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How to prepare your budget for the prom

There are plenty of ways to keep prom costs down. And here’s some more good news for you: You’ve got a little bit of time to plan, scheme and save. The following tips can help you prepare your budget in advance of the big night. By Laura T. Coffey.

The dress. The shoes. The flowers. The jewelry. The makeup. The transportation. The photo package. Who knew prom had the potential to cost as much as some people’s weddings?

If this is making your blood pressure go up ever so slightly, don’t despair. There are plenty of ways to keep prom costs down. And here’s some more good news for you: You’ve got a little bit of time to plan, scheme and save.

Prom season kicks off around mid-April and continues through early to mid-June in some parts of the country. Most prom nights will fall some time in May. The following tips can help you prepare your budget in advance of the big night.

1. Plan for the future when picking a dress. The best bet for saving money on the dress is to borrow one from someone you know. If that won’t work, a new formal dress could set you back anywhere from $150 to $400. For that kind of money, it’s best to choose a versatile, ready-to-wear, off-the-rack dress that can be worn again and again — including to future college formals. Another idea: Patiently search through thrift stores, discount outlets and vintage clothing stores for bargain formalwear. “The vintage look is really hot now,” says Christa Vagnozzi, editor of

2. Do you already have the right shoes? As you’re choosing the dress, stop and think about whether you have a pair of black, gold or other neutral-colored shoes in your closet that could work on prom night. If so, one less expense! If not, you don’t have to spend a fortune on a strappy pair that will get you through the night. Think Payless ShoeSource, Target, T.J. Maxx, Ross Stores, Marshalls or any bargain shoe outlet that is popular in your area.

3. Be mercenary when it comes to your accessories, makeup and hair. Again, if cost-cutting is your aim, think hard about friends or relatives who could lend you jewelry, hair clips and a fancy purse. If that’s not an option, hunt for jewels and other accessories at a low-cost costume-jewelry store — and don’t forget to look carefully through your jewelry box, your mom’s and your grandmother’s. If you decide to invest in a nice necklace or pair of earrings, be sure to pick something you’ll be able to wear for years. As for your makeup, hair and nails: You could easily drop $150 or more if you get yourself professionally gussied. To avoid that expense, do your own hair, makeup and nails — or, better yet, get together with a friend and do each other’s. You also could ask your mom or another relative to come to the rescue, or you could call around and see whether any nice department stores in your area have cosmetics counters that offer complimentary makeovers.

4. Remember the cost of prom tickets. They can range in cost from $70 to $100 per person, so you and your date should talk early about how you plan to cover this expense.

5. To rent a limo or not to rent a limo? Most have four-hour minimums and also require tipping, so you and your friends should come up with a total cost estimate and then divide that amount by the maximum number of people you’re allowed to squeeze into the limo. (Be psychologically prepared for the total bill to be $400 or more.) If that’s too much money for you and your friends to cobble together, investigate party buses that can hold more people than limos, or consider the possibility of borrowing a nice car from a parent or relative.

6. Don’t wait until the last minute to order flowers. At least two to three weeks before the prom, you and your date should order a corsage ($15 to $75) and boutonniere ($15 to $30) for each other. To keep flower costs down, you both can agree to opt for simple arrangements and less expensive flowers, such as carnations. The corsage should have two or three flowers, and the ribbon should match the dress. Be sure to find out whether she wants a pin-on or wrist model.

7. Shop around for a tuxedo. Guys, here’s another tip for you: A tuxedo rental can set you back $75 to $100 or more, so take the time to call several tux rental shops over the phone to compare prices before deciding where to get fitted. Since you probably don’t don a monkey suit all that often, be sure the shop will give you all the accessories you’ll need: the tux itself, shirt, vest or cummerbund, handkerchief (if needed for the front pocket), shoes, tie and belt.

8. Eat out for less. If dinner won’t be served at your prom, you and your friends might be tempted to eat out at the nicest restaurant in town before the big event. That’s fine, but consider: It might be funnier, more memorable and less predictable for you to go to your regular neighborhood burger joint or other favorite spot. Or, you and your friends could go to that fancy restaurant and order appetizers instead of main courses.

9. Save on photos. Formal prom portraits can be nice to have, but they can cost $25 to $75 depending on the size and number of prints you buy. Do you really need them? Since many digital cameras are the size of spy cameras these days, you could easily slip one into your tiny purse or tuxedo pocket and get dozens of posed and action shots throughout the night.

10. Simply can’t afford this kind of an affair — period? Don’t count yourself out too quickly. Charitable organizations exist in many parts of the country to help financially disadvantaged high school students with prom clothes and accessories. With names like the Cinderella Project, the Glass Slipper Project and Dream a Dress, these organizations are there to help. Do a quick Google search for the names of such organizations along with the name of your city or region and see what pops up. Your school guidance counselor or faculty prom coordinator also may know of groups that provide this kind of assistance to teens who need it.