Charlotte Hannah
April 25, 2013

How to Not Spend Over a Grand on Your Stupid Prom: A Guide

Hey there, teens!

Why don’t you turn down your dubsteps and get off the Tweeter for a minute so you can listen to this realness I’m about to lay down, ya dig?

You and your parents are going to be dropping mad stacks on your prom this year, according to a recent survey by Visa. In fact, based on the results of the survey of over 3,000 families, the company figures that families who send their teens to prom will spend an average of $1,139 doing so – a number that has gone up every year since Visa starting doing their prom spending survey a few years ago.

Why? According to Kit Yarrow, a consumer research psychologist, it’s because prom is increasingly seen as an event that marks the transition from adolescence into adulthood and thus should be celebrated by partying like a rock star. Yarrow also suggests the popularity of photo-sharing services and social media has made looking hot at prom an even bigger priority than it was in the past.

I may have been way too cool to go to prom (yeah, I’m one of those), but I know lots of people who did go, and the general consensus about it is this: your prom may be great, or it may totally suck, or it might be completely forgettable – but either way, it’s not worth dropping more than a thousand bucks on.

It’s not worth it

From a practical perspective, you’re probably about to be hella poor, because you’ll be spending tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars that you don’t have on an education (not to mention the living expenses and beer you’ll need while getting that education). If you decide to pursue post-secondary, you’re probably about to plunge yourself into some serious debt, which you’ll spend many — if not all — of your working years paying off. (Have fun being a grownup!)

Do you have any idea how many packs of instant ramen a thousand bucks will buy you? Enough to get you to consider saving your pennies now, while you still have them.

At the very least, consider spending your money on an awesome experience that’ll help you grow as a person. Backpack across Europe or something. Your money will stretch way further, and you won’t have to worry about having “Kiss From a Rose” stuck in your head for weeks. Which you do now anyway, so … you’re welcome.

Prom might feel like a Very Important Event, after which you’ll be An Adult. It might even be the first chance you’ve ever gotten to dress to the nines, eat a fancy dinner and dance the night away with your buds. But trust me, even five years from now, neither you nor anyone else you know will give even the slightest semblance of a crap about prom.

Even if you do end up with fond prom memories to cherish forever, they’ll likely have nothing to do with the dress you wore (which will be horribly out of fashion six months from now) or whether that beeyotch Meghan wore the same one. Having a good time with your friends is infinitely more important than whether your date’s tie matches the sequins on your dress.

Visa’s survey about the cost of prom wasn’t just done out of sheer curiosity. The company would actually really like you to download their app, called Plan’it Prom, to help you budget for your special night.

But you don’t need an app to help you decide how much money to charge to your parents’ Visa so you can attend prom. You just need to think for like, 10 seconds, about whether you actually need all this stuff. You know what? I’ll do it for you. Check this out:


You’ve gotta cover your nakedness with something, so this one is a necessity. But keep in mind that there are very few times in your life you’ll have an occasion to wear a sequin-encrusted taffeta gown, so it’s quite possible that you’re only going to wear this dress once.

Is $300 a reasonable amount of money to spend on something you’re only going to wear once? If so, then go ahead and sew yourself a dress made of 300 one dollar bills. I guarantee Meghan won’t have the same one.

But seriously: either keep the cost low by shopping around, buying used or at least getting something off the rack (you don’t need alterations on your prom dress, seriously), or buy something versatile that you can wear at weddings, funerals and religious ceremonies for years to come.


Some chick is going to fall on her face at prom because she’s wearing expensive, highly impractical heels. Your goal is to not be her. Buy one pair of shoes that are appropriate for both posing for pictures and dancing. This means low or (gasp!) no heels. Get yourself a pair of ballet flats, kitten heels or strappy sandals from some cheap store in the mall. I promise, no one – including you — is going to remember what shoes you wear to prom. Unless you fall on your face because of them.


Wear your grandma’s antique bracelet. Pick up some cheap baubles from Target. Glue some feathers and beads to a hair clip. Whatever you do, don’t splurge on jewelry.


Just no. If you’re really concerned about what those bones that grow out of your fingers are going to look like on prom night, have a home manicure night with your girlfriends or something.

Hair and makeup

You don’t need to pay someone to put your hair in a generic updo and slap some makeup on your face. Get a decent haircut a few weeks before prom, so you’ve got time to grow it out a bit or get it fixed if it looks stupid.

Then, pick a simple hairstyle and makeup look and practice them a few times before prom night. Bam – you’ve just saved yourself enough money to pay your best friend’s older brother to buy you a six pack for the afterparty, which Twirlit absolutely does not endorse because underage drinking is totally illegal, you crazy kids. Get yourself a Shirley Temple or something! You deserve it!


If you must get a limo, make sure you split it with a bunch of other kids who you’ll never talk to again after high school. Otherwise, think outside the box: ride a bike or a scooter, take your car, pay some neighborhood kids to pull you in a wagon.

Heck, get your parents to drop you off around the block and walk the rest of the way. Nobody’s going to think you’re cool because you came to prom in a limo – and, as this Buzzfeed article points out, a limo costs a lot of money for what essentially amounts to a 12-minute ride in a really long car.

Professional photography

I hate to break it to you, but you and your date are going to look really, really goofy at prom – like kids dressed up in your parents’ fancy clothes. You won’t realize this for several years, until you look back and cringe at your clown makeup and your date’s failed attempt at having a beard.

It’s best if you don’t have a bunch of expensive, professionally shot photos to commemorate your awkwardness. You’ll have plenty of tagged pictures of Facebook to do that, free of charge.

When you look back on your prom in 20 years, this is what you’ll see.