10 Ways to Save a Fortune on Your Teen’s Prom

posted in: Parenting

It may be hard to believe, but your baby is old enough to go to the prom. Once the excitement settles, you wonder, “How much money is this going to cost me?” The easy answer: a lot. But that doesn’t have to be the case. From borrowing to renting to do-it-yourself projects, there are many ways to save on your teen’s big night. Here are 10 of the best.

1. Budget. Prom can cost between $799 and $1,393, according to a 2015 survey from Visa. “Let your teen know how much they have to spend, and then ask them to choose how to allocate it,” says Brandie Farnam, manager of advice excellence and brand voice at LearnVest. “If they’d like to spend more, encourage them to earn some extra money to offset the difference.”

2. The dress. When it comes to the dress, why “spend $100 or more for something she wears once, maybe twice?” says Erica Sandberg, consumer finance expert and host of the “Adventures with Money” podcast. “It doesn’t make sound economic sense. Capitalize on your social networks. Chances are a friend has a perfectly awesome dress to lend. There’s no shame in asking.”

If you’re out of luck on the friend front, try a service like Charlotte’s Closet, a website where tweens and teens can borrow a designer dress at up to 75 percent off the original price. Charlotte’s sends a free additional size as backup and offers a try-at-home option that lets you try up to three dresses before making a final decision. (The $29.95 fee for this service is applied toward the dress rental).

3. For the guys. If your son is renting a tux, look for an online discount at a coupon site or in those Valpak envelopes that come in the mail, says Donna Freedman, veteran personal finance writer and author of “Your Playbook for Tough Times.” “It’s also acceptable for guys to wear their own suits, or even just a nice sports coat and slacks,” she says.

4. Shoes. For shoes, opt for a trip to Payless, says New York City-based stylist Gloria Cospito. “Christian Siriano, designer to the stars, has created a gorgeous line of shoes for Payless, including evening-appropriate heels,” she says. “With prices starting at as low as $20, it will be tough to beat that price.” Payless also has regular sales, so sign up for their emails to get the skinny on the next discount.

5. Accessories. For the perfect clutch, Cospito suggests vintage. “Vintage bags run around $30 to $50, so make a day of it with your teen and shop around for the perfect piece,” she says. For statement accessories, such as jewelry, that won’t break the bank, Cospito recommends BaubleBar or Charming Charlie, and SugarFix, BaubleBar’s collaboration with Target, where every item is under $30.

6. Beauty services. For hair and makeup, enlist students, says David Bakke, personal-finance expert at “Get done up at your local cosmetology school rather than at a salon. It will be a lot less expensive” he says. You can also try Sephora, Ulta or your local department store. Schedule in advance and confirm any minimum-purchase requirements.

A beauty college can also be a good option for nails, says Jeanette Pavini, savings expert. “You can find a salon-quality manicure for as little as $6, so you will be able to save a significant amount of money compared to the open salon market. The students are well supervised and oftentimes close to graduating.”

7. Flowers. Do a little homework before purchasing a corsage or boutonniere: Call local florists to inquire about prices. “Opt for the pin-on corsage and then use a ribbon to tie it onto a wrist to save money,” Farnam says. “Or even better, make your own.” Youtube has dozens of tutorials.

8. Pictures. That school photo package can cost a pretty penny, so Freedman recommends DIY. “Just snap and print at home,” she says, “or send the [pictures] to be developed at Walgreens or somewhere else inexpensive. Smartphones can turn out some astounding shots, and this way you can take and retake until you get just the right look.”

9. The limo. The kids – or, rather, the parents – can all chip in for a limo, but you can skip it, says Brett Graff, who’s also known as The Home Economist, and author of “Not Buying It: Stop Overspending and Start Raising Happier, Healthier, More Successful Kids.” “What’s a limo, anyway? It’s a safe driver in a big car,” she says. “Find a family friend (parents, don’t even think about it, you’re embarrassing) to work in this capacity. He’s been asking you to help paint his house for weeks anyway, so it’s a barter.” Pavini says that if you can’t find a good trade scenario, “consider a service like Uber Black. You can usually get a larger, nicer car and split the cost with other couples.”

10. Dinner. If the kids want to go to a restaurant after the dance, call ahead to see if there’s wiggle room on the price. “Some restaurants – if they know in advance there will be a table of 10 teens – are willing to prepare similar meals for much less, given the economies of scale. Make it simple, with one vegetarian option,” Graff says.

Freedman recommends eating at home: “I once interviewed a woman who got together with other parents and hosted a formal dinner in her home. The other moms and dads were the servers. One parent also took excellent photos of the young revelers.”

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Trae Bodge is an accomplished lifestyle journalist and TV commentator who has specialized in smart shopping, personal finance, and retail for more than a decade. She has appeared on TV over 1,000 times; including Today Show, GMA3, NBC Nightly News, Inside Edition, and network affiliates nationwide. She has been named a Top Voice in Retail by LinkedIn, and her expert commentary has appeared in Forbes,, Kiplinger, Yahoo Finance, and numerous others.