Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Thanks, mom! Survey shows parents spending huge amounts on prom

Parents of teens already know that proms break the bank – now there's a survey to prove it.

American families expect to spend an average of $1,078 on prom this year, up from $807 in 2011, . The data is based on thousands of telephone interviews conducted in late March by Visa. But even the credit card company is aghast at the figures.

"This is social-arms-race spending. It's extreme," said Jason Alderman, director of Visa's financial education programs.

Story continues below advertisement

Most of the cash goes to the gown or tux, but parents are also shelling out for limo rides, new shoes and jewellery, visits to hair and nail salons, flowers, dance tickets and dinner for two.

The high-school formal has morphed into a pseudo wedding, said Kit Yarrow, a marketing and psychology professor at Golden State University and co-author of Gen BuY, a book on Gen-Y buying behaviour.

The prom has gained prominence at a time when adults are marrying later and the debutante ball has all but disappeared, she explained.

The phenomenon is more apparent in the Northeast, where the prom bill averages almost $2,000, compared with $696 in the Midwest.

"Especially in really affluent households, the parents, in a way, use their kids to proclaim their stature to other parents," Ms. Yarrow said.

Kids, meanwhile, are dolling themselves up with their next Facebook photos in mind.

Proms have become a "red-carpet moment" in which high school seniors aspire to the glamour of celebrities in designer dresses, noted USA Today.

Story continues below advertisement

The pressure to overspend in an ongoing recession has up in arms.

The parenting blog details ways to lower the bills, ranging from online gown rentals to DIY hair, makeup and press-on nails. Other tips: skip the limo and flowers and whip up a fancy meal for the prom-going couple at home. (Note to any parents reaching for their cookbooks: High school seniors know how to spell L-A-M-E.)

But despite their best intentions, most families will end up spending beyond their means, said Alison Jatlow Levy, a retail strategist at consulting firm Kurt Salmon.

"It's like your Cinderella night, so you pull out all the stops."

Did you splurge on your kid's prom, or was it easy to cut costs?

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author

Adriana Barton is based in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. Her article on growing up with counterculture parents is published in a McGraw-Hill anthology, right after an essay by Margaret Atwood. She wishes her last name didn’t start with B. More

Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.