Planning the perfect prom has replaced fun with stress to find the right dress, rent limos and hotel rooms and eat an expensive dinner. Add to that corsages and boutonnieres, hair and makeup, renting a tuxedo and, for some perfectionists, tanning, manicures and pedicures.
"In your head it's a fairy tale and afterward it's, 'I spent how much?'" said Jessi Walton, a Mountlake Terrace teacher and co-adviser for the Class of 2012.
"Society tells you prom is the pinnacle of your high school career," Walton said. "The reality is it's a dance with kids you've known your entire life. It's not special enough to spend a lot of money."
Erika Spellman, a Mountlake Terrace staffer and co-adviser of the Class of 2012 and prom, was appalled when she heard on the news that today's teens sometimes spend more than $1,000 for prom night.
An April 13 "USA Today" article reported the average prom price tag is $1,078, up from $807 last year, based on survey results collected by Visa.
Mountlake Terrace's prom organizers, who also include eight seniors, are striving to make prom memorable and inclusive. This year's prom is June 2 at the Seattle Aquarium.
Teen organizers agree that time spent with friends and having fun are what make prom special -- and those goals don't require dipping deeply into one's wallet or purse.
"We've been planning for so long, I want people to have fun and talk about it," said Mikaela Michalsen, 18, a student organizer.
"It's one of the last times you'll be together," said Molly Martin, 18, another prom committee member.
The senior class, which organizes prom at Mountlake Terrace High, has put on a handful of fundraisers during the past four years to help meet its goal of bringing the price of tickets to a tangible $25 per student. With less than two months to go until prom, organizers had almost met their goal.
"We don't want prom to be exclusive," Walton said.
Students are aware of the economy and most have spent their entire high school years in the recession, Spellman added. "A lot more kids are aware and are cautious of what to spend," she said.
Martin said students, mainly girls, feel financial pressure at prom. "My friend didn't go last year because she felt she couldn't measure up," she said.
But there are ways to make prom affordable and memorable at the same time.
Michalsen is selling her prom dress from last year to offset the cost of purchasing one this year.
Other teens are gathering to eat at a friend's house or opting to dine at cheaper venues with a less stuffy vibe, such as Red Robin and The Old Spaghetti Factory. The Hard Rock Café in Seattle offered Michalsen's group at last year's prom a special menu with cheaper prices.
Today's prom dresses are less extravagant and Cinderella-like, making them less expensive and more likely teens will be able to wear them again. Cynderellie's Closet in Edmonds is a less costly option too, prom organizers said.
For those who get to attend theirs and another school's, it's acceptable to wear the same dress and laughable to buy two, Michalsen said.
Prom on the cheap
Save money for prom without scrimping on memories:
Ask your parents to play chauffeur
Enlist friends to do hair and makeup
Dine at casual but fun venues like Dick's Burgers, Hard Rock Cafe, The Old Spaghetti Factory and Red Robin
Scroll through websites like Amazon.com for deals on dresses
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