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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Prom Night USA Is Becoming Big Bucks

"It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest." — Adam Smith

When you went to your senior prom, if you went, how much did it cost? Was it $100, $200, $300 or $400? If it was any of those figures you or your parents got of cheaply. In a June 16, 2011 Jessica Dickler writes in CNN Money that the rising costs of prom night are leaving many graduating teens left out. Ms. Dickler writes:

“It's one of the most celebrated high school experiences, where love is discovered, friendships are fostered and memories are made.

At least that's how prom looks in the movies.

The reality is that those "midnight masquerades," "enchantments under the sea" and "midsummer night's dreams" have become the latest battleground between the haves and have-nots in this country.

Between tickets, attire, shoes, accessories, flowers, limousines, photographers and after-parties, the average family with a high school student attending the prom spent a whopping $807 this year, according to a recent survey by Visa.

But nearly a quarter of families spent nothing at all — because they could not afford to let the kids go. "Some people are opting out entirely because times are tight and the social cost of admission is so high now," said Jason Alderman, director of Visa's financial education programs.

While some teenagers and their parents are willing to shell out close to $1,000 or more on their junior or senior prom, others, like 16-year-old Emily Butler, simply cannot afford it.

Although both her parents work, they have been hit hard by the real estate slump in Northern California and lost their home to foreclosure.”

"Her prom was $65 per child just to go to the party, not to mention the dress, shoes, dinner, corsage or boutonniere, etc.," Emily's mom, Alicia Sylvia Butler, said. "Several kids opted out of attending due to finances, our daughter included."

"Prom inflation has run amok," Alderman said. "Ever more extravagant proms create a cycle of teenagers continuously trying to outdo each other, making the evening more and more expensive."

Samantha Goldberg, an event designer in New Jersey, says that the parties she plans get increasingly more elaborate year after year. "They want tents, lounges, ice sculptures photographers and bars. Girls want a prom dress and a post-prom dress, some want custom designed gowns. You might as well call it a wedding."

This is just another example of how our culture is changing. Back in the when I graduated from high school you asked a girl to the prom, or in some cases the girl asked the boy. The boy ether went in his best Sunday suit and the girl’s mom either bought or made a prom dress. Yes in those days most families had sewing machines and the moms knew how to use the. The boy would pick up the girl in his car, if he had one, or go double with another couple. They would head off to the high school gym where students had decorated it with streamers and signs. The music was usually supplied by a small local band or a disc jockey. There were snacks of cookies, cakes and a punch made by some of the parents. It was all about the prom and not the glitter. There were no limos, no special rented halls, no professional photographers or fancy restaurants. Of course there was always the wise guy with a flask that would spike the punch.

Today the girl goes to a dress shop for her dress as she would if in a wedding and pays upwards of $100. The boy rents a tuxedo for $50 or $60 bucks. The boy busy the girl flowers and picks her up in rented limo that cost several hundred dollars for the night, even it shared by two or three couples. They go off to a fancy restaurant for a special dinner where some of their friends and classmates are. The dinner costs can run to one hundred dollars. After dinner they go to hotel banquet hall for the live or canned music and dancing. The decorations in the hall are stilled supplied by parent volunteers and chaperones. All beverages and snack are furnished by the hotel and usually included in the admission price, which depending on the hotel’s beverage and snack offerings can run $75 to $100 per person. At the hotel there is the professional photographer to take the photos of the darling couples and their friends. After the prom, which usually ends around midnight, the teens go off to another restaurant for a midnight meal. So you can see it’s not out of the question for the total cost to reach $1,000.

Now it should be assumed that some of these costs are borne by the fellow, some by the girl and some shared. But in today’s culture who knows who pays for what and how much they pay. Again, back in the day the fellow paid for any admission charges, the girl’s corsage and any meals they might have after the prom. The girl paid for her dress and accessories. This is the way it was. Now days the girl may pay for most of the prom if she elects to go with her dreamboat that has no money.

It seems we have gone overboard on spending for proms and other school oriented events. We have graduation ceremonies for kindergarteners, sixth graders and eighth graders and if you are part of a Mexican-American family there is the QuinceaƱera for the girl who turns 15. These events can run into the thousands of dollars. Perhaps it’s time to take a step back and rethink the money we are spending on our children. We may be setting expectations much higher that we can afford, or for them to afford in the future.

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