Average family to spend $1,000 on prom
From the glittering gowns to shellacked updos and the fragrant flowers, there is plenty that goes into putting together the perfect look for prom.
But at what cost?
As 15 area schools are gearing up for this weekend’s annual teenage rite of passage, how much is too much when it comes to prom spending?
A recent nationwide survey found that the average American family spent $807 on prom last year. The Visa Inc. survey found that families likely will spend $1,078 this year.
“It’s crazy,” said Cindy Korus, a counselor at Consumer Credit Counseling Service of McHenry County. “I think it’s way out of hand. It’s way out of control. Some people don’t spend that much on a wedding dress.”
The survey also found that parents who fell into the lowest-income brackets, of those making less than $50,000, plan to spend $1,300, which is more than the national average.
That came as no surprise to Gipper Formal Wear co-owner Rebecca Skibbe.
Lavish prom spending is a trend that has not slowed in a sluggish economy, she said. It’s the opposite, in fact – girls are shopping for prom-style formal dresses for their eighth-grade dinner-dance events.
“I’m amazed at what people will do to get their daughter a dress,” Skibbe said. “Many people are throwing their pocketbook under the bus. But these girls get to wear a dress like this maybe twice in their life – when they get married and when they go to prom.”
At Kathryn’s Bridal in McHenry, prom dresses range from $350 to about $1,000 for a high-end, couture look.
“On average, you’re looking at $350, but for us here, we have a clearance room of dresses that are still beautiful that can hit any price point,” prom floor manager Melissa King said.
At Gipper Formal Wear locations in Crystal Lake and McHenry, the average customer spends about $300 to $400, Skibbe said – although many girls have eyed an ostrich-feathered, beaded number with a $3,000 price tag.
“It’s quite a dress,” Skibbe said.
Cary-Grove senior Lexi Mills spent a lot of time looking at and trying on dresses in addition to the $300 cost of her gown. Although she loves it and can’t wait to wear it at her prom May 4, it wasn’t her first pick.
The 18-year-old’s first choice was out of the price range she set for herself, even though her parents are picking up the tab. Mills’ parents spent $600 on prom, including shoes, garter, hair, nails and the tickets.
But Mills bargain-shopped. She looked for prom specials for her nail services, and for her hair, she’s going to a cosmetology school. She’s borrowed jewelery, and her sister is doing her makeup.
For the fellas, the costs are a lot cheaper, and a lot less goes into their look. But most guys buy the ticket, which at Jacobs High School can set them back $160 for two tickets.
Tickets to Mills’ Cary-Grove prom and post-prom on a boat in Chicago set her back $230. She bought the tickets for herself and her college-aged boyfriend.
“[The girls are] doing a tan, and you’re doing nails, and you’re doing hair, and you’re probably doing updo practice, then you’re getting a garter, and then shoes, and then jewelry, and then tickets,” Skibbe said, rattling off the prom essentials at rapid fire. “Guys should not be grumbling about spending money on a tux. I mean, come on.”
Tuxedo rental at Kathryn’s starts at $99 and can go to about $189. Putting together the look means shoes, a vest and a tie. At Gipper, the whole package ranges from $129 to $149.
Not only are people willing to shell out more cash for prom this year, but prices on dresses have gone up 20 percent from last year, Skibbe said, pointing to worker strikes in China and America’s lingering recession as reasons for the hike.
Overwhelmingly, it’s mom and dad who are footing the bill this prom season.
The Visa survey found that parents plan to pay for 61 percent of prom costs while their teens are covering 39 percent.
“I hate making my parents pay for this, but it’s my last, big senior thing,” Mills said.
Setting a budget for your son’s or daughter’s prom expenses, and asking what they can contribute, could be invaluable in the end.
“One of the reasons that prom spending may be running amok is that parents are paying the vast majority of the costs, giving teens little incentive to economize,” said Jason Alderman, Senior Director of Global Financial Education at Visa Inc.
Added Korus: “I think the biggest thing is staying in control of your money and not letting it get out of hand. Know what your limits are and make sure kids can work around it. And if not, [ask] how can they provide, and what can they do.”