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Plan Well, Retire Well

The Rising Cost of Prom and the "Promposal".

I think that social media is costing us much money. Until a few days ago, I had never heard of a promposal. Granted I went to high school in the stone ages when boys awkwardly asked girls at their lockers to go to the prom. My children's experience was not far removed from that other than all the couples went as a big group rather than as individual couples. My son even waited until the night before prom to tell me he needed a suit for prom after I had been asking him for weeks about being fitted for a tuxedo.

Today the story is entirely different. The expectation of a grandiose proposal to go to the prom is becoming a regular event. Further, the expectation that the event be photographed or videoed and posted on social media is enormous. The financial ramifications of the promposal are getting to be enormous as well. According to the 2015 Visa Prom Spending Survey, promposal spending represents about one-third of total prom spending, about $324. Total spend for prom for 2015 is expected to average $919 according to the survey, but it varies widely by regions of the country and the household income. Prom spending includes attire, limo rental, tickets to the dance, flowers, pictures, food, after party and accommodations.

Prom spending by region:

  • Families in the Northeast will spend an average of $738 for prom night and $431 on the promposal for a total of $1169.
  • On the west coast-$596 on the dance and $342 on the promposal totaling $937
  • In the south, the prom night averages $544 and the promposal $305 for a total of $859
  • Midwestern Families will fork over $515 on prom and $218 on the promposal for a total of $733.

Prom spending by household income:

  • Income of under $25,000 plan to spend $1393
  • Income under $50,000 plan to spend $1109
  • Income over $50,000 plan to spend $733

The survey also found that parents are backsliding when it comes to holding the line on the amount they are willing pay for prom expenses. Last year the survey showed that parents were paying just over half (56%;) during 2015 that number had jumped to 73%. When parents are willing to cover so much of the cost, it gives teenagers little incentive to cut costs.

So how do savvy parents and teens keep prom spending to a manageable level?

  1. Remember this is a high school dance. There will be many significant occasions in the future that warrant this kind of expenditure, like a wedding.
  2. Discuss the promposal idea withyour teens. What are they hoping to accomplish with this grand gesture? How well will it be received? What else could that money be better used for? What if the potential date says no?
  3. Talk with your teens about expectations and set a limit for total spending or parental contribution. Everything over that should be paid for by the teen. When the event is discussed and budgeted well in advance, opportunities are created for teens to earn what they need for what they want. It also allows time to make decisions on what can be eliminated to come in under budget. This is an important life lesson for teenagers.
  4. Encourage teens to shop for formal wear at consignment shops, online, or to borrow clothing from friends and family. Since these clothes will only be worn once, there is no real need to spend lots of money. Look at rental options; tuxedos, dresses, and accessories are all available for rental now.
  5. Have makeup, hair and nails done at lower cost locations. Makeup counters at department stores, beauty colleges, and talented friends and family can all help produce the desired look for a lot less money.
  6. Split the cost of limo rentals with other couples.
  7. Take pre-prom pictures yourself and have the kids take pictures with their cameras. They will want to post them right away anyway.
  8. Look for phone apps that can help your teen stay on track. Look for a prom specific app on the Practical Money Skills for Life website .

Prom can be a glorious memory for many teens and provide heartbreak for others. Use this opportunity to discuss with your teens the implications for spending this much money on a single event. Discuss your family values in respect to how you spend your money and how this event fit into those values. What will family members have to give up in order to fund this single evening? Then brainstorm ways to have fun, look great and not break the bank.