In the classic 1980s coming-of-age flick Pretty in Pink, Molly Ringwald’s character is hard up for cash. So she makes a custom prom dress from two secondhand gowns. Resourceful and iconic!
These days, prom is a different beast. From the stretch limos to the designer shoes, average prom spending hovers around the $1,000 mark. Included in that number is a $300 promposal—an over-the-top way of asking a date to the prom. It’s kind of like a wedding proposal, but for prom. (It’s crazy! We know.)
Moms and dads, listen up. Your teen might feel like this is the biggest event of their young life, but it’s still just a high school dance. So stay rational—someone has to!
Instead of letting your teen run wild with your wallet, see this as a chance to teach them that it is possible to have fun on a budget. Here are some tips to help you get started:
1. Have your teen make a budget.
If your teen begs for independence all the time, this is a great time to give it to them! Ask your teen to write down their total prom budget—even if they’re way off base with the estimates. Safe mistakes now will prepare them for a life beyond parent-funded limo rides and glittery shoes. For an easy way to keep track of their prom expenses, have them plug those numbers in to the EveryDollar budgeting app (for free!).
2. Determine how much you’re willing to help.
If you’re married, sit down with your spouse and figure out how much you want to contribute to your teen’s prom fund. Remember: They aren’t entitled to anything. This is a gift.
Use the best tools to teach your kids about money.
And if your budget’s tight, make sure your regular household expenses are covered before helping your teen with prom. Don’t dip into your emergency savings or go into debt for a high school party.
3. Put the crown in their court.
After you agree on how much you’ll give your teen, go ahead and hand over the cash. Now it’s time for them to make some grown-up decisions.
Feel free to guide them with some parental wisdom, though. One way to guide them is to focus on three important prom expenses like dinner, the tickets and the attire. These are their new priorities, and they’ll have to let the other stuff go.
This is where the budgeting rubber meets the road, and they’ll realize money has its limits. If they really want that name-brand tux but it doesn’t fit into their budget, they’ll need to use their prom savings (assuming they have some) or figure out how to earn the extra money. They may decide to wear a simple suit and splurge on a nicer dinner instead. It’s up to them now!
4. Stick to your budget, even if they don’t.
If your teen’s burning through their prom cash at an alarming rate, stick to your original plan and resist the urge to add more to their prom fund. You can help in other ways—after all, you know what will work best for your teen. For starters, you can remind them of all the budget-friendly shopping resources out there. From shopping at secondhand stores to borrowing accessories from friends or making everything by hand, this is a great time for them to get scrappy and work for what they want!
5. Stop comparing.
It’s easy to look at what other parents do and second-guess your strategy. But your goal here is to raise a money-smart adult, not a teen who spends like a king or queen.
Be confident and refuse to compare your spending to what others are spending. Instead, enjoy this time with your teen! Get excited with them and focus on what you have. Gratitude brings joy.
The truth is, teenagers can have fun (and make some great memories) on a budget. So as you’re lining them up to take pictures with all their friends, be proud that you stuck to your money plan and taught them how to do the same. In the end, this is a life lesson that’ll stay with them much longer than an overpriced updo.
Knowing how to handle money the right way is so important, but sometimes teens don’t want to hear it from mom and dad. We can help with that! Grab the Foundations in Personal Finance: High School Edition for Self-Study course, and watch your teen learn to budget, save, invest and give like no one else!