Prom is supposed to be a night for creating lasting memories, not a lasting impact on your pocketbook. American families budgeted an average of $1,078 for prom last year, according to a survey by Visa. Savvy parents can send their teens to prom in style without spending nearly that much. Here are seven tips to prepare for a successful yet relatively cheap prom night.
1. Don't start the dress search at the mall. First, have your daughter browse the closets of older cousins and friends who attend other schools. You never know -- she might fall in love with someone else's dress. Scour thrift stores in affluent areas to see if you can score a designer piece. And renting isn't just for tuxedos anymore. Ladies can borrow designer duds through Rent the Runway. If you do shop for a cheap prom dress at the mall, you may have some luck at one of your daughter's favorite stores for everyday clothes. "Fast fashion" retailers such as Forever 21 and H&M can guarantee she'll be on trend and save big bucks. Don't forget to check for department store sales as well.
2. Choose accessories wisely. Before going shopping for earrings, necklaces, and bracelets, encourage your daughter to go through her jewelry box and yours. Offering her a nice piece to wear may help make the night more special. If she has her heart set on something new or decides nothing will go with her dress, the mall stores mentioned above peddle accessories as well as clothing. But be discriminating: Pass over jewelry that appears cheap and plasticky in favor of items with more weight and a higher-end look.
3. Forgo professional hair and makeup. A visit to a salon seems to have become a necessary component of prom preparation. But is it really worth the price? Contact a local cosmetology school and set up an appointment with a student who can do cheap prom hair and/or makeup for little to no cost. You can also invite a group of girls to assist with each other's hair, nails, and makeup as they all get ready together.
4. Compare tuxedo rental prices. Before your son goes for a tux fitting, call around to see how much the ensemble will cost. And don't be afraid to ask for discounts: Organize a group of friends and rent in bulk from the same store so you can negotiate a cheaper rate. Make sure the tux includes all the essentials -- a shirt and cufflinks, vest or cummerbund, shoes, and tie -- to prevent future spending. Stop in a few consignment stores, as well; you might be surprised at their selection.
5. Don't get too fancy with the flowers. A homemade boutonniere or corsage can help you stay within your prom budget and doesn't take too much time. It requires only a few blooms from the grocery store or your garden and a stop at Michael's or even the dollar store for a roll of flower tape, perhaps some ribbon, and pins if you don't have any. Some online tutorials for cheap prom flowers include wire, as well, but an editor at Martha Stewart Weddings says it's unnecessary. She demonstrates how to create a simple boutonniere in this video on the Huffington Post.
6. Ditch the limo. Even if you split the bill among a group, limousines cost a pretty penny. Look into party buses, which can hold more people and potentially bring down the price per person. Again, don't hesitate to negotiate for a cheap prom rate. You may also have a friend or relative with a nice ride who would be willing to lend it to a responsible teen.
7. Do dinner without overdoing it. Suggest that your teen's group gather at someone's house for a fancy meal rather than shelling out for a dinner out. Ask each parent to make a special dish, serve soda in wine glasses, and maybe even ask younger siblings to play the wait staff. Prom-goers might also find it more fun and memorable to eat at a favorite neighborhood diner or some other casual place in all their finery. If the group does decide to go out to a nice restaurant, suggest they order multiple appetizers and share them tapas-style instead of springing for individual main courses.