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Believe it or not, there are ways to cut costs on prom night

David Lee, 18, figures he’ll spend $400 to $450 to participate in an annual rite of spring — the senior prom. And he’s only half of the equation.

While Lee picks up the tab for the prom, dinner and limo, his date is likely to shell out an equal amount for her dress, hair and makeup. That makes the couple’s senior prom roughly a $1,000 evening.

Lee says he has tried to cut costs at proms and other formal and semiformal events. The problem, he says, is that the girls call the shots: where to eat, what limo to rent, where to go afterward. "Our dates, who don’t have the burden of paying for it, usually make the bulk of the decisions."

The girls don’t exactly dictate, he adds, but "their opinions weigh heavily on what we decide to do."

Still, there are ways to cut costs, especially if you plan ahead, shop for deals, and, well, scrimp a little. A few tips:

Plan ahead

The typical prom dress costs about $300, says Kathy Stepp, a financial planner and mother of three from Overland Park, Kan. But if you start shopping early and look for sales, you can cut that cost by at least half.

"If you know that a prom is in your future, you can be looking all year for a dress that’s on sale," she says. "Also, with online shopping, you can find more bargains because you are not limited to what’s in the local store."

Many prom-dress sites sell designer gowns at retail prices, but there are a few that provide real bargains. For instance, www.designerapparel .com picks up unsold inventory from the likes of Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s and sells it for significantly less.

Just keep this in mind: If you buy online, allow extra time to accommodate shipping and a potential return if the gown doesn’t fit. And the same goes for shoes.

You also can save on your limo costs. If you book at least a month before the prom, you can probably save 10 percent to 20 percent over what you would pay if you booked the week before the big dance, says James Martin, a sales manager for ULC Limos in Irvine, Calif.

Seek out group deals

As anyone who has been a groomsman knows, tuxedo shops typically provide discounts of 5 percent to 30 percent for those renting in a group. Promgoers can take advantage of this by getting a few friends together and asking for the group rate.

For those guys who are fully grown — and find themselves fielding multiple requests — buying a tuxedo may be the better option.

Matt Black, sales manager for Men’s USA, a discount clothier based in West Los Angeles, says he’d rent a nice wool tux for $125. He’d sell the same tux — new — for about $150.

Bigger is cheaper

When it comes to limousine rentals, it pays to travel in a pack.

At ULC Limos, a limousine with seating for two costs $40 to $45 an hour; a limo with seating for 10 costs about $55 an hour.

And the deals get better when the group gets larger. A Ford Excursion limo seating 20 costs $85 an hour, or $4.25 a person. A luxury charter bus, which seats as many as 67, costs $100 an hour, or a mere $1.50 a person.

It’s worth noting, however, that limo companies charge premium prices for high-demand times, such as Saturday nights in late April and May.


Can’t afford a limo at all? That was the case for about half of Eric Toya’s friends when he attended Torrance (Calif.) High School some years ago, he says. Toya, now an investment manager in Redondo Beach, Calif., says the way they made their rides was to find an accommodating parent or relative with a cool car that they’re willing to lend.

Sure, it’s no limo, but your uncle’s Mercedes is a far cry from your ’67 wagon.

Girls can also swap dresses, Stepp says. Ask around among your recently graduated friends.

Dine at Chez Mom

Some proms include dinner, but when they don’t, getting a meal at an elegant restaurant is expensive and hard to schedule, Stepp says.

However, a date with a good imagination can turn a casual setting into a romantic one by simply planning ahead. In some cases, parents can work together to put on a formal meal.

In other cases, you can work with a restaurant staff to turn a casual setting romantic. One friend of Stepp’s daughter, for instance, talked a local family restaurant into letting him move a table to a more secluded spot and decorate it himself. The result was both romantic and inexpensive.