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Visa Study Shows High School Students Splurge For Prom

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — This spring, one major event appears to be recession proof: High school prom.

A new survey by Visa shows despite the sluggish economy, the cost of the high school rite of passage is skyrocketing. Visa says American families who have teenagers will spend an average of $1,078 each on the prom, a 33.6 percent boost over the $807 spent in 2011.

The company’s study broke down prom spending by region and found Midwestern teens spend the least in the country, an average of $696, while out east, families spend the most with an average of $1,944. Western families will spend more modestly with an average of $744, and southern families shell out quite a bit, an average of $1,047.

In Ham Lake, Suzan Liddell knows that hopes and dreams often hang on a single day. She opened her Hope Chest bridal and prom shop around 15 years ago and isn’t surprised to see costs rise over the years.

“Because weddings are being delayed so much by 10 to 15 years. It’s really the first and only big event where guys and gals dress up,” said Liddell, adding that Hollywood influence is also a big push behind the price, which is in part why she offers dresses with red carpet looks.

“That is what they are seeing in magazines and on TV and this is their chance to dress up and look like a movie star I guess,” said Liddell.

Megan Dahl, a Totino-Grace junior, will soon attend her first prom, an event that was supposed to be on a budget until she found that perfect dress.

“My mom was like we can’t go over this much but I convinced her. It’s so pretty and I don’t think we can find it anywhere else,” she said.

So, the $320 dollar price tag, an average cost at the store according to Liddell, turned out to be a memorable milestone for mom.

“She knows she is going to be paying us back someday,” said mother Bobbi Gunz. “We’ve had to kind of give a little to make her happy.”

Gunz and her daughter say they may hit the average $700 mark cited by Visa.

“The hair, the nails, tanning, if you want a party bus or a limo, dinner, the boy’s tux,” said Dahl.

“Buying shoes or a purse to match, they get flowers for the occasion, dinner, their prom tickets, I would say if they can do that for $700 they are doing really well,” said Liddell.

She tells parents and teens to set a budget before stepping into a store, and stick to it. The Visa survey, based on 1,000 telephone interviews, found that parents generally pay for around 60 percent of prom costs, while teens cover the remaining 40 percent.

“It’s a lot for one day but I would say it’s all going to be worth it,” said Dahl.

She also admits peer pressure is part of the financial commitment for a big day.

“It is almost like getting married,” said her mom, with a laugh. “You know with the dress and everything else, if she wants to elope, that will be okay.”

Visa says one troubling statistic is that parents surveyed who fell in the lowest income brackets (less than $50,000) plan to spend more than the national average of $1,307. Breaking down the spending by family income, the survey found that parents who make under $20,000 will spend an average of $1,200 and parents who make over $75,000 will spend an average of $842.

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