USA Today reported Friday that the average cost for going to a prom is now over $1,000, up from $800 last year. My eyebrows hit the ceiling when I saw those amounts.
Regular readers know that I didn’t grow up financially deprived. (If you’re a relatively new reader, my childhood in the Philippines was twelve years of private school, servants, and a gated community with armed security.) But I was still shocked by today’s cost for a prom.
Of course, it’s been over 40 years since my high school prom. So to put today’s $1,000 into perspective, I checked what that amount would have been in 1970. The answer: a much more palatable $170. But I still didn’t come even close to spending that for my prom. (My weekly allowance then would be about $110 today…but I had no siblings.)
The USA Today article reported that most of a prom’s cost is for the tux or dress. But I didn’t have that expense. I don’t think anyone wore a tux to my prom. Most of the “Americans” wore suits, which they probably already owned for other reasons. So the guys had no expense for attire.
Since I was born and raised in the Philippines, I didn’t wear a suit and instead went “native” by wearing a Barong Tagalog. I already owned the rest of the outfit – dark pants and black shoes.
My main expense was for the corsage. I’ve no idea how much that cost.
The article also mentioned that some of the cost is for a limo. Limo? Heck, I doubled dated and drove my two year old blue Hillman Arrow, which my parents bought for me when I was a sophomore so my mother could have our chauffeur all to herself since she did not drive.
There was no charge to attend the prom itself. At my school, it was a junior-senior prom. The junior class had to raise funds to pay for that year’s prom.
I’m sure if the fund-raising effort fell short, then the school had some sort of “contingency” fund to make up the difference. Or maybe some angels on the Board of Trustees paid the difference. (These guys were all at least corporate officers of the Philippine operations of major firms like Goodyear.)
The prom was held at the relatively new Intercontinental Hotel banquet room just down from the school and began with a sit down dinner. That was followed by dancing to a live band which may have been The Technicolors, a very popular group of students / alumni of our high school.
But the prom was just the first event that evening. After the prom, we did some bar (and probably illegal casino) hopping. So while I did need a little cocktail money, the cost for that in a Third World country was very cheap. And, my date’s father took me aside before we left and shoved a few 20s into my pocket even though I protested.
I was part of a group invited to one of my classmate’s homes for a 6AM breakfast but I don’t recall if I made it, although I think we were out until at least 5 AM. (I was only used to carousing until about 2 AM.)
The article noted that some of the rising cost of a prom comes from pressure. Pressure from the teen to make an “impression” and also from the parents to make an impression on other parents. I found it…interesting…that a VISA survey indicated that the families spending the most on a prom are often from the lowest income groups surveyed.
I was fortunate to grow up in a fairly homogenous social situation. I never saw much social posturing because there was no need for it. We were all financially secure and so there was no need to “prove” our status to anyone.
It was when I came to the U.S. that I noticed some folks seemed to need to project a certain status, which immediately suggested to me that their status was not what it appeared. There is no need to “prove” what everyone already knows.
I’m glad not to have any teens going to a prom. I need that $1,000 for Vegas!