Prom On A Budget

By Sharon Naylor

March 14, 2012 6 min read

Attending prom is a milestone event for most high-school students, and it comes with a big price tag. According to a recent survey conducted by Visa, the average amount spent on the prom experience -- from new dress to tux rental to limo and more -- is more than $800. In some regions of the country, the cost soars to more than $1,000 per couple. With so many families financially crunched, parents are seeking creative ways to make their teens' prom dreams come true without breaking the bank.

Here are the top tips for budget-smart prom planning:

*The Dress and Accessories

--Department stores' prom gown selections have never been more varied and stylish or more available at affordable prices. You can get 30 percent off during a store sale or with a store coupon, and savings website RetailMeNot can provide current printable coupons or online coupon codes. The website Coupon Sherpa adds coupon codes to your smartphone for processing in the store.

--Check your local department stores' websites to find out their rules about free dress alterations. This can be a savings of $100 or more, but you may find that some stores offer free tailoring only on full-priced dresses.

--Some clothing stores, including Ann Taylor and J. Crew, often run deep online discounts on special occasion dresses, and those can be combined with RetailMeNot coupon codes for a percentage off, plus free shipping.

--Shop at bridal gown boutiques to cash in on their bridesmaid dress sales, always choosing a store offering free alterations.

--Browse consignment shops, especially in wealthier towns, to land a deal on a designer dress worn once by a prior prom-goer or bridesmaid.

--Use credit card rewards points to get a gift card to a department or clothing store for a discounted dress or even a free one.

--Re-accessorize a pretty party dress your teen already owns. If she has a lovely black dress, make it look new with stylish shoes and jewelry.

--Shop for stylish re-wearable shoes at discount shoe stores or at department store sales, again using coupon codes.

*The Tux

--You'll find plenty of prom-time tux sales offering 20 percent or more off a rental. Visit reputable tuxedo shops' websites, and get on their mailing lists to receive special member coupons.

--Check the websites Groupon and LivingSocial for sizable rental discounts that can save you more than 50 percent.


--For her wristlet and his boutonniere, tell your floral designer about your budget constraints so that you can work together on great styles at low prices.

--Choose in-season, locally grown flower types that cost less than exotic flowers like orchids and stephanotis.

--Choose a smaller, non-intricate design of wristlet, which costs less in materials and labor and also lets the teen's dress stand out without a big, clunky wristlet stealing attention.

--For the boutonniere, choose a smaller, single-flower or "spray" (multiple small flowers).

--Always hire a professional to make these floral pieces. You might be great with do-it-yourself floral design, but a pro can get top-quality flowers and greenery, and the construction will be top-notch, not falling apart during dancing hours at the prom.


--The prom planning website says that professionally done prom hairstyles can cost twice as much as a regular haircut and blowout, estimating that prom-goers spend $75 to $300 just on their hairstyles, plus $40 to $80 on a manicure and pedicure. If your teen wants the salon indulgence, shop around for reputable salons offering prom-time discounts.

--Check Groupon and LivingSocial for current deals at local, reputable salons. (Always check out the salon first!)

--Encourage your teen to experiment in creating a stylish side chignon, following free tutorials on YouTube and at her favorite teen style websites that often offer free video lessons.

--Encourage your teen to do her own makeup for the prom, saving $30 to $75. Take her for a free makeup lesson at a department store cosmetics counter so that she can learn from a pro how to line her eyes stylishly and choose the right shades of eye makeup and lip color for her skin tones. To a teen, this visit feels very celebrity-style.


--Safe transportation is a must, so look into reputable limousine companies to comparison-shop for prom limo packages. The prom site says that average limo costs per couple range from $50 to $300 for a multi-hour package.

--Do the math on a party bus, which may be far more affordable when 24 teens are splitting the cost of this festive ride.

--Spend nothing on transportation by offering to drive your teen and his or her date in your fabulous luxury car or convertible. "My dad offered to drive us, put on a suit and tie, opened the doors for us, the works," says prom-goer Joseph Christian. "I thought the other kids would make fun of me, but they actually thought my dad was really cool. And when they had to end their nights at midnight to get the limo back before overtime, I had my ride until 2 a.m."

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