A recent survey from Visa showed that prom spending hit an average of $1,139 per family this year, up 5 percent from last year. The good news -- sort of -- was that teens were contributing 41 percent of the cost. But that still leaves parents footing 59 percent of the bill, or more than $670, on average -- enough to buy a computer for a student to take to college.
One way to keep expenses under control is for parents to take an active role in prom planning. They can host at-home dinners before the prom or breakfasts afterward, and play unofficial photographer. PTA groups can sponsor used-dress sales or raise money to sponsor all-night parties that keep kids entertained, safe and sober.
Another way to keep costs under control is to give your kids a set amount and have them make the decisions about how to spend it. (Visa has a free prom budgeting app, called Plan'it Prom, available in the iTunes store, Google Play and http://www.practicalmoneyskills.com).
Even better is to have your kids pick up more of the tab themselves. In fact, I'd flip the numbers in the Visa survey so that kids are responsible for 59 percent or more of the cost. True, they'd probably be hard-pressed to come up with $600, but that's the point. I read one newspaper story about Casey, a 16-year-old from Pennsylvania, whose mother told him he'd have to pay for all his prom expenses. He paid $129 to rent a tux, $50 for a prom ticket, $20 for two tickets to the after-prom party and $10 to get his car cleaned -- all with money earned by cleaning stalls at a horse barn. The prom was fun, said Casey, but in his opinion, "it's not worth that much money. I worked a little over two weeks shoveling stalls to spend five hours at a dance."
(Janet Bodnar is editor of Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine and the author of Raising Money Smart Kids (Kaplan, $17.95) and Money Smart Women (Kaplan, $15.95). Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/JanetBodnar. Send your questions and comments to email@example.com. And for more on this and similar money topics, visit http://www.Kiplinger.com.)