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Prom doesn't have to be expensive

| Wednesday, April 13, 2005

By this time, most couples going to the prom have probably made the majority of their plans and paid for them, but saving a few dollars here and there never hurts. While the following money-saving ideas might not all be applicable at this time (late in the prom season), it never hurts to plan ahead for next year's prom or even next year's Christmas dance. According to Prom Guide magazine, the average cost for a couple to attend a prom is between $400 and $1,000. This bundle of money includes clothing and accessories, dinner and social events before and after the prom, flowers, photographs and transportation. To save up to $600 or more on the big night, plan ahead and set a financial limit. Decide how much money should be spent per necessary item and try to stick to the budget. Putting some money away each week in the months preceding the event is the best savings plan. The key to finding bargains in the clothing and accessories departments is to start shopping early. By the time February comes, stores often increase prices or reduce the number of sales in their formal dress departments. Patience is also needed, as a person must be willing to shop around to find the best dress for the best price. Looking in vintage, discounted bridal or outlet stores can unveil great dresses that are light on the wallet. Internet dress sites can be valuable resources, too; double check the return policy before committing, though. Sometimes during the Christmas season, formal dresses on sale can be used as prom dresses. These dresses can be just as sophisticated as dresses that cost two or three times as much. To find really cheap prices, go as soon as the prom is over and while the dresses are down to their lowest prices. Yes, this means that a dress might be hanging in a closet for a year, but think of all the money that was saved. Exchanging dresses, shoes, or jewelry with friends for the evening can save a lot of money, too. Try wearing comfortable and cute ballet slippers, a cheaper alternative to expensive designer shoes, if the dress touches the floor. Depending on the grocery store or floral shop, flowers can end up costing a good bit of money. Grocery stores sometimes have cheaper boutonniere prices than floral shops, and choosing more common flowers can save a few dollars, too. Bouquets and boutonnieres that are flower-coordinated look great in pictures, and getting the two sets from the same store might save time and money. If you are planning on purchasing a professional picture package, try to decide which package you want beforehand, or at least tally up an estimate of how many pictures you will need. Don't forget to take a small disposable camera (expensive digital cameras could potentially be broken or stolen) and capture some memorable moments during the night that do not cost a lot to develop. Hair and nails often end up costing the ladies a lot of money. If a professional hairstylist is going to do your hair, make sure you know exactly what you want before sitting down in the chair. You should go to a hair-stylist you feet comfortable with and try to find the best deal in the area. The same applies to getting nails done: go to a place where you feel comfortable, but still keep the cost of the nail job in mind. Some beauty parlors give a discount if both a manicure and pedicure are completed at the same time. Of course, a cheaper route would be buying fake nails in a store and applying them yourself or getting together with a few friends and everyone painting each other's nails. The do-it-yourself method for hair and nails can be a risky decision, but at the same time, can save $50 or more. As far as transportation means, driving in your own car means that the only money spent will be on gasoline. Borrowing or renting a nice car from a parent or friend can be a cheaper alternative. "Party" buses or "party" limos are becoming more and more popular, too, and since they hold a large number of people, each person's contribution is less. The more couples riding in the vehicle means less money is needed from each person. Don't forget to factor in the cost of the chauffeur's tip and any food or drink items that are not included in the initial limousine rental. Hummer limos cost more than traditional car limos, so take that into consideration when approaching friends and calling different limousine businesses. Dining experiences before and after the prom often end up costing as much as the prom ticket itself. To save money in this area, have a pre-prom dinner at someone's house and have an after-prom meal and breakfast at another. Instead of making reservations, driving, waiting to be seated, paying a tip, and paying for the expensive meals, eating at someone's house leaves more social time in a more relaxed environment while saving money at the same time. Traditionally, the guy pays for the more expensive aspects of the prom and the girl pays for her dress and her date's boutonniere. To save a financial burden from plaguing your date, split the cost of the night or agree on some other division of costs. This may incite you to save a few dollars here and there with do-it-yourself projects and other creative money-saving techniques. Even though prom can be an expensive and extravagant event, it is what you make it, whether you spend $100 or $600. Don't worry if the budget is not followed to the dollar, but take your boyfriend's, girlfriend's, or parents' money into consideration when scheduling appointments and making decisions. Enjoy the special event and dance the night away! (Emily Wardle is a junior at Belle Vernon Area High School.)

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