Frugal Prom Ideas

It’s spring, and Prom season is here. Is it possible to use the words “frugal” and “prom” in the same sentence? Well, according to my dear friend Jemelene, it is. She has a high school aged daughter, and while I was in town visiting last weekend, she gave me some great frugal prom tips. I’ve added a few of my own, and hopefully these ideas will make the prom special…and frugal…this year.

The Dress

As a former high school girl, I know that the prom is all about the dress. But formal dresses are so expensive. Fortunately, there are alternatives to paying full price.

Abby’s Closet – This is for all you local readers. Abby’s Closet provides free Prom gowns one weekend a year in Portland, Oregon. Unfortunately this year’s event has already passed, but if you have a high school aged daughter, you’re going to want to keep an eye on this site for next year.

If you don’t live near Portland, Oregon, check to see if anyone in your area offers a similar service. New charities are popping up all the time, and you never know what you might find.

Outlet and Discount Stores – TJ Maxx and Ross might have some great gowns for bargain prices. Also make sure you check the clearance section of your local department stores. And again, if you’re looking at going to the prom next year, make sure to scope out this year’s clearance dresses.

Second Hand Stores – Often times prom dresses are only worn once. Then many of them get consigned at second hand shops. These dresses are in like new condition, but you won’t be paying the price for brand new. If you start shopping early, you’re more likely to find something that you like in your size.


Jemelene got really creative with her daughter’s group of friends. Instead of going out to a fancy restaurant, they served all of the kids dinner in their house. What made it special was that one of the parents was a chef, and he cooked for the kids. Apparently the kids all though it was great. No lines, no expensive prices…just a relaxing time with good food.

Other cost cutting ideas:

Have an Early Dinner – By dining in the early hours, you might be able to score a lower price on your meal. Use the time between dinner and the prom to take a walk in the park.

Discounted Gift Certificates – Watch for special deals. Sometimes you can get a great gift certificate at a bargain price.

The Ride

Instead of renting a limousine, think about securing a classic car. Perhaps a friend of the family would offer to chauffeur. When I was in high school, my friends and I actually rented a classic car (complete with driver), and it was quite a bit less expensive than a limo.

Jemelene’s family hauled their daughter and her friends to the prom in the family minivan. She says the kids thought it was great!

After the Prom

Even a bigger consideration than frugality should be that your children are safe after the prom. Too many accidents and poor decisions are made on prom night once the dance is over.

Jemelene made sure her daughter’s friends were welcome back at their house to watch movies after the prom. The kids agreed to the idea and even invited Jemelene and her husband Russ to watch movies with them! It was an inexpensive activity, the kids enjoyed it, and the parents could relax, knowing the kids were home safely.

If your child and his/her friends aren’t into movies, brainstorm other fun activities they can do in the safety of your own home.

In the end, the prom is about teenagers having a good time and making great memories with their friends. As long as that is the focus, it won’t matter how much (or how little) money you spend. The memories will be priceless.

Do you have any money-saving prom ideas? I don’t have a teenager yet, so this is not my area of expertise! I’d love some ideas to file away for a later date, though!

Photo by divinemisscopa.


By , on Apr 14, 2009
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.


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  1. I love all these ideas! We too have a few proms to pay for this year. Our oldest has 2 proms within 2 weekends. We were able to rent 1 tux for price and a half. That saved us tons.
    Our daughter….found one dreamy dress after another…nothing under $300.
    I decided to go online and search the finer stores and just see.
    I found the most gorgeous designer gown on clearance and in her size. $58 for a $300 dress. Not only did it arrive and fulfill every dream she ever had of being “the dress”……it will be the only one at the prom like it. Sooooo beautiful!

    Great post.

  2. UPDATE: We just won an eBay auction for a brand new “Belle” dress and with shipping its $300 less than retail! Its only 3/4 of what we almost paid at a local department store for a far less quality dress. We didn’t sacrifice the fun of trying dresses on (its a girl thing). We had a great time today double checking sizes, styles and colors. We would have been happy to buy local if the prices had been reasonable but that was not the case. We now have money left in her budget to buy new shoes if she wants them.

    Now to plan the menu…

    • carrisa:

      I know it’s “fun” to go out shopping, but using a store for it’s resources (knowing that you are purchasing elsewhere) is wrong. I dont believe for a second that you would have purchased her dress in a retail store- no matter what the price, you would have still tried to “beat” it online.

      BTW, the salesclerks aren’t having a “great time” helping you check sizes, styles, and colors. They have bills to pay, and you using them as a personal dressing room is super tacky. Way to teach your kids the value of a dollar….you forgot the lesson about how that salesclerks TIME has value.

  3. Danielle:

    If your area has a local Miss Pageant, I’ll bet that they (pageant committee or titleholders) are going to have extra gowns on hand to loan or rent out for the evening!

  4. I wish I would have known about the Seattle option last month. We were there for Spring Break and would have loved to fit that in. We are now shopping on eBay for the dress since we were all too ill to travel to Portland for Abby’s closet this year. I must add, even with eBay we have a budget and DD is willing to pay half of the dress amount. This option leaves us with the ability to use the dress once and sell it to another lucky young lady, hopefully recouping some of the cost. We also hope the weather will allow us to set up an “outdoor dining room” this year for the event.

    I really enjoy the fact that prom has become a family activity for us.

    The two girls on the right wore donated dresses.

  5. The thrift stores all over my area have lots of beautiful dresses, not only bridal and bridesmaids, but prom and other formal gowns. It’s definitely worth taking a look, as the prices are far less expensive than new.

    My niece’s God-daughter needed a formal in a pinch, and they just didn’t have the money (her father was undergoing cancer treatments at the time), so my niece got out a bridesmaids dress in a classic style which she still had in her closet, and together they spent an evening altering it to fit her. She went to that prom in a gorgeous dress that barley cost a thing, and touched by the memories of a sweet God-mother who came to her rescue…it was rather like a cinderella story.

  6. For those in Oregon willing to drive to Seattle, and for those in Seattle, you should check out the Ruby Room. The Ruby Room is a Seattle non-profit that gives away donated prom gowns to high school students in financial need. They host boutique events every Saturday during prom season. For 2009, they are open every Saturday until the beginning of June. They have a boutique stocked with literally thousands of gowns in all sizes (even hard-to-find plus sizes), colors, and yes, current styles. Appointments are required so you can be paired with a personal shopper who will help you select your prom gown, jewelry, hand bag, wrap and shoes, all free of charge.

  7. Luke:

    Funny the difference a year makes. My junior year, I rented a limo, decked out in a rented tux, and my girlfriend’s parents shelled out a fortune for her dress.

    The next year we drove my grandfather’s car (a nice sedan), I wore a coat and tie, and she wore a bridesmaid dress her sister had recently worn in a wedding. We had college expenses to worry about (at least I did), and I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice of spending several paycheckes from my PT job on a single date!

  8. bob:

    I win the cheapy-cheap award. When I was in High school, I simply didn’t go to the prom. $0!

  9. marci:

    Let’s not forget sewing the dress, or borrowing from older friends, sisters, cousins… Bridesmaids dresses seem to work well for this event.

  10. I wrote about this a few months ago. Tuxedos are easy to find at thrift stores (cost about $5.00). My daughter just went to an India-inspired prom and borrowed a sari from a friend–cost for jewelry about $10.00. Had the sari not worked out, she knew she could easily find a dress for under $30.00 at Ross.

    Both my kids went to two proms each and the total for all was under $100.00. We even had an extra tux that we lent out to some lucky guy.

    Be creative!

  11. I had the opportunity to go to several proms as a teenager. My favorite was the year that we went out for pizza in our prom clothes. It was so goofy that it was fun. Then we went to the student union at the local university and walked around. The students really enjoyed seeing us.

  12. Kristen:

    Great post! It’s been about 15 years since I’ve been out of high school, and wow have things changed. For my senior prom, my friends all went to dinner early in the day at a Mexican restaurant instead of a fancy, expensive dinner. Then we went home and got ready. No one took a limo. My cousin did my hair and make up. Our prom was in the high school gym (actually my school still does this). After the prom ended, our school hosted an after-prom at the school. If we didn’t stay at the school, our parents made us come home. My mom did buy me a new dress, but it was nothing like girls today are wearing.

  13. Those are really great ideas. I really like the ones about having all the kids over to the house for dinner and then after the prom.

    You know where your kids are and what they’re doing. I’ll have to remember these for when my kids get to prom age.

  14. I paid $20 for my dress. It was on super-clearance at Von Maur. My friends and I ate at someone’s house and it was so nice!

    My little sister is a senior in high school this year. I’m trying to convince her to wear the bridesmaid’s dress she wore at my wedding. Gotta get that “second use” out of it! :)

  15. Tips for the dress: I borrowed a dress from a friend of mine for Homecoming.

    Also, to go along with your idea about shopping at second-hand stores…you could visit a bridal second-hand store and look through the bridesmaid’s dresses. Many of them could be appropriate for a prom, too.

  16. Two families got together and offered the pre-prom meal for 5 couples. They had the kids pay $5 each and made steaks and king crab legs. After the prom a local church has a breakfast. They use it as a ministry to keep kids from going where they shouldn’t while allowing them to stay out and have fun. They serve a big buffet of pancakes and bacon and eggs at midnight.

  17. With proms and weddings, frugality usually takes a holiday . . . thanks for showing that there are other ways of doing things.

  18. As soon as I saw this post, I smiled. When I was in high school, I was so frugal that I asked one of my friends if I could borrow her sister’s prom dress. It wasn’t that my parents couldn’t afford to buy my own, it was that I would have rather saved that money that we were going to spend on a prom dress. I think this may count as cheap!! :)

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