Poor Spend More on Proms than the Rich

VISA Survey Looks Into Prom Spending Habits

Poor Spend More on Proms than the Rich
May 4, 2017

Prom is your child's special night, and while you are watching your budget, you are still willing to spend big bucks to make it so. At least that is the conclusion of Visa's annual survey on the expected costs of high school proms. The average spending per prom attendee is expected to be $919, down from 2014's value of $978 but still a significant hit to the family budget.

The survey also found that prom takes an even more disproportionate bite out of the budget of lower-income families. Families above the $50,000 income level are expected to spend an average of $799, while those with incomes below $50,000 expect to spend an average of $1,109. The effect is even more pronounced on poorer households, with families earning less than $25,000 expecting to spend an average of $1,393 on prom night. At $25,000, a $1,393 prom bill is more than 5.5% of the families' overall income for the year!

There are no assumptions made in the survey as to why poorer families spend more on proms than wealthier families, but on one level, it makes some degree of sense — it may be a larger event in the lives of teens from poorer families. Prom may be their only opportunity to have a special memory-making night, while teens from wealthier families may have other chances.

Visa's survey also picked up a few other interesting trends with prom spending.

  • "Promposals" – Increasingly elaborate methods of asking a date to prom, called "promposals" in the Visa survey, are taking up a large component of the prom-related costs. Of the $919 average cost of the prom, almost 35% of that cost ($324) is spent on the promposal. They are beginning to rival marriage proposals in their forethought and creativity.

  • Geography – Not that it is a huge surprise, but prom costs are higher in the Northeast and lower in the Midwest. Families in the Northeast are expected to spend an average of $1,169 on prom, with $431 on the promposal and $738 on the night of the prom. Midwesterners, who appear to be the most frugal Americans, are expected to spend an average of $733, with $218 on the promposal and $515 on the night of the prom.

    Western and Southern families fell in-between, with Western families expected to spend $937 ($342 promposal, $596 prom night) and Southern families expected to spend $859 ($305 promposal, $544 prom night).

    However, the frugality prize goes to our Northern neighbors. Canadians intend to spend only $402 (US) on the prom experience, with $119 on promposal and $283 on prom night.

  • Moms vs. Dads – Dads are more willing to spend on prom than moms, according to the survey. Dads are expected to spend an average of $1,160; moms are expected to spend $710.

  • Parental Costs – Whether it is Dad, Mom, or both footing the bill, parents are paying a larger share of the prom bill compared to 2014. Last year, parents were planning to cover 56% of the prom costs, but in 2015, parents are expected to end up with 73% of the costs. Canadian parents are spending an even greater percentage (76% of costs), but that represents a drop from 81% in 2014.

What can we conclude from the survey? While there are interesting variations with respect to geography and economics, one thing remains a constant — prom night is considered a special night by most teens and their families, and they are determined to keep it special regardless of costs.

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