Debate: Is Prom Spending Out Of Control?

From $50 on a corsage to $100 on a limo, has prom spending gotten out of hand?

Jenny Acheson/Getty Images

The average American household spent $978 on this annual rite of passage last year. Is that crazy? Two teens sound off.


 YES:  Prom should feel accessible to everyone.

Without a doubt, $1,000 is an insane amount of money to drop on one night. And while some students can afford it, the ones who can’t feel like they’re having less of an experience than their classmates. That’s unfair—and unnecessary.

What’s extra-infuriating: Businesses take advantage of teens during prom season! They know that students think luxurious splurges, from flowers to limos, are “essential” elements of the “perfect” night, so they drive up prices accordingly. (A single-flower corsage somehow costs $50!) In most situations, parents have no choice but to break out their credit cards—or be left with angsty teenagers.

I do think prom is wonderful (slow dancing and fancy clothes!), but I believe that it should feel accessible to everyone. That’s why school administrators need to use their power to set the tone for a more low-key evening. Dropping ticket fees (by holding fundraisers or finding less-costly community venues) would be a good start.

—Murray Rosenbaum, 16, a high school junior from New York, NY

 NO:  Prom is a worthy once-in-a-lifetime splurge.

Prom is a magical event that represents the culmination of high school—one final blowout before you enter the real world. Sure there might be other dances, but prom is the fanciest, and it’s that extravagance that makes it so special!

The truth is, there is no way around spending some money on prom. But when you’re looking forward to this night for years, you have the opportunity to plan for it. If administrators and student leaders work together to keep ticket prices affordable while families save up for other expenses, then all teens can enjoy an unforgettable evening. (At my school, for example, every fundraiser—starting freshman year—goes toward the event.)

All in all, the most important thing to remember is that no one’s judging you by how much you spend on your dress or your tux. They’re too busy taking pictures and dancing the night away! At prom, everyone has the same goal—to have fun. And that goal has no price tag.

—Morgan Bryant, 17, a high school senior from Viola, IL

3 Fast Facts

1. Parents typically pay 56% of prom costs, while their kids pick up the remaining 44%.

2. Proms can be traced back to the late 1800s, when American universities started throwing simple balls and banquets for each spring’s graduating class.

3. Proms got fancier in the 1950s, when a thriving postwar economy allowed high schools to move the events out of their gymnasiums and into hotels or country clubs.

Sources: 1. 2014 Visa Prom Spending Survey; 2. Oxford English Dictionary; 3. The Journal of American Culture

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