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Prom: The Ever Escalating Cost of the Social Arms Race

If you've got a teen who's been bugging you about going to prom, then you probably already know this: prom is much more expensive nowadays than when you went oh so many years ago.

USA Today business reporter Hadley Malcolm (right, above), who still looks good in her original senior year high school prom dress, reports that the average prom spending is - sit down moms and dads - over $1,000:

Prom is the new wedding, and spending on the springtime high school dance is climbing within reach of celebrations of holy matrimony.

Mary Stirsman says she couldn't imagine buying her 17-year-old daughter Madison the $500 dress she found at an Indianapolis boutique on one recent shopping trip, because Stirsman only spent $800 on her own wedding dress. But a higher price tag is the new norm for an increasingly lavish event for which teens and their families are dropping loads of cash on one-of-a-kind dresses and tuxes, limos or party buses, hair, makeup, jewelry, flowers, dinner and dance tickets.

This year, families with teens are expected to spend an average of $1,078 on prom, up from $807 last year, according to data from a survey released today by Visa that includes results based on a thousand telephone interviews conducted at the end of last month.

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

Read the rest of the report over at USA Today: Link

1993 for me. My prom dress was vintage - a goddess gown that I bought for a whopping $14, but it was $40 for the alterations! I was the only girl in yellow in a sea of black and jewel tones. My best friend wore the dress the next year, and it's been borrowed a couple times since then. It was a good investment.
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I never went to any prom and can say that it doesn't make a difference. Well, I don't suffer from any illusory expectations about what life "should be" like. I'm well aware that I could be in much worse shape than I am. If I don't get invited to the next most popular party I probably wouldn't notice.
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@ Dallas

I agree about the lingerie... why bother wearing underwear when you are just going to be going at it like a couple of baboons as soon as you are in the limo. I mean I guess you can just wear your mormon undies... if they are good enough for god than they are good enough for prom.

Though I don't know if you are legally allowed to use the words "Utah" and "fun" in the same sentence.
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I went to prom in 2007 and I only spent about $100 on a dress and shoes. I had friends who borrowed dresses or bought dresses from stores like Forever 21 (so probably under $30.) There wasn't pressure to spend a whole lot or even get a limo. I can't imagine spending anything near $1,000 as I didn't have that and my parents certainly weren't going to spend that much! I wouldn't even spend close to that for my wedding dress, veil, shoes, etc.
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My prom in 2009 cost 40$ for the ticket, about 200$ for shoes, shirt, pants and tie (which I have worn several times after). That's it.

Methinks some people are idiots.
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um, does anybody else see a problem in that they should not be buying lingerie for prom? Utah proms are cheap, fun, moral and WAY better than these oter proms i hear about. fancy dinner, fancy day date, and a dance at night... easily a third of their listed price.
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That dress is ugly. In any era.

Social arms race indeed. The Prom is yet another one of the first world problems that only serves the purpose of being divisive among the students in the school. The haves and have nots, the well-to-do and the budgeted. The vapid, shallow, self centered and those who's eyes have opened just a little to the greater world.
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This, is exactly why, I did not go to my prom. If I recall correctly it was something like $65 a couple for the tickets. Then add a dress, accessories, tux and all the 'popular' kids HAD to rent a limo. All to go to what amounts to a wedding reception sans liquor. Sounds like my idea of a good waste of money...but I was not one of those students who went with the 'in' crowd and had to have that "once in a lifetime experience." I think my friends and I spent the night at a punk concert somewhere that cost significantly less and I don't regret not having "the prom experience."

Even in the intervening decade or so the cost has gone up significantly. Andrew is right most of it is inflation.
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Ummm, inflation? Looking around now I came across 'In the late 1970s, I went to one prom. I bought an "expensive" dress for the time, $125. (my girlfriends spent under $100);'

According to one inflation calculator, "What cost $250 in 1978 would cost $826.10 in 2010." $100 then is $330 now.

This 'unimaginable' $500 prom dress is well within that range.

Assuming the mother got married 20 years ago, that $800 wedding dress would now cost $1230. I found "In 2012, the average cost of a wedding dress is between $900-$1,280."

The relative costs of prom dresses and wedding dresses hasn't appreciably change over the last few decades, only the price tag.
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"reporter Hadley Malcolm (left, above), who still looks good in her original senior year high school prom dress..."

wow. she looks remarkable on the left, there, in her classy suit and tie...
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My prom in 1976 was free to get in, a fine dinner was served, and we even had a live band. It was Exile, before they had that first big hit. The students had car washes and bake sales to pay for it. I made my own dress and shoes.

Now I have three girls in high school. I will have to re-sharpen my sewing skills.
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