Money School

Try-It-Out Tuesday: Creative Ways to Save on Prom Season

Posted by Maggie McGrath

On Friday, we told you about the expected cost of prom season this year — according to Visa, $1,139 per family, lest you’ve forgotten — as well as some timely deals that can help you save on some of the big-ticket items: the tux, the dress, the pre-dance meal. However, saying yes to the (prom) dress doesn’t mean the spending stops there. In fact, it’s often just the beginning.

While Visa didn’t ask families what they planned to spend on “incidentals” like makeup, hair styling, flowers and a fancy limo, these smaller items can quickly add up. Here are some savings strategies to keep the costs in check:

CFlowers: Nic Faitos, owner of Starbright Floral Design in New York City, says that roses and orchids are the two most popular types of prom flowers (whether for a boutonniere for the guys or corsage for the girls). However, he noted that not all orchids are created equal: there are over 1,500 types of orchids grown commercially in the U.S, and of those 1,500, he considers the phalaenopsis orchid to be the most delicate and exquisite. As such, including it in a boutonniere or corsage will set you back more than if you were to go with a dendrobium orchid — which just as beautiful, but more commonly grown and therefore more cost effective. If you’re looking to keep flower costs to a minimum, know which type of orchid you’re getting. It could mean the difference between a $20 corsage and $40 corsage.

Faitos’ other word of caution? Keep it simple. “Adding bling adds to cost of corsage — not just cost of what you want to add, but also the intricacy of labor,” he said, citing add-ons like crystals, rhinestones and other items that bring extra sparkle to prom flowers. “A floral designer who makes corsages has the skill set of a jeweler; it’s detailed work that takes a long time. Because you’re adding an item to the live product, it adds to the cost.”

Hair and Makeup: The cost of getting your hair and makeup styled like your favorite celebrity will range depending on what you’re getting done and where you live, but according to PromGirl.com, can set you back by as much as $275. If the thought of leaving your tresses in the hands of your YouTube-guided sister makes you quiver but the thought of paying nearly $300 makes you queasy, consider a semi-pro: a beauty school student. The Aveda Institute has locations all over the country, and while prices do vary according to location, an updo at the Jean Madeline Aveda Institute in Philadelphia is just $25.

With enough planning, you can also get a professional makeup application done for free. Clinique, Smashbox and Bobbi Brown all offer a free makeup application at their cosmetics counters; call the one in your area to secure an appointment, free of charge. Note that tipping is not allowed and no purchase is required. (You may feel like you’re supposed to buy something but the companies say you do not have to!)

The Limo. Ann Hoey, CEO of Limos.com, says that the trend in prom transportation is favoring larger vehicles, like stretch SUVs and party buses. And while these do allow for “tricked out” features like flat-screen TVs and neon lights (not to mention hot tubs), these larger vehicles prove to be more cost effective than a traditional stretch limo or even car service sedan. “The stretch SUV, you’re paying anywhere from $125 to $200 per hour,” she said, noting that these vehicles can accommodate 10 to 14 people, compared to a capacity of 18 to 20 people in a bus. “A party bus will run you $150 to $250 per hour, but the price per person is a little bit less.”

While it can be difficult to wrangle 18 to 20 teenagers and get them to decide on one thing, Hoey says that like any big purchase, the key to booking a stretch SUV or party bus is to be decisive. “Be very clear and not wishy washy,” she said. “Do you want an iPod station, do you want a TV? Have a clear understanding of what you want ahead of time so that when it comes time to purchase you’re locking up the right thing.”