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No dancing around this: Prom pinches parents’ pockets

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on April 24, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
April 25, 2012 8:43 am

Students in Sedalia, Mo., dance Saturday at the school's Junior/Senior Prom. (Sydney Brink/The Associated Press)

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

Going to the senior prom didn’t used to be a budget buster.

Oh, some big spenders would pop for an orchid corsage instead of a carnation, but the big event could easily cost both parties less than $100 total if her mom made her gown and he wore a nice suit instead of renting a tux. Tickets to the prom, held in a crepe-papered gym with a theme like “A Night to Remember,” might set you back $20.

If you could relate to that at all, then you are old. Very old.

Today, according to promgirl.com and prom-night.com, ticket prices can be as high as $200 if the prom is held at a swanky venue. A new gown will cost $100 to $400. You’ll want the professional photos, of course ($30 to $125), and to get your hair, makeup and nails done ($30 to $275). Then there’s the pre-prom dinner ($25 to $130 per person), boutonniere ($10 to $20), corsage ($25 to $50) and tux rental ($50 to $150).

And heaven help you if you forget to book a limo ($200 to $500) for the big night.
During the economic downturn, consumers got tight with their money, spending less on what could be considered “frills.” But that trend doesn’t seem to apply to prom.

According to Visa, the average family with a teen attending prom plans to spend $1,078 this year compared to $807 in 2011 – a jump of almost 34 percent! Inexplicably, lower-income families – those making less than $50,000 a year – spent more than the average: $1,307.

According to Visa, parents say they plan to pay for 61 percent of their children’s prom expenses. When parents are pinched to save money for college or their retirement, they’re spending this kind of money for a school dance?

What’s going on here?

Visa spokesman Jason Alderman says that many young people are trying to outspend and one-up each other. They see lavish parties and spending on reality TV and want that for themselves.

Another explanation could be that parents who have cut back on everything else still want to indulge their children – perhaps for one last time before they go off to college or join the work force. Could these be the same folks who splurged on over-the-top theme birthday parties when their kids were young?

Whatever the reason, busting the family budget so that a teen can have an extravagant night out sounds crazy. Then again, Americans flocked to the movie theaters in the Great Depression to watch men in tails cavort with bejeweled women in glamorous settings.

Maybe, in the Great Recession, the prom extravaganza offers a bit of the same escape. Moms and dads always live through their children to some degree – and on prom night, rich or poor, everyone’s living it up.

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