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28 High School Prom Planning Ideas to Save Money

By Casey Slide

prom girl parentsFor most young high school girls, prom is a very important event, and everything has to be perfect - from the outfit to the arrival.

Unfortunately for parents, making prom perfect isn’t cheap. Even a fairly modest prom can cost upwards of several hundred dollars. If you don’t have that kind of cash, don’t worry. Slashing the costs doesn’t mean that you have to dash your daughter’s dreams for the night. You can easily trim the budget without it being obvious that you’ve done so, as long as you know where to cut costs.

Here are more than 28 tips for saving money while planning a night to remember.

The Guy’s Outfit

1. Don’t Wear a Tux
Just because it is prom doesn’t mean that a tux is required. Many prom-goers opt for suits or khaki pants and sports jackets. Both of those options are acceptable and are becoming more of a trend. This is one of the best ways to save on men’s formal wear, especially if your son already owns a suit.

2. Buy Instead of Renting
Surprisingly, sometimes it costs less to buy a tux than it does to rent one. This is especially true if your son will be attending more than one prom. Also check eBay and Craigslist for used tuxedos and suits. When prom is over, you can always resell it too.

3. Shop Around
Go to as many menswear stores as possible to gather information on prices. Then use that information to negotiate. Tuxedo shops have a lot of competition during prom season and may be willing to work with you. Also, get a group of your son’s friends together and see if the store will offer a discount if they all get their tux at the same place.

4. Be Open to Style and Brand
Don’t be afraid to go with an off-brand. No one will have any idea, or care, if the tuxedo is Tommy Hilfiger or Ralph Lauren.

5. Pass on Renting Accessories
Top hats, canes, and pocket squares might make for more fun pictures, but they all cost extra. Save the money on unnecessary accessories. Plus, some of these items could easily be misplaced or stolen during the long evening.

prom guy tuxedo

The Lady’s Outfit

6. Borrow the Dress
My younger sister wore all of my prom and homecoming dresses in following years. So not only did my parents get multiple uses out of the dresses, my sister never wore the same dress as anyone else since she was wearing the last season’s style. If your daughter has friends at other schools, they can also swap dresses with each other.

7. Shop Out of Season
Just like with wedding dresses, prom dresses can be had at bargain prices during the off-season. Consider shopping well in advance for next year’s prom or even right after this year’s prom when dresses will be on clearance.

8. Buy a Used Dress
Prom dresses tend to be in pretty good shape after being worn just once. Consider buying a used dress at a discount. Then sell it again after prom is over.

9. Keep an Open Mind
Encourage your daughter to try on as many dresses as possible while out shopping. Dresses tend to look different on the rack than they do on a person. And don’t let her get caught up in brand names. There are plenty of knock-offs that are much cheaper – and no one will know the difference.

10. Make Your Own
Remember the girl who made her dress out of Starburst wrappers? See how creative you can get, or just buy fabric with a great pattern you both really love, and put your daughter’s home economics skills to good use.

11. Swap Shoes
Just like with the dress, your daughter can easily borrow shoes from friends who are the same size. If your daughter is unable to swap shoes, remember that you can often find stylish shoes in inexpensive shops like Payless and Marshall’s, so there’s no need to go overboard buying expensive shoes that will only be worn once.

prom girls dresses

Hair and Makeup

12. Have a Friend or Family Member Help
You can cut costs by having a friend or family member take control of hair and makeup. This can easily save you between $50 to $100.

13. Go to a Cosmetology School
You can get great deals by getting hair and makeup done by someone who is not quite yet a professional but is close enough to do a professional looking job – for a lot less money.

14. Make Some One-of-a-Kind Accessories
Punch up a plain dress by getting crafty with your accessories. You can glue some rhinestones on a hair comb, or buy some beads from a craft store and string them together to make a necklace. Better yet, throw a craft party for your daughter’s friends and they can all make their own jewelry.

15. Visit the Cosmetics Counter
Makeup counters have professionals that will do your makeup for free (though it’s typically expected that you buy a piece of makeup). Just be aware that this tactic may be used by many other girls too, so it’s best to book an appointment in advance to make sure they can squeeze you in.

teen prom makeup

Food and Drinks

16. Dinner Party at Home
At my prom, my parents hosted a fondue dinner at our house. They waited on us, and it was so much more fun than a stuffy restaurant – and cheaper too!

17. Have a Prom Picnic
The weather is generally very nice during prom season, not too hot and not too cool. Consider doing a prom picnic or potluck, and enjoy the nice weather before going inside to dance.

18. Dine Out on a Budget
Sign up for group buying daily deals sites like Groupon and Living Social. Some local businesses will put on special bargains around prom time to draw in customers. Also, don’t forget to use restaurant coupons for discounts!

Prom Pictures

19. Skip Hiring a Professional
Since prom night is such a big deal to most teenagers, it’s only natural that they’re going to want a lasting memento of the event. Hiring a professional photographer won’t come cheap though, so you may want to consider taking your own photos or roping in someone who can take photographs that look professional for a fraction of the price (perhaps a friend or family member who is known to take good looking photos).

20. Avoid Official Prom Pictures
When I went to prom, there was always a professional photo stations where couples or groups of friends would have their photo taken to purchase picture packages. First off, only one shot was taken, and secondly, you were unable to see that shot before it was delivered to you after you paid. It is probably best to avoid this photo station. Instead, bring your own digital or disposable camera to take candid shots while dancing.

21. Bring a Disposable Camera to Prom
Not only are disposable cameras cheap, but you won’t risk losing an expensive camera – or worse getting it stolen. Disposables can still capture all the fun memories of the night.

prom pictures

Transportation

22. Split the Limo
Splitting the limo price with other couples who are also attending the prom is probably the most cost effective way of footing the bill, and it can be fun to arrive together as a group. Either way, be sure to shop around to get the best deal. Generally speaking, the cost of hiring a limo will rise as you get closer to prom night, so it can pay to book early for a good deal.

23. Rent a Car Instead of a Limo
Another way to save money but arrive in style is to rent a nice car. This is a lot cheaper than renting a limo, and it can be really fun. Just make sure that you pick a rental car company that is okay with 18-year-old drivers.

24. Pile in a Van
You can get a lot more kids in a 15-passenger van that you can in a limo. Remember, the more the merrier, but make sure that the driver is safe, cautious, and experienced.

prom limo

Flowers

25. Forgo Corsages by Going to Prom with Friends
Instead of guys buying girls corsages and girls buying guys boutonnieres, go to prom with a group of friends. That way no one has to pay for flowers for someone else to wear.

26. Make Your Own Corsage
You can buy flowers at your grocery store or online and then create the corsage the day before the prom – saving a lot of money at the florist.

27. Don’t Buy a Wrist Corsage
Wrist corsages tend to be more labor intensive to make than pin-on corsages, and therefore more expensive. Opt for the pin-on corsage and then use a ribbon to tie it on to a wrist.

prom corsages

28. Limit Your Splurges
It can be difficult not to spurge on your kids. If you feel you must splurge, limit it to one area. For instance, let your child go to a nice restaurant, but skip renting a limo.

Final Word

Prom is a big deal to teenagers, but it’s only one night out of their entire lives. It shouldn’t cost a fortune – especially when paying for college is looming on the horizon. Talk to your kids about the budget you’ve set aside for the prom and work together on ways to save money, without squashing the fun. That way, you’re teaching your kids how to be responsible with money and bonding with them during the planning process at the same time.

Do you have any other tips for saving money on prom-related costs?

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Casey Slide
Casey Slide lives with her husband and baby in Atlanta, GA. She graduated from the University of Florida in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering and worked for a prominent hospital in Atlanta. With the birth of Casey’s son in February 2010, she decided to become a stay-at-home mom. Casey’s interests include reading, running, living green, and saving money.

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