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Family matters: For the Prom of it

By Heather Large | Woman | Published:

Times have changed and the end of term means a lavish prom and all the pressure that goes with it. Heather Large finds out more. . .

The pressure of a prom

It used to be an end-of-term disco in the school sports hall but now the glitz and glamour of American-style proms has become all the rage. More and more schools are shunning a traditional dance and instead organising elaborate end-of-year celebrations at venues ranging from hotels to football grounds.

Prom fever has been sweeping the nation in recent years inspired by the likes of US television programmes such as High School Musical and Glee.

It is estimated that 85 per cent of British schools are now holding a prom for pupils in June or July marking the milestones of GCSE and A-levels. For partying pupils it’s the chance to get dressed up for the night and let off some steam after weeks of stressful exams.

But for parents it can mean forking out a small fortune on dresses and tuxedos, cars and limousines and even overnight accommodation.

During last year’s prom season it was estimated the average spent on making it the perfect night was £220, with nearly a quarter of parents saying they expected to splash out more than £300.

As you might expect, girls tend to spend more than boys as they like to book appointments at the hairdressers or with make-up stylists.

And this figure is expected to rise even further this summer as the prom industry continues to grow and teenagers always want to outdo their classmates.

Although the figures pale in comparison to what happens across the pond where it’s estimated that more than £600 is paid out for every American teenager attending prom night.

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Bespoke frocks, shoes and accessories including jewellery, evening bags, limo cars, hair, nails, make-up and spray tan sessions and professionally taken photos add to the cost.

Classmates compete to see who can have the most glamorous dress or more unusual mode of transport – horse drawn carriages, flashy sports cars, stretch Hummers and even the car like the one from Ghostbusters have helped students make an entrance at events around the Midlands in recent years.

When the big night arrives, youngsters are now spending hours getting ready and taking photographs with their friends.

Some teenagers will work part-time throughout the school year to help cover their prom expenses and, if they are in their final year, build up some cash ready for university. Popular jobs include babysitting, shop and supermarket work and working as a waiter or waitress. But ultimately many parents will end up picking up the bill.

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Lindsey Greenwood, aged 48, of Stourport, who’s 18-year-old daughter Tilly has been sitting her A-levels this month, says parents need to strike a balance between rewarding their child for their hard work and not spoiling them just for the sake of it.

“I think it’s nice for them to all have a prom to look forward to after their exams – it’s something to work for and it’s a special way to finish their time at school. They’ve worked so hard they deserve it.

“But I do think you have to be careful not to spend hundreds of pounds on what is at the end of the day just one night of their lives.

“That money could be better spent on helping them at university or in some other way when they need it more.

“They can still have a nice time without it costing a fortune,” she adds.

Setting a budget is possibly the best way of ensuring that costs don’t end up soaring out of control, if you are funding or contributing to your child’s prom. Set a limit – and stick to it!

Make sure to have the conversation before any shopping begins. You don’t want your daughter falling in love with a dress that she just can’t have or your son setting his heart on a vintage limo that he can’t afford.

Encourage them to shop around to get the best deals and to not simply buy the first dress or suit they see without checking what else is available.

As well as helping your bank account, it will help to teach them about budgeting and managing money. They will also learn to prioritise – if your daughter’s first choice is a more expensive dress, then she will need to economise elsewhere and possibly do her hair at home rather than go to a salon.

Encourage your offspring to consider prom outfits that can definitely be worn again to weddings or parties or posh nights out so they get full value for money.

Avoid dresses that are clearly only suitable for proms and would more than likely look out of place at any future functions they might attend.

Take time to consider whether added extras like a photography package are really worth it. Your child will no doubt end up taking pictures with their friends on their mobile phones anyway – and often candid shots look better than formal posed photos.

School prom night can be just one more financial headache for parents but it really doesn’t have to be. Just remember, your child can still have a special night they will always remember regardless of how much is spent on them.

The price of a prom: how to bag some bargains so you can cut costs

Feeling daunted by the costs involved in ensuring your son and daughter has a night to remember at their school prom? Don’t worry, here are five ideas to help them have a special evening that isn’t going to break the bank:

  1. ebay. If you can’t afford to buy new items, there is nothing wrong with second-hand. You will find a range of items for sale on ebay, many in an almost new condition and at a great price. The auction site has a dedicated section for proms with new items for sale. While there is always a risk you might have to send it back if it doesn’t fit, if you start looking early enough there should be plenty of time to find the right outfit.
  2. Charity shops. These can be fashion treasure troves. Often girls only wear their prom dress once so many will find their way to charity shops. The same also goes for suits, as many teenage boys have them bought and then they grow out of them. There are plenty of bargains to be had and charity shops are also good places to look for accessories like jewellery and belts.
  3. Transport. Hiring a limousine, a stretch Hummer or even a horse and carriage seems to have become the norm for prom night with teenagers trying to out do each other. Before you splash the cash and book their transport, consider if anyone you know already owns an impressive car. If it’s only a short journey, they may not mind dropping off your child and their friends so they can arrive in style. Then it’s over to the taxi of mum and dad to collect them.
  4. Hair and make-up. This can be one of the biggest costs for girls on prom night as everyone wants to look a million dollars. Look around for discounts on websites such as Groupon for promotions on hair cuts and styling or try a local college with a beauty training school which will offer manicures and pedicures for a cheaper price. Tutorials on YouTube can also be useful to teach you how to create a new hairstyle without having to go to a salon.
  5. Rent a suit. A cheaper option may be to rent a suit for the night, especially if you know your son is unlikely to need one again anytime soon. They will be available to hire for a fraction of the cost and they may be able to rent something a bit flashier than they would buy as it’s just for one night. But make sure they know they need to return it in a good condition to get the deposit back.
Heather Large

By Heather Large
Special projects reporter - @HeatherL_star

Senior reporter and part of the Express & Star special projects team specialising in education and human interest features.

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