Mental and Monetary Costs of Prom: Is It Really Worth It?


02 Aug 2017 04 Sep 2017

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Prom is considered a rite of passage for most American teenagers in their junior and senior years of high school. It is considered a 'must-attend' event, where memories are forever made. Students dress in high-end dresses and tuxedos, make-up, hair, nails and accessories for the girls, and fancy tuxedos for the boys. The financial expenses can be phenomenal, but is the experience really worth the costs?

A newer trend in prom activities is the "promposal", which can vary in cost depending on the choice in the way it is carried out. Some students opt for small tokens such as a small sign, a box of candy, maybe even flowers to ask a date to prom. Others choose to ask in a huge way, so that their prospective date will want to say yes. There have been students who have spent hundreds of dollars buying jewelry, having huge banners made, and even having flash mobs perform just to propose a date to prom.

The typical attire for a young man at prom is a tuxedo. Tuxedos can be purchased or rented, depending on the budget and need. Haircuts are a must, as well as boutonnieres. In 2013, the cost for a boy to attend prom was $325 on average, which includes items such as a haircut, tuxedo, and boutonniere. [PR Newswire. (Mar. 26, 2014)] In years past, it was customary for the boy to purchase prom tickets, which can sometimes cost up to $50 per couple, and a meal, which can run up to $100 depending on where the meal takes place.

For females, the financial costs are typically higher. Dresses for prom are a must, and the more unique, the better. Uniqueness, can come at a price. Prom dresses in 1995 were listed at a wholesale cost of  $59 to $219. [Dianne M. Pogoda WWD. (Oct. 10, 1995): p14] Now, dresses can cost up to $500 depending on what style and designer is used. Hairstyling, nails, and makeup must be done. Accessories such as shoes, jewelry, and sometimes handbags must also be purchased. In 2013, the average cost for a female to attend prom was $633 [PR Newswire. (Mar. 26, 2014)].

There are several prom expenses that are now split between the couple, including transportation and any post-prom activities. Transportation to and from prom was traditionally the responsibility of the young man, but in recent years the trend of renting limousines or unique party buses or cars has become very popular and is considered a shared cost. Costs for transportation rental can vary, but a figure from 2015 suggested that average rental of a limousine was $100 per couple. [Kaitlin Menza Choices/Current Health (May 2015)]. Party buses and other more extravagant travel arrangements can run higher. Post-prom activities can include any events that can be imagined. Tickets and photos are also now considered shared expenses. In 2013, shared costs equaled about $487 [PR Newswire. (Mar. 26, 2014)].

On average, spending on prom can be very expensive for each household, and steadily rises every year. In 2013, prom costs per couple averaged around $1445, and costs have risen at a steady rate of 34% since 2011 [PR Newswire. (Mar. 26, 2014)]. Based on these figures, this could push prom costs for the 2017 season past $3000. Parents reported in a 2015 Visa survey that they typically ended up paying close to 56% of prom costs while students earn money to pay for the other 44%. [Kaitlin Menza (May 2015)].

Prom costs can be very difficult for families with smaller disposable incomes to afford.  Many families must budget costs to fit into their finances, leaving families feeling stressed and teenagers worried about not fitting in or being able to enjoy prom to the fullest. Peer acceptance can be a major issue for kids, and not being able to afford the best of everything causes self esteem issues, or cause them to miss out on opportunities to make memories with their friends and fellow students.

Some students avoid prom activities because they do not want to feed into the atmosphere of materialism that prom promotes. They see other students around them competing to be better than the rest of their friends in their attire and unique, over-the-top prom experiences and feel as though it causes too many problems socially.

I personally feel as though prom as it is now is not worth the high price of attending. I feel like 20 years down the road the memory will be the same, no matter what I wear or drive up in. The actual time that students spend at the dance is so short, and I feel I would have just as good a time hanging out all night with a close group of friends instead of getting dressed in a tuxedo and riding in a limousine. I also know that a lot of times, kids use prom night as an opportunity to do a lot of things that could get them in a lot of trouble. Sometimes the decisions they make affect the rest of their lives, when they never really intended for it to. This even sometimes puts innocent people in danger. I just do not think that spending that much money is worth it in the end.


"Cost of Prom Projected to Skyrocket to $1,900 in 2014 According to Golden Asp." PR Newswire, 26 Mar. 2014. Academic OneFile, Accessed 3 Feb. 2017.

Crosley, Sloane. "American prom: awkward. Hilarious. Heartbreaking. Magical. The high-school prom is a very American rite of passage. Renowned photographer Mary Ellen Mark invites herself to the dance, capturing the poignant moment teenagers teeter on the edge of adulthood." Smithsonian, Apr. 2012, p. 68+. General OneFile, Accessed 10 Feb. 2017.

Menza, Kaitlin. "Is prom $pending out of control?" Choices/Current Health, May 2015, p. 2+. Academic OneFile, Accessed 6 Feb. 2017.

Pogoda, Dianne M. "Prom seen dressing up profits." WWD, 10 Oct. 1995, p. 14+. General OneFile, Accessed 10 Feb. 2017.


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