SURVEY SAYS: Prom Expenses

More than a decade ago, when my youngest son went to the prom at his high school, I realized how much more expensive it was to attend the prom than when I did so (I won’t say how long ago that was).

I recently read an article that said a teenage girl’s parents paid $1,000 to have her prom dress custom made, so prom inflation is definitely a thing.


Last week, I asked NewsDash readers, “Did you attend a prom and how much did it cost you (or your parents)?” Also, for fun, I asked readers to share the theme of their prom, if they remember.


The vast majority (83.3%) of responding readers attended a prom when they were in high school, while 16.7% did not.


More than half (52.3%) of readers reported their prom cost them or their parents less than $100, while 40.9% said their prom cost was between $100 and $250. While 2.3% indicated they do not remember how much their prom cost them, the same percentage each chose “between $250 and $500,” and “between $500 and $750.”


Many respondents did not remember the theme of their proms, but among those who did, Stairway to Heaven and Under the Sea were repeats.


They reported:

  • Two Tickets to Paradise
  • I believe it was Never Say Goodbye.
  • I don’t but it was at the zoo.
  • My Heart Will Go On (Titanic)
  • Evening in Paris
  • Cowboy Western theme
  • Rock and Roll
  • Something with waterfalls
  • Putin’ on the Ritz (late 1980″s) – I still have a party favor although the prom outlasted the relationship
  • Our junior prom was held at a cheesy Polynesian restaurant so I guess luau? No theme for our senior prom.
  • I think it was Stairway to Heaven, which was a hit song of the era.
  • Hawaii or Hawaiian vacation, don’t exactly remember. You should ask first how many of us were inebriated at prom, it would help with validation of the responses!
  • “Under the Sea”
  • “Dream on” think Aerosmith
  • 3 Coins in a Fountain
  • Colour My World (?)
  • Stairway to Heaven
  • Under the Sea
  • Sail On – Commodores Song
  • There was no theme
  • Masquerade, A Night to Remember, Moonlight Dance …? It has to be one of those standard ones!
  • A Knight to Remember.
  • Wonderful Tonight
  • Don’t remember the Prom theme but there was a circus in town so we had elephants and camels at the after Prom
  • Shangrila


The verbatim comments left by readers really showed the difference between proms of the past and proms now—readers making their own dresses; dresses being modest, long gowns instead of fancy gowns or cocktail dresses; no limos and now sponsored after parties; and the lower prices of items overall. Many expressed that proms have gotten out of hand, with one reader comparing it to a Vegas-style party: “You spend money that you will never see again – for a moments worth of fun.” A couple of readers really dislike the new trend one reader called “promposals.” I enjoyed reading the descriptions of prom nights. Editor’s Choice goes to the reader who said: “We rented a mechanical bull for fun time after Prom dinner.”


Thank you to all who participated in the survey!



At my high school, the junior class organized prom festivities and picked the theme. My junior year, the theme we chose was “Send in the Clowns.” The senior class was not amused!

Great for those that want to participate. But if you are really spending excess amounts of money, you might want to re-think if there is a better use of this money – like maximizing your 401(k) contributions or a Roth IRA. Most people who go to prom do not end up in a long-term relationship with their date – so couldn’t the money be spent better somewhere more useful?

Our mid-1970s prom was all about long, mostly straight dresses. Something like the more modest Cher dresses from the Sonny & Cher show. We had a junior and a senior prom. One of my dresses was $6 on the sale rack and the other was around $20. We made alterations at home. At other local schools, hoop dresses were popular and way more expensive. The fancy meal we ate cost my fella about $20 to $25. Tux rental maybe $20. A corsage was just a few dollars. No limo. No sponsored after prom party. Minimum wage was about $2.25, so it was a big event but affordable for most students.

I think it is a great experience for the students and a lot of fun to get all dolled up for a night, but the cost has gotten out of control for families today…especially for those with daughters.

They are way out of hand now. I’ve sent three kids through high school…. clothes, limos, dinner, flowers, etc…. I have boys so tux rental isn’t that bad. I helped with the cost of renting the tux – they paid for the “extras” I have a cousin who had a custom made prom dress from someone who does pageant gowns. It was crazy expensive. But my aunt is incapable of telling her no.

I think it has gotten way out of hand. I’ve heard that many get there in a stretch limo and then rent hotels rooms for all night party afterwards.

Didn’t go to my High School Prom because my manager at the time told me she would give me time and a half if I went to work instead 🙂 This is a lot of money to spend for just one event at such a young age.

I graduated in 1999. Some people went way overboard but I always kept it simple. Most I ever spent on a dress was $70, my mom did my hair and makeup.

High school prom costs are escalating along with wedding costs. My granddaughter paid more for her prom dress than I did my wedding gown!!!

We rented a mechanical bull for fun time after Prom dinner.

The dumbest thing I find is the ways kids go about asking someone to go to the prom with them. And it’s usually between kids who are dating exclusively so who else would she be going to the prom with???

I was the uncoordinated, smart girl who wore glasses, needed braces, had very curly hair was not allowed to wear makeup, and did not wear the expensive trendy clothes to school. Code word—Unpopular, so prom was not in the cards. This Cinderella met her Prince 36 years ago, started a family, has an amazing grandchild, graduated from college Summa Cum Laude, made a few dear friends and lived in some really great places while her Prince was serving his country. Way better than going to High School Prom

Went with the man I married and ate Lobster for the first time and still cost under $100

I think that they’re getting to be too much money now, but it is a rite of growing up.

I also attended prom 10 years ago. Though as a guy, I imagine by tux rental was a fraction the cost of dresses.

I think proms should be replaced with a Vegas-style party. You spend money that you will never see again – for a moments worth of fun

Had to be home by 1 AM. Nowadays kids stay out all night, which ONLY leads to trouble and pregnancies. This should not be allowed.

It is ridiculous how much money is spent and the level of expectations for prom. Limos are unnecessary. I realize all costs go up, but they are spending more on dresses than I did on my wedding dress! But then I am very thrifty, which will allow me to retire soon! 🙂

They are very expensive these days, and no one seems to think twice about it.

I went to prom in 1981 and the cost was definitely less than $100. It was before the days of salon appointments and limos. My brother had gotten married recently so my bridesmaid dress was my prom dress. Looking back, it really was not that much fun, but oh the allure of going to prom.

Very simply in my day. Just put on my leisure suit (that will date me) and picked up a corsage for my date and away we went.

I had a job at the time and had to work that night till 9pm. Never went to prom.

Proms are a full time affair now, with the pre-prom pictures, red carpet and transportation to the post prom scheduled activities. My children will have a very different and safer experience than I had with underage drinking in the limo pre-prom to the underage keg party afterwards.

They’ve gotten way out of hand, as have Sweet Sixteens, bar mitzvahs, weddings, etc. But maybe I’m a cranky old man and maybe my parents said the same thing about my prom!

At that time of my life I was making most of my own clothes. My dress probably cost less than $25 to make.

Prom was held in the Girls’ Gym (the floor in the Boys’ Gym was too precious to be subjected to high heels). I sewed my own prom dress and earned the money for the fabric and pattern by babysitting. I lived in a rural community, so dinner before prom was usually at someone’s home. And there was no after-prom party. When prom was over, the date was over and it was time to go home. Simple fun but nothing that cost my parents a penny!

I used a bridesmaid dress that my sister bought for a wedding and was never going to wear again. Only problem it was light blue and my date had to get a light blue tux….the pictures are like…yuck!

They’re overrated

They’ve gone from a nice night out to a Hollywood production.

Stop the madness and instill some values in our children. You do not need the best of everything. My daughter bought a second-hand dress for her senior prom for $30 that was beautiful and she received so many compliments on it, no one knew the difference. For the parents who spent a $1000 on a high school prom dress, I pity them for what they are going to pay for her wedding dress!

Some people think they are way overrated, which sometimes I think they get a little carried away, but it truly is a great night with friends all trying to live up to the hype! Also, these “promposals” are ridiculous and a little much for a school dance!

Mine was a disaster so I have nothing good to say. The night was best defined by Mayor Marion Barry’s infamous quote – “B*tch set me up”.

Our mascot was a Knight so the theme always included it.

Being the girl, I only had to pay for my dresses and maybe my tickets. Junior year, my dress was $80, Senior year would’ve been the same, had I gotten the dress I wanted, but my mom made me get a sequin dress for $100. My boyfriends paid for a “fancy” dinner each year. All my friends got their hair, nails, and make-up done, but I was too cheap for that, so I did my own. Looking back at photos, they look beautiful and glamorous, and I just look like me in a nice dress. : /

When I went to school our prom was in the gym which we transformed into whatever the theme was. Now, just like everything else where kids are involved it’s who can out do who.




NOTE: Responses reflect the opinions of individual readers and not necessarily the stance of Strategic Insight or its affiliates.