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The other day while scrolling on Facebook, I landed on a dress for sale in my local moms group. It was a gorgeous strapless number in shades of blue that only rivaled the ocean on a summer day. “Prom gown for sale! Only worn once for a few hours. Significantly off retail.”

The price: $500.

I gulped. That was more money than I spent on my off-the-rack wedding dress.

In a few years, I will have three daughters who may want to go to their high school prom. It was time for some intelligence gathering.

I texted a few moms with kids older than mine to see what they spent on the total prom experience, and friends, my recommendation is to start saving up now.

I didn’t get anyone to give me a specific budgetary amount (and I had to sign a blood oath not to share the cost with their husbands), but best guesses were parents spend between $600-$700 for girls. This cost covered items like hair, makeup, nails, dress, matching purse, jewelry, shoes, flowers, dinner, limousine, and the after-prom event. Boys were not that far behind.

According to a 2017 Yahoo Lifestyle survey, that is spot on. The average parent of a teenager is spending nearly $700 for their child to go to prom. That means there are a lot of families spending more on expenses such as professional photographers, custom-made apparel, special transportation, etc.

The worst part? The families whose annual incomes are the least spend the most.

One of my BFFs recommended I may need a second mortgage if all three of my girls attend in the same year.

So, I had to ask: “Do you think we’re going overboard just a wee bit?”

My friend responded: “Oh, totally. But it’s hard not to. That’s just what people do now.”

It’s hard for me to wrap my head around this concept. I went to my high school prom all four years and borrowed a dress from a friend every time but one. My mom bought me a new pair of shoes, but we had a budget. I wore the same jewelry, and my friends and I helped each other with our hair and make up.

And we rocked it—spiral perm, big bangs and all.

It’s not that I don’t think my kids are worth it. I mean, prom is a rite of passage for teens.

But how did we get here? When did prom become more like a red-carpet event than a school dance?

The cost isn’t even the worst part.

While girls frantically search for the perfect gown in true Say Yes to the Dress fashion, they have an added worry of ensuring they do not purchase a dress that anyone else has. If two attendees appear in the same attire, that can lead to a “Who Wore It Best” evaluation on social media.

To prevent this from occurring, some retailers create registries regarding which dresses are sold to students at specific high schools, so there are no mix-ups. Just to make sure, however, many teens even form Facebook groups where each girl in a class  posts their “look” to ensure there is no fashion faux pas.

I’m told this is important stuff, because fights can break out if a girl who didn’t participate in the registry shows up in too similar of a dress to another student.

I am not making this up.

This all leads to dress shopping up to six months in advance.

I am exhausted just thinking about it.

All this craziness doesn’t even touch upon the obscene new tradition of promposals, the over-the-top invitations that are now standard and averaging a few hundred dollars a pop. These include flash mobs, custom-made fortune cookies, and carriage rentals, just to offer a few examples.

I would never survive in today’s prom world. My Junior year I bought my dress on sale the weekend before the event and never thought twice about wearing the same one as anyone else. My date was on the shorter side, so we picked up a pair of flats from Payless, who dyed them the same shade of purple as my sequined number. Because we all went as friends, we ordered pizza and hung out in someone’s basement.

And we had the best time.

I think kids today would be disappointed in our prom planning.

So, what’s a mom of three girls to do besides selling a kidney on the black market?

I hope I can find a happy medium with my kids.

I hope they know that no matter what we spend on their big night, it doesn’t guarantee a good time. Their choice of who they spend the prom with is infinitely more important than the selection of their shoes.

I hope they remember that regardless of how much their date invests, they don’t need to fulfill any romantic obligations. Prom is not a transactional arrangement.

I hope they understand that confidence enhances any dress, and kindness shines brighter than any diamond.

And I hope they realize their life won’t change a bit because of prom.

But most of all, I hope I am a brave enough parent not to get caught up in the hype myself.

I hope they know that no matter what we spend on their big night, it doesn’t guarantee a good time. Their choice of who they spend the prom with is infinitely more important than the selection of their shoes.

Whitney Fleming

Whitney is a mom of three teen daughters, a freelance writer, and co-partner of the site parentingteensandtweens.com You can find her on Facebook at WhitneyFlemingWrites.

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