Festive Budgets

By Valerie Lemke

March 6, 2009 5 min read


Having the time of your life doesn't mean sacrificing cash

Valerie Lemke

Creators News Service

The budget for a high school prom doesn't just include a festive gown, rented tux and dance tickets anymore. On top of those items, there's the limo, dinner, corsage, makeup, hair and shoes to be considered, too.

A boy will need about $100 for the tux rental and flowers and an additional $300 if sharing the cost for the limo and dinner with his date, according to Scott Chodorow, advisor for the Associated Student Body at Torrey Pines High School in San Diego.

"A girl is probably looking at $400 to $500," he said, but it can be higher: Sometimes the prom gown alone can sometimes total $400.

If these numbers seem high, don't worry. There are plenty of ways to celebrate this unforgettable rite of passage in style and within your budget.

Enter Casey Lewis, a journalism major at the University of Missouri and prom writer for about.com, a website that boasts more than 700 experts offering advice on just about everything.

"With a little creativity you can save big bucks and have a great prom," she said.

Take the gown, for example.

"Yes, you can spend $400 on a dress," she said. "But what about paying a visit to a vintage store where you can find an incredible one-of-a-kind gown, or check out a second-hand shop for a great evening dress that has only been worn once?

"Spend $50 on the dress, buy some inexpensive shoes and you're out the door."

However, if you yearn to make the big impression at your once-in-a-lifetime event, Lewis said polka dots and ruffles will be big this year, as will dresses in metallic fabric or with fun patterns.

There are myriad websites that offer dresses for a lot cheaper than you would get in the store, each offering unique touches to personalize your style -- and many of them starting as low as $49.

"But I still think the vintage dress is the best deal," Lewis added.

Expensive shoes are mentioned often in conjunction with a gala evening. However, they generally go unnoticed, particularly if a gown is long. Comfortable and attractive, yet inexpensive, shoes will help balance your budget.

Professional hair styling, a makeup session, manicure and pedicure can be a full day affair -- and will be billed accordingly.

Fortunately for your wallet, there is a movement away from upswept hairdos at formal dances, according to Lewis. Wearing your hair down, perhaps with a headband, is back in fashion, "Girls who really like to have their hair done by a professional should consider a simple and inexpensive blow-out."

Keep in mind, too, that prom makeup can be done at the cosmetic counter in a department store. "Make an appointment in advance and you'll save a lot of money," she said.

For the boys, before renting the tuxedo, Lewis suggested checking with male relatives who might have formal wear that fits you.

When it comes to the corsage, take a crash course online. You can make an inexpensive one that looks professional with flowers from your garden or your neighbor's. There plenty of video demonstrations available online.

Then there's the stretch limo. It typically costs about $150 a couple. "Everyone likes to make a big entrance," Lewis said. "But limos really aren't very original anymore. They've been done, and in today's economy, they can be a little too flashy.

"I predict limos will be the first to go. What about borrowing your grandfather's vintage auto or your brother's funky car, instead?"

If you need a fancier ride, Lewis suggests sharing with as many couples that can fit into it.

As for dinner: "Why not have a group of parents throw a dinner for a group of kids?" she said. "If each family provides a part of the dinner, they can make a great meal for a big group and not spend much at all." Picnics and even fast food restaurants with sparkling cider can be cheap yet fun alternatives.

Lewis doesn't believe in skimping on the formal photo session. "You can order the smaller package, however," she added. Then take candid photos during the night. When the evening is over you'll have visible memories of your never-to-be-forgotten event.

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