On Education: The price of a fun, safe prom night

If you are the parent of a current high school student, you will spend about $250,000 to raise that child to the age of 18, give or take a few thousand depending on family resources, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

With prom season imminent, it might be time to increase the budget.

The average American family will shell out $1,139 for the big dance in 2013, a 5% increase compared to last year, according to a survey released Wednesday by Visa Inc.

If that strikes you as an eye-popping sum, hopefully you don't live in New York or Connecticut. The American rite of passage is most expensive for families in the Northeast, who will spend an average of $1,528 on the event. Here in the Southwest, the bill is $1,079. By comparison, Midwestern families are making out like bandits — they will spend an average of $722.

Big-ticket items include the dress or tuxedo, shoes, accessories, flowers and a limousine, as well as tickets to the event itself. Add to the list Kardashian-inspired spray tans and it's a wonder that anyone can keep prom a three-figure deal.

The big spenders aren't always the obvious characters. Parents surveyed who fell within lowest income brackets planned to outspend their more affluent peers. And single parents budget nearly twice as much for prom expenses as married parents.

I never need a calendar to know when prom season has arrived in Glendale. My foothills neighborhood is awash with limousines ferrying students from Crescenta Valley, Clark Magnet, St. Francis and Sacred Heart high schools to the dance.

I attended a couple of proms with a serious degree of indifference, if not trepidation. I now know better to fault anything other than my measly budget. The dresses were borrowed, and the hairdos the work of a sister-in-law. Transportation probably involved a Volvo.

But after checking out a few of the shindigs planned for Glendale Unified's class of 2013, I am feeling like a redo is definitely in order. Surely, someone can use a responsible chaperon.

On May 25, Glendale High School students are scheduled to dance the night away at The Ebell of Los Angeles, a private, mid-city club elegant enough to host a high-end wedding. Tickets are $90.

In La Crescenta, forget about a curfew. The long-running Prom Plus party at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA is scheduled to conclude at 5 a.m. on May 19, about 12 hours after the first bobby pin is put into place. In addition to a food court and dancing, the event will feature a climbing wall and mechanical bull. Not too shabby.

Before you start researching financing options, know that parents are not expected to foot the entire bill. The Visa survey found that, on average, parents plan to pay for 59% of prom costs, with their children taking responsibility for the balance.

And really, can you put a price tag on a fun, safe prom night? You may never again have a chance to photograph your child wearing braces and a ball gown or tuxedo. Trust my mother, those pictures can be unearthed at the most opportune time at some future date to induce maximum laughter.

So loosen your grip on your wallet and smile. This is an American ritual for which stretching the budget is worth it.


MEGAN O'NEIL is a former education reporter for Times Community News and current graduate student at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. She may be reached at megan.oneil.06@gmail.com.

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