Teens and Prom: How to Control Their Spending (And Yours!)

4 Minute Read

Today’s teens could learn a lesson from Molly Ringwald.

In the classic 1980s coming-of-age flick Pretty in Pink, Ringwald’s character is hard up for cash. So she makes a custom prom dress from two secondhand gowns. And it’s one of the most iconic movie dresses of all time!

These days, things aren’t so simple. From the "must-have" stretch limos to the designer duds, average prom spending hovers around the $1,000 mark. Included in that number is a $300 average "promposal"—an often over-the-top way of asking a date to the prom. It’s kind of like a wedding proposal, but it’s for prom. And guess what? Parents are footing most of the bill, according to a Visa survey.

Moms and dads, listen up. This isn’t a wedding. It’s a high school dance, for goodness’ sake! So stay rational despite what everyone else is doing.

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Instead of letting your teen run wild with your wallet, use this night to teach them a life lesson about how to have fun on a budget. Here are five steps for making it work:

1. Have your teen make a budget.

Your child begs for independence all the time, right? Here’s your chance 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 limo rides and glittery shoes later on. Plus, they’ll learn a lot more by failing or succeeding on their own, rather than if you swoop in and fix all their figures.

Related: How to Make a Zero-Based Budget

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.

And if your budget’s tight, make sure your regular household expenses are covered before blessing your child. Don’t dip into your emergency savings or go into debt for a four-hour party.

3. Put the crown in their court.

After you agree on how much (or little) you will give your teen, go ahead and hand over the cash. At this point, they’ll have to make some grown-up decisions.

If they really want that name-brand tux, they’ll need to use their prom savings (assuming they have some) or figure out how to earn the extra money. Or they may decide to wear a simple suit and splurge on a nicer dinner instead. It’s up to them now.

Related: Should your teen use a coupon on their date?

4. Stick to your budget, even if they don’t.

If your teen is burning through their prom cash at an alarming rate, stick to your original plan. That means you need to keep your wallet closed. You can still guide them with some parental wisdom, though.

For example, have them focus on three important prom expenses—like dinner, the tickets and the attire. They’ll need to let the other stuff go. This is where the budgeting rubber meets the road, and they’ll realize money has its limits.

5. Stop comparing.

It’s easy to look at what other parents are doing 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.

So be confident and refuse to bad-mouth or judge other parents for spending more or less than you. Instead, focus on the exciting parts of prom your child will enjoy, not what they’ll miss out on.

Related: A Parent’s Goal Is Not to Raise Good Kids

The great thing about teenagers is they can have fun on any 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. It’s a life lesson that will stay with them much longer than some over-priced updo.

Help your teens stick to their prom budget by showing them EveryDollar. The EveryDollar iPhone app makes it easy for your kids to track transactions on the go—you know, just to see if there’s room in the budget for that forgotten corsage.

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