Practical for prom: Big night doesn't have to cost big bucks

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Prom is high school's biggest social event.

And probably the most expensive.

Daniel Marsula, Post-Gazette
Click illustration for larger image.

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By the time a couple adds up tickets, outfits, accessories, grooming, transportation, meals ... you get the point.

Prom gets costlier each year, with the average couple spending more than $1,000 combined, according to some estimates. Seventeen magazine estimates that the typical girl spends nearly $600 on the big night.

Frugal teens, however, will find that they don't have to deplete savings, take a second job, max out credit cards or beg big bucks from parents to make the magic happen. With a little imagination and a lot of legwork, there are all sorts of ways to shave costs and still look like The Couple of the Year.

The gown: Borrow it. If you can't, troll thrift, discount, off-price and consignment stores for a cheap find. Don't forget eBay. Previously owned generally costs less than brand new, even if the used dress was never worn. Perhaps pay a talented friend to stitch up the dress of your dreams. If you buy the materials and just pay for the labor, you can still come out ahead of those shelling out hundreds for something mass-produced.

Jewelry: Shop in your bureau first. If you can't find something suitable, borrow from your mother, an aunt, a sister, a friend. Still nothing? Check out stores that sell quality costume jewelry, which is less expensive than real gems but provides as much razzle-dazzle.

Shoes: Again, go shopping in your own closet first or try to borrow. If neither works, shop sales as close to the event date as you can get away with until you find what you need.

Hair and makeup: Do it yourself or get a skilled friend to do it for free or for the cost of supplies. Another option is to schedule an appointment at a beauty school, where you can find talented stylists who offer lower prices because they're still students and are basically practicing on you. Be sure to take a picture that shows how you want your 'do done.

Accessories swap party: A great idea from Seventeen. Invite some of your girlfriends over and tell them to bring any dressy shoes, handbags and other accessories they don't plan to wear to prom. Spring for snacks and have a borrowing party where each girl signs out any items she's borrowing from other girls.

Tuxedo: Skip the tux rental and wear a suit. If circumstances -- such as your date -- force you into a tux, shop around numerous stores for the best rental price. Most tux stores have special prom rentals, but be sure to ask each what is included in the price. Resist piling on canes, top hats and all the extras that ratchet up the cost.

Flowers: After finding out what color your date's gown will be, look for complementary flowers that are in season. Prices are higher for out-of-season blooms. Comparison shop with multiple florists, and consider that floral departments in grocery stores may be able to hook you up for less.

Transportation: If you're driving yourself, look into borrowing a nice luxury car or negotiating a half-day rental. If you must go limo, buddy up with another couple and split the cost.

Dinner: You'll both probably want to eat before and after the dance. Consider a potluck pre-party with a few other couples. Or chip in together and get a restaurant to cater something simple. Start now clipping restaurant coupons, especially those that offer two meals for the price of one.

After-prom: Rather than buying an entirely new outfit, rehab an old one. If you know you'll want to snack after, cook something the day before and then just re-heat, adding some bag salad, cookies and beverages for a quick and cheap meal.

Photos: Skip the formal photog at the shindig and take pictures at home and outside the prom venue. The quality of disposable cameras is greatly improved, and it's almost impossible to take a bad shot with a digital.

Finally, increase your chances of coming out of prom without going broke by generating more income, not just cutting expenses.

Don't want the burden of another job?

Not asking parents to subsidize?

Start collecting unused items of value around the house. As soon as the weather breaks, have a garage or yard sale. And then auction the leftover stuff on eBay.

Post-Gazette fashion editor LaMont Jones can be reached at or 412-263-1469.


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