Perfect Prom for Pennies

by M. Carole Wyatt

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It won't be long before there's a distinct wailing of daughters begging for prom dresses that easily run from $300 to even thousands of dollars. The classic high school prom is steadily growing out of the reach of many families. It is hard to finance one prom, let alone many if you have several children close in age, as I do. Time for come cost-cutting measures.

The Prom Dress

For the girl, this is the major expense. Many schools now have prom dress sales where girls sell used formals at discount prices. Consignment shops and even thrift shops usually have several nice options.

Buy out of season and category. The best time to buy a formal is when it is 75% off. Many a girl has snagged a cocktail or even bridesmaid dress for a song instead of the traditional prom dress. Then my daughter's personal favorite is to borrow a friend's prom dress.

The Tuxedo

Tuxedos are almost as expensive as the dresses. Some companies will allow the early bird to rent his suit at 50% off if he wears it to school for promotional purposes. Sam Meyers, as well as other formal wear companies, have annual sales where a traditional black tux goes for as little as $50. Forget the cummerbunds and bow ties; the modern tux looks more like a suit. If the boy has a dark suit, he could wear it. Even buying a suit is a good investment. For the wild and crazy guy, he sometimes enjoys wearing his father's powder blue leisure suit to the dance.


Part of the whopping expense is dinner at a fine restaurant, which can easily add on an extra $100. A group of parents can go in together and host a meal. It can be breakfast or dinner. The candles are lit, there's no waiting, and best of all, there is no major discussion about what to tip. For a brief moment, the parents actually know where their children are. Another variation on this is the fast food pitch-in. Each couple brings a bag of fast food that includes one item for everyone. Many schools are also offering dinner at the prom, which may or may not be a bargain.

The Limousine

Split limo fees between several couples to cut down on expense. Shine-up the oversized SUV, and you can be the chauffeur. There's something about dad dressed up in a suit opening and closing car doors that delights teenagers. The more couples the better. Even if your child thinks the idea is icky, his or her friends won't. Or borrow a nicer car from a friend or relative. There is usually some exchange of a blood oath on this last one.

Flowers, Jewelry and Everything Else

If you're willing, three or more girls can get ready at your house. This allows them to fix each other's hair and make-up, which is a major savings of time and money. Silk flowers are a better bet than real. There should be at least one person in the family with floral design experience. If not, go to Krogers to order your flowers. The grocery is much cheaper than a regular florist and they have actual floral designers. Order early because they do get backed up. As for jewelry, make it costume so there aren't any regrets about lost earrings or broken necklaces.


The last major money outlay is photos. Why pay huge prices for portraits when every prom participant and parent will take numerous photos? One good professional photograph of the couple is enough.

The best way to cut dollars is to have your child pay for everything. You'll be amazed at how thrifty they become when they have to foot the bill.

Take the Next Step:

  • Sit down with your teen and discuss how together you can cut this expense down to size. You just may be surprised how open they are to this, especially if given the alternative of paying for everything themselves.
  • Throw your bash for less cash! The Dollar Stretcher's Guide to Parties & Entertaining for Pennies can show you how.
  • Stop struggling to get ahead financially. Subscribe to our free weekly Surviving Tough Times newsletter aimed at helping you 'live better...for less'. Each issue features great ways to help you stretch your dollars and make the most of your resources. Subscribers get a copy of Are You Heading for Debt Trouble? A Simple Checklist And What You Can Do About It for FREE!

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