How to Go to Prom on a Budget

You can cut costs without sacrificing the high school tradition.


You don't need a limousine to get to prom.

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Attending prom is a rite of passage for high school students who are approaching graduation, but the costs associated with this celebratory event add up quickly. From what to wear to how to get there, many expenses accompany going to prom.

One of the largest prom expenses is a dress. Prom dresses can cost up to several hundred dollars.  When they are only worn once, spending this amount might seem unnecessary. And it is; there are several ways one can purchase a prom dress for less, including the following five tips:

1. Those who have a friend or sister who have attended prom before them might find luck borrowing items from them. Why pay for your own dress when you can wear one for free? Ask around to potentially save hundreds of dollars.

2. Thrift shops can be another place to find gently worn prom attire. While it may take time to look through the clothing racks, the amount of money saved can be well worth it.

3. Consignment stores are another option. Though the prices will likely be a bit higher than thrift shops, dresses at consignment stores will be lower in price than those at department stores.

4. Those who feel more comfortable wearing new clothing may find deals by buying nontraditional prom dresses. Everyone has their own style, and prom is a great opportunity to express that. Prom-goers should find a dress they love without the prom price tag.   

5. Renting a dress is another alternative. Instead of buying an item only to be worn once, this option reduces your commitment to owning a garment and can lower the price tag. Renting a dress can be done through a service such as Rent the Runway. Renters pay a fraction of what it would cost to purchase the item, and they wear it for a limited amount of time. The garment will be sent out and returned by mail following the occasion for which it is rented.  

In addition to getting a great dress for less, there are many more ways to lower the cost of attending prom while still looking great. Shoes and accessories, including jewelry, hair clips and a purse, all add extra expenses. Apply some of the tactics to save on dresses toward the other elements of prom outfits. Try borrowing, buying for less or renting these items.

Rather than buying new makeup or paying for an appointment at a beauty shop for a cosmetics application, ask about makeup applications at your local department store or beauty product shop. You’ll probably find a professional to help for free.

Also, instead of paying for an expensive manicure and pedicure, paint your nails yourself. There’s no need to buy new nail polish, either. Invite a few friends over and ask them each to bring a few bottles of their favorite colors.

Once you’re looking spiffy without spending too much, you’re ready for the finishing touches. Many prom-goers give each other flowers. Girls wear corsages and sometimes receive bouquets from their dates. The flowers won’t last as long as the memories do, so avoid this unnecessary expense.  Pick some flowers for your date from the family garden for free or skip the flowers altogether. (Just be sure to give him a heads up in advance.)

In order to attend prom, students must get to the prom. Transportation can be another large expense. Limousines are a popular option, but there are other ways, too. Renting a limo can cost several hundred dollars, after all. Getting a ride from a parent is one easy solution that does cost money. Using a driving service such as Lyft, Sidecar or UberX can be another low-cost way to get to and from the prom.

Many students celebrate the occasion with a special meal before the event. Dining out can be very expensive, and is often unnecessary; many proms serve dinner. Rather than wasting money, partake in a more frugal activity. Invite friends over to take pictures together before the prom, or plan  some frugal pre- or post-prom fun such as  bowling, card games, board games or a sleepover.

While prom is a night to remember, it doesn’t need to have a bill that will take forever to pay off. More money saved on prom expenses means more money that can be applied to college expenses.