Prom on a budget

adunn@newsobserver.comApril 12, 2014 

A couture gown, originally purchased for $2,000, is priced at $190 at My Girlfriend’s Closet, which has a dedicated prom boutique.

COREY LOWENSTEIN — clowenst@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

It’s prom season, and teenagers across the Triangle are looking forward to a traditional rite of passage while their parents may be dreading the final price tag. But prom doesn’t have to be a financial stress. Here are a few tips for keeping costs reasonable:

For girls and guys

• Set a budget and decide early who is paying for what. Prom tickets, which can be as much as $50 per student, and dinner are good items in the budget to share.

• Make consignment and thrift stores your first stop when shopping. You can find many items with the original tags still attached. Since styles and sizes are limited, it’s smart to shop early and often. Katherine Kastl’s prom at Apex High School isn’t until May, but she started shopping months before and found her dress at My Girlfriend’s Closet. “It’s a $300 dress, and I paid $60,” she said, before correcting herself. “My mom paid $60.”

• If you don’t find the perfect dress or tux, tell the staff what you’re looking for and leave your contact information. Most consignment shops will keep a running wish list for customers, said Becky Larcher at The Men’s Kloset in Cary.

• If you must buy new, shop the sales and don’t forget to check for coupons. RetailMeNot.com and CouponSherpa.com are both good places to check for coupon discounts. Ask the sales clerk if the store offers free or reduced-price alterations. A $50 dress that needs hemming can quickly turn into a $120 dress after paying a seamstress.

• Weigh your priorities before splurging on an expensive restaurant. And don’t forget to add in the cost of tax and tip. Since Kastl is planning to go with friends, she said they aren’t planning anything elaborate for dinner. “We’ll probably get pizza,” she said.

• Florists aren’t the only place to buy a corsage or boutonniere. Most grocery store floral departments will custom make prom flowers. Save money at both places by using carnations, daisies or Alstroemeria in place of roses or orchids. Boutonniere prices at most grocery stores start at $5.99 while florist prices typically begin at $12. Plan on spending $30 to $40 on a wrist corsage from a florist while the supermarket price is about half that. If you’re a DIY-type, check Pinterest and YouTube for photos, videos and step-by-step instructions on how to make your own corsages.

• Think big if you want to rent a limo. “The larger the vehicle is, the better the deal is,” said Carrie Peele, owner of Blue Diamond Worldwide Transportation, which is based in Raleigh. The limo bus, which seats 26, is her best deal. Divide the $1,300 fee by 26, and it costs each teen $50. The down side: One parent has to sign the contract and agree to collect the money.

Kastl said she will be skipping the limo. “Prom’s fun, and it’s fun to do those things, but it’s also fun to just go and have a good time. You don’t need to go overboard,” she said.

• Skip the formal photography and snap candids with your phone that you can share instantly with your friends via social media.

For girls

• Shop the closets of friends and relatives. A dress worn by a girlfriend to an out-of-town wedding, for instance, could wind up being your perfect prom gown. Don’t forget to ask about borrowing shoes and accessories.

• Hair styling is expensive. Consider asking a talented friend or family member. Or check out the services offered at a local beauty school. Mitchell’s Academy in Raleigh does updos starting at $22, academy director Hope Keith said. “When you go to a salon, updos usually start at $70 to $75 and go up,” she said. The price is budget friendly because students do all the work. Keith recommended that girls come early because prom mornings tend to be busy, and no appointments are taken. The school also encourages girls to bring in pictures. “It lets us see exactly what they’re looking for.”

• Nails and makeup can be another budget buster. Mitchell’s offers manicures for $5.50 and pedicures for $16. Other options include doing your own or enlisting the help of a friend or family member. Once again, Pinterest and YouTube offer a wealth of photos, videos and detailed instructions.

For guys

• Instead of a tux, consider buying a black suit that can be worn later for college and scholarship interviews, job interviews and other formal occasions. Rent a tux shirt and tie for a fraction of the cost of a full rental.

• If you decide to rent a full tux, ask about store discounts. Many of the rental shops have coupons on their websites. You’ll also save money by renting early and returning on time. Most stores charge late fees and will charge a premium for rush orders.

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