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With a little creativity and some research, $100 buys a pretty good prom

What would you do with $1,139? • Buy a plane ticket to a faraway country? A brand new MacBook? A fancy camera? • How about put it in your college fund? After the joy of college acceptances wears off, the harsh reality hits: College isn't cheap. Tuition, textbooks and room and board add up to some seriously staggering numbers, and $1,139 would go a long way toward a semester meal plan, or a few semesters' worth of textbooks. • Yet according to USA Today, $1,139 was the average amount American families spent on prom last year.

I made it my goal to spend about 10 times less than the national average on prom, for the sake of learning to pinch pennies before I become a poor college student myself. For under $100, I am determined to provide myself with a wonderful prom experience for a small fraction of the average cost.

Here are some suggestions to help you do the same. Remember that budgets can be flexible and the cost of prom differs from person to person and school to school. A bit of organization and creativity will all be worth it when you've got an extra $1,039 in your college fund.

Ticket: $40 at St. Petersburg High

This cost is clearly inevitable. Ticket prices vary according to school, so find out ahead of time and budget accordingly.

Dress: $0-$50

With a little luck and a lot of planning, you can score a great dress for nearly nothing. Programs such as Belle of the Ball offer free prom dresses for students with financial need, such as qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch. If you're not eligible for such programs, get creative. Borrow a dress. For junior prom, I was lucky enough to borrow the prom dress of my friend's sister, and it didn't cost me a dime. Willing to spend a little? Stores such as Lending Luxury (in Tampa and online) or Rent the Runway (online) allow you to rent a dress for the big night; Rent the Runway offers $25 off your first rental. A little digging on Craigslist can yield your ideal dress for a great price. The best way to get an affordable dress is to plan ahead and do your research!

Tip for next year: Shop off season (June-August) for a dress to score the best prices. Proms will be done, and stores slash prices in preparation for homecoming. You can find dresses for less than half the price when you shop off season.

Hair, nails, makeup: $0

This is where you can get innovative. Host a getting-ready party with your friends. Everyone brings their hairstyling tools, makeup and nail polishes to get ready before taking pictures. This way you'll skip the time and cost of the hair salon and enjoy the company of your friends.

Shoes: $0

Yet another freebie. This is an easy area to save. Simply use a pair of heels you already own or borrow a pair. No need to buy something you'll wear one night (and most likely take off to dance anyway).

Limo: $0

Skip it completely. Save the Earth as well as the money in your wallet. Carpool with friends to stay nearer to a $100 budget.

Dinner: $10-$20

Pick a spot that is affordable. Places like Chili's and Applebee's offer two meals for $20, ideal for dinner with a date. If you're willing to eliminate this cost altogether, organize a prom potluck. Guests bring their favorite food and dinner is served for no cost.

As you budget for prom, remember to be flexible, plan ahead and be creative. Even if you spend more than $100, you are learning how to manage money and stretch your dollar. And lessons like these will certainly come in handy during the college years.

With a little creativity and some research, $100 buys a pretty good prom 03/26/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 10:22am]
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