What the Kids Are Paying for Prom

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.

Spending has been driven to never-before-seen levels as teens are influenced by everything from celebrities and reality TV to the prevalence of social media, experts say.

Linda Korman, advertising director for Seventeen Promand Teen Prom, says teen girls view prom as their “red-carpet moment” and are “heavily influenced” by celebrities who walk actual red carpets in designer gowns.

Wait. What? Why are high school students spending more than $1,000 to go to a school dance? I remember going to my senior prom a little over a decade ago, and I didn’t know anyone who spent more than a few hundred dollars to buy a ticket to the dance, find something to wear, and grab some dinner before the party.

Actually, a lot of girls I knew scouted out prom dresses at the mall, and then went home and made the dresses themselves with some help from the artsy kids who knew how to sew. And I didn’t go to a high school in a small town in the Midwest — I went to high school in the O.C. (yes, that O.C.).

I rented a black and white tuxedo jacket for $30 (money I earned working at the mall) that I wore with some other things I already owned, and thought I looked great because high school boys sometimes have a lot of confidence that comes from nowhere. I probably should have thought more about how I looked because despite being in the marching band, and student council, and being the sort of person who loved doing my homework, I found myself being nominated for prom king. But seriously, if I have a kid one day who asks me for $1,000 to go to the prom, I’m going to laugh really hard, and then hand my kid enough money to buy a ticket to the prom, a little something more to get something nice to wear, and then tell the kid to dip into his or her savings if the kid wants anything more (my kid will totally have a savings account).

Photo: Flickr/SeanMcGrath

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