Hi Rene

Love the Good Enough Mother site and all your great advice!

Next year will be my daughter Sally’s graduation from High School and already all she and her friends can talk about is their upcoming prom!

I grew up in England where we didn’t have proms (except in American movies) so it’s a bit of a different world to me! But I realize how important the night will be for my daughter and want her to have a great time.

Here’s my concern. We live in a fairly affluent neighborhood and already some of the local moms are starting to make plans for the night – and it’s getting expensive. They’re talking costly prom dresses, photographers, limo rides, hairstylists and spa trips – and it already feels out of control.

I don’t want Sally to be the odd one out for the night or feel we’re trying to cheapen the event but I really don’t want to spend thousands of dollars on a one-night affair! My husband had to take a pay cut this year and money is tight – but as I say the prom means everything to her!

Advice please

Riley, South Carolina.

Hi Riley:

I know this is a bit uncomfortable for you and for Sally but this is truly what is called a teachable moment and it’s one that will stay with her for the rest of her life. This is about running your own race and not keeping up with the Jones’. Yes, I realize she is a teenage girl and these are big concepts but I do think with your help it can be done. On a practical level though, there are some things I think you can do to keep this prom from spiraling into a dance of debauchery. Here’s what I would suggest.

THE DRESS: If your daughter has a flair for the unique I think you could scout out some thrift stores or second hand shops for a vintage find. Some of those old dresses just need a bit of updating, like say a brooch or a belt. Accessorize with a great purse and a pair of pumps and not only does Sally get to walk in wearing something that no one else has, you also save a bit of money. I know at this age though kids are more likely to try to conform so she might not go for that. If that is the case, I suggest checking out some mid-level department stores for a frock. The great thing is that, unlike when I was in high school (and did NOT attend prom by the way), it’s not all long gowns; girls are wearing short, more cocktail looking dresses. JC Penney and Kohl’s have some great ones, some even  by big name designers.

THE INCIDENTALS: The photos, the limos, the spa trips, the hairstylist, oh come on now, is the prom or a pageant? Honestly I think it’s out of hand. If I were you, I’d tell Sally you’re going to put a cap on it. Explain what you just did to me, that money is tight and you cannot afford to do all the things her friends are doing. If she wants to go on all those things, tell her you will HELP pay but she will have to chip in. She can save her allowance money, pick up babysitting jobs, scoop up dog poop, I don’t care what it is.  I do think if she helps with the cost, all this will mean that much more to her.

On the hairstylists front, find a beauty school that can do a blow out and style for her the day of the prom. You’ll probably pay a fraction of what you would if you went to a salon.  (While you’re there, get a manicure and pedicure too). I know part of the fun of this is doing it as a group. Does Sally have a friend who would be willing to check out the beauty school with her? I’ll bet there’s at least another parent who would like to not go into the poorhouse for a dance.

The limo and photos, that’s probably going to be a group expenditure so you might not be able to save much in these areas but you can splurge there if you save a bundle on the blow-dry and the dress.

You have a job to do here as well and this is the big concept stuff I was talking about. At the end of your letter you mention that the prom means everything to her. I’m hoping this is an exaggeration because the prom, like high school itself, is but a moment in time. I never went to my prom, in fact, I can count on three fingers of one hand the number of dances I went to in high school. I was a nerd of the highest order. Plus as one of a handful of African Americans at my school (there wasn’t much interracial dating going on back then) I just didn’t get asked. And yet somehow I managed to get out of school, go to college, find a husband, have two great kids and a successful career. I can count on three fingers of one hand the number of times I even THOUGHT about the prom as an adult. I say this to say to you, you’ve got to give Sally some perspective. Tell her while it will be fun, it is not the be all and end all, nothing is. In fact, when you go into anything thinking like that you are bound to be disappointed. Seriously, I’d try to tamp down on some of that expectation.

It might also help is if Sally takes the focus off herself for a minute. While she’s busy planning the perfect prom, there are deserving girls around the country who cannot afford even a dress to go to their dances. There’s a wonderful organization called Donatemydress.org that collects prom dresses and then gives them to those girls. Wouldn’t it be great if Sally and her friends somehow found a way to help that group or a similar one? You would be planting the seeds of altruism as well as talking the focus off Sally’s spending. Check it out.

One more thing. I know as a good mom, you want this to be extra special for Sally but I do think you need to guard against a bit of competitive parenting that might be creeping in. In other words, make sure the prom and the dress and the limo and the photos are for and about Sally. You don’t need to worry about what the neighbors will say about your family if you don’t have the most expensive dress or the best shoes and it very definitely is not a reflection on your parenting.

Good luck mommy!

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