funds. I got over it, and my friends were still my friends the next morning.

    Although, when things rolled around and we started to grow up a bit, it turned out that my friends ended up taking me on two of my best vacations ever. I barely spent a dime.

    It all works out in the end.

  4. My mom wasn’t happy about the idea of just buying any old dress for prom and she spent $500 on mine (with custom dyed shoes to match, purse, etc.). This was in the 80’s so I’m sure expenses have gone up a bit.

    Maybe the parents are pushing this, at least in part…?

  5. Allison says:

    Pretty in Pink came out in 1986. This isn’t new in 25 years, and it probably wasn’t new in the 25 before that either.

  6. One year, I had the misfortune to be one of the school adults who had to work on planning prom. It didn’t worry me as an issue dividing the kids by social class, just as an unbelievable waste of money and resources that could be much better directed.

    Is it good moral leadership for adults to support the school hosting an event every year that for a big school requires raising probably 20,000+ thousand on the low end for the cost of the venue, decorations, refreshments and party favors? When you throw in how much money the kids are spending on it too and that it happens every year, it gets kind of sickening.

  7. superdestroyer says:

    Prom are an anachronism that should have been ended a couple of decades ago. It made more sence when the prom was held at the school and most students had not travelled much or done anything in a formal setting.

    Now that most students live in large, urban areas; have travelled the world, and been involved in many social events, there is not reason for schools to waste any time with proms.

    I wonder if the high end prep schools in NYC still have proms?

  8. Richard Aubrey says:

    Slightly OT. Some years ago, when the kids in HS along the Red River had spent the end of their senior year sandbagging and lost a good deal anyway, many, many other kids sent their prom dresses out west. Eventually, the Dakota kids had their proms. Probably looked pretty good in prom dresses and tuxes,considering the upper body workouts they’d had.
    And probably felt pretty grown up and capable, too.
    Maybe instead of prom, a senior class could liberate a country or fight a forest fire or something. Better all around.

  9. Michael E. Lopez says:

    SuperDestroyer, with whom I often agree, saith:

    Now that most students live in large, urban areas; have travelled the world, and been involved in many social events, there is not reason for schools to waste any time with proms.

    Most students have traveled the world? Really?

    This might come as a surprise to them. Maybe most of the students in your little corner of the world have done some traveling, but that’s hardly the same thing.

  10. superdestroyer says:


    Are you going to argue that most suburban upper middle class and middle class kids have traveled extensively. I would say that only the poorest Hispanics and blacks have not traveled extensively. Thus, why have a prom when most kids have involved in social events since they were 10?

  11. Cranberry says:
  12. Richard Aubrey says:

    Not sure why proms are forerclosed due to travel. My kids had traveled to Mexico to stay with a family we know when they were twelve. My son hung out with the guys learning soccer and my daughter hung out with the kitchen help–rich family–picking up idiomatic Spanish. Still went to the prom.
    My wife and I chaperoned kids to Spain and Mexico in HS. Didn’t see anything about looking at old buildings and suchlike that would make a prom dull. Keep in mind, it’s all about who goes with whom, what kind of party are we going to have, who does whom, and so forth.
    Up through HS, if you’re not an exchange student, you either go to camp or travel with your parents (ewwww.). Might be fun, but not likely to make a prom seem dull by comparison.
    I have a problem with expenditures on extracurriculars, but, watching my kids and their friends, the learning they got in sports, theater, distributive ed, or the school paper were terrific. Organization, reliability, planning, people skills, showing up, being subject to the judgment of one’s peers–which don’t make exceptions for self-esteem as the adults would– for failure, initiative, all were unavailable if you simply went home after school.
    Don’t know if it’s cost-effective, but it’s useful. And exchange students from other countries seemed to find the whole thing strange and even disquieting. They’d had no such experience.

  13. I’m not sure that schools should necessarily be the sponsors of extracurriculars at the level they seem to be expected to offer them*, but I generally agree that they are valuable. Prom however, at least as it’s done in my area, doesn’t really add much especially as compared to the cost.

    There should be a way to scale it back so it’s just an enjoyable dance, but nothing like the 400,000+ dollar event that this article indicates that it would be for my school.

    *One the things I think about when we get into international comparisons is how many things happen in US schools that don’t seem to be expected or expected at the same scale overseas. It may be great that we offer these activities, but it’s an incredible undertaking unrelated to anything that gets tested in international school comparisons.

  14. Michael E. Lopez says:


    Just so we’re clear: leaving the word “not” out of your comments makes it extremely hard to follow your train of thought.

    And I think you’re off your rocker. And yes, I do think that most students (i.e., more than 50%) have traveled very little by the time they are in high school. One or two others states, I’d bet; maybe three. And most of that, I imagine, would be visits to Disneyworld and/or grandparents, which isn’t exactly fungible with the Prom experience.

  15. Cranberry says:

    Some parents are organizing parties to serve as low-cost prom alternatives. But it’s hard to ratchet down expectations.

    No, it’s not hard. It calls for a backbone, though. After all, someone decides where the prom will be held. Someone signs the contracts, and sets the ticket price. If that someone’s an adult in the administration, they should be ashamed of themselves. If that someone’s a parent committee, or a teen prom committee, the parents and/or teacher mentors should be ashamed of themselves. They should be ashamed of creating a prom too expensive for fellow students to attend.

    Deciding to hold prom 50 miles away makes me wonder what else is going on. Do the organizers not want their not-rich fellow students to attend? Is this a subtle form of discrimination? There’s nothing wrong with the high school gym.

  16. Richard Aubrey says:

    NDC Ref yr last graf:
    I agree that it’s not tested or even testable in the international scheme. It would be interesting if it were.
    I wonder if it provides some advantages–which implies the comparative–for adults.
    I recall having student council when I was in the fourth grade. Roberts Rules of Order, which taught us, I suppose, that organization is useful, better than everybody yelling.
    Tocqueville mentioned the ability of Americans to form ad hoc groups to address temporary issues. It would be interesting if the schools’ extracurriculars contributed to the current situation.

  17. Jill Bell says:

    At my first teaching job, I worked in a middle to low SES school district. I was the prom sponsor, and it was held in a hotel in Downtown Dallas, a 30 minute drive from the town. As a rule, we gave free tickets to the school board members to attend the prom if they chose to do so. One year, the daughter of one of the board members (whose father made plenty of money) tried to get into the prom on Daddy’s ticket. The people at the door said no – she had to buy a ticket like everyone else. She went home and raised a stink to daddy, who promptly went before the school board and convinced everyone that we “could no longer charge admission to the prom, because it put an unfair advantage on the poorer students in the district..” Really?? Admission was $20 a person, and they were spending $200 or more on all of the other stuff…clothes, limos, etc.

    The reason for telling the story – if students want to go to a prom and they don’t have hundreds to spend, they’ll find a way to go anyway. My grandmother made my prom dress, and my date and I went to a nice Chinese restaurant before prom. He drove me in his Oldsmobile Omega. We probably spent 1/3 of what some of my classmates spent, but we had a marvelous time. If the parents and students expect a prom at a hotel, let them have it. The kids who want to go will find a way to go….

  18. Cranberry says:

    If the parents and students expect a prom at a hotel, let them have it. The kids who want to go will find a way to go….

    But how do you know? If a kid doesn’t find a way to go, they didn’t want to go?

    In this area, kids arrive at proms on a school bus, not a limo. I suppose it was an effort to cut down on one-upsmanship, and to try to restrain the sort of “pre-gaming” which can go on.

    Why are proms associated with schools, anyways? If the parents want a “nice” party, why involve the school? I find the arguments put forward by the principal of Kellenberg Memorial High School, when he cancelled their proms, to be quite persuasive:

    As your own letter suggests, if parents and/or seniors want a senior prom, they will have a prom, no matter what the administration says or does. In fact, that is precisely the reason why we are no longer sponsoring a senior prom – it is so much beyond our control that it is mere tokenism to put our name on it. Further, why assume moral and legal responsibility for something that has a life of its own independent of KMHS. So much for the clarification.