It is no coincidence that prom has been referred to as a mini-wedding, and not because it's held in the same month as many walks down the aisle.
According to a survey conducted by Visa, families will spend an average of $1,078 for their child to go to prom this year. The costs associated with the festivity shot up considerably from 2011 when parents spent about $800.
The limo, dress, tuxedo, shoes, flowers, hair, makeup, nails, spray tans, accessories – not to mention the cost of the ticket or bid – make up the high tab footed by parents so their child can feel and look like a million bucks. And the investment isn't just for prom either. The milestones are coming earlier and earlier.
Experts say there are a number of reasons parents allow these expenses to spiral out of control.
Foremost is the notion that both parents and kids, especially girls, will go to great lengths to outdo each other. In some cases, families don't think twice about spending upwards of $500 on the dress alone.
Another factor contributing to the excesses is the digital age of instant fame. “Who Wore it Best” competitions will be quietly waged on Facebook. Every hairstyle and dress will be scrutinized in great detail (perhaps not as much as the wedding dress worn by Kate Middleton, but significant nonetheless).
Other pressures teenagers face today include the idea that they need to look as close to perfect as their favorite celebrity on the cover of Vogue.
What are 21st-century parents to do? We discuss solutions and compromises.
Tonia Accetta: I love to see my kids dress up and go all out
for these events. It is a change from their daily uniform of shorts, tees and flip flops. I am happy to spend big bucks to buy a new well-fitting outfit for the occasion, just as I would for myself when attending a wedding. I understand that for girls the dress is a very important part of prom and choosing it can be difficult. I think fit comes before cost, but I just want my daughter to be a reflection of herself and NOT of Hollywood.
The total amount that is spent can be far too much for one evening, and it's a personal choice from family to family, but “keeping up with the Joneses” does seem to be at the root of the lavish extras.
My tips to ease the cost is to plan it out with your kids early, so that you can take advantage of sale prices and ask your friends for hand-me downs as they will have only been worn once. Talk to your kids about the cost and work together so that the evening is a success for kids and parents alike. Don't go bust over it!
Tam Dorow: I had no idea there was such a thing as “Eighth-Grade
Promotion,” and I definitely had no idea it was such a big deal. That's how dated I am. We just went from junior high to high school, period. There was no special label for the event.
Once I adapted to the idea of this big event, I found out there's small arms race to be outfitted for the big day, at least for the girls. I wonder what the boys have to do. For the girls, as far as I can tell, there are four areas of focus:
- The dress. Some girls have been shopping for months, purchasing multiple dresses, forming a candidate pool from which to choose what to wear on THE day. Cost does not seem to enter into the decision-making process.
- The shoes. Although my polling method is not statistically acceptable, I'm the only mom I know who does not want her 13-year-old daughter to wear high heels. Shoes that lift your heels up to four inches off the surface are considered high heels, I don't care how you rationalize it, wedge or not. I do not know why 13- and 14-year-old girls need to wear high heels to attend a ceremony on a squishy artificial turf field. Seems like a risky proposition to me. I know women wear high heels to feel sexy, I just do not want that word associated with any 13- or 14-year-old girl.
- The nails, manicures and pedicures. I personally have never enjoyed either activity and do not partake. However, I can see how this could make a young lady feel well-groomed, for very little cost. OK, I can concede this point.
- Then comes the professional hair and make-up. Really? I cannot grasp this concept for a 13 year old at all. This is not Project Runway. I did not have my hair and make-up professionally done on my wedding day.
For all my adverse reactions, I still seriously considered each one of those options for my daughter. At this age the girls want to fit in and my daughter is no exception. I love my daughter and want to make her happy. However, we have to make sense.
We talked about appropriateness, personal style and self restraint. We also talked about how eighth-grade promotion is a milestone, but there are many more milestones ahead and where this day fits into the grand scheme of things.
We're trying to work up to bigger things. This is just a small step. How sad would it be to peak at 13?
Save some things for later. There's time. And give us, your parents, time to save up for the other big days.
Suzette Valle: Eighth-grade promotion to high school was practice for prom, and we had no idea that the level of stress and expenses would triple by the time our children were juniors in high school.
This year marks the second time walking down the prom red carpet
with our children. However, the first time we did this was with our son. Things
were admittedly much simpler with a male when it came to costs and fashion.
Getting ready for our daughter's prom has been fraught with very high expectations, so there's been a fair amount of compromising and negotiating. Some deals were easy, but others were good lessons in restraint versus immediate gratification.
The most difficult thing we've come across wasn't trying to find a moderately priced dress – they were plentiful – but rather the age-appropriateness of the garments available. Gowns for teen-age girls border on the immodest.
And, have you seen the shoes? I blame the Kardashians for the five-inch heel travesty girls have to succumb to in order to be fashionable. But I digress.
To be quite candid, though very taxing, this has also been an exhilarating process. We are glad we can provide our daughter with this incredible gift. She is overjoyed to participate in this important school milestone, and she's also extremely grateful that we took the time and made every effort to see her off in a way that we can all be proud of.
We will cherish this memory for many years to come ... that is until senior prom next year. Lucky for us, we get to do this all over again in 12 months!
Tonia Accetta is stay-at-home mom of a teenage boy and a preteen girl. She moved to Coronado in 2002 with her husband of 15 years.
Tam Dorow emigrated from Vietnam when she was 10. She worked at all of the Big 3 U.S. car companies and has been a stay-at-home mom of two for the last 10 years.
Suzette Valle is a 20-year Coronado resident who was recognized by Time Warner as one of the local “50 Best Moms” in 2006. She has appeared on the Dr. Phil Show and blogs at MamarazziKnowsBest.com.