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Prepping for Prom on a Budget

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Prom is supposed to be a night for creating lasting memories, not a lasting dent in your wallet. Last year families with teenagers spent nearly $1,000 on that magical night, according to a survey by Visa, Inc. But savvy parents can send their teens to prom in style for a whole lot less.

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While your budget should not be hard and fast at the outset, you certainly know what you can afford. The bulk of the budget will go toward the dress or tux, but remember to factor in tickets, accessories, transportation, and dinner. Setting up a budget will help you decide where to save and where to splurge based on your teen's priorities. The prom-goer may balk at cutting too many corners, in which case he or she should find some way to contribute to the cause (extra babysitting, lawn mowing, tutoring, etc).

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There are many alternatives to the standard go-to spots for a prom dress. First, have your daughter shop the closets of older cousins and friends who attend other schools. You never know -- she might fall in love with someone else's dress. Scour thrift stores in affluent areas to see if you can score a designer piece or one that is charmingly "vintage." And renting isn't just for tuxedos anymore. Ladies can borrow designer duds (for a fee, of course) through the online service Rent the Runway. If you do hit the mall in search of a cheap prom dress, try "fast fashion" retailers such as Forever 21 and H&M, which promise on-trend looks at big savings. And remember to check department store sales, just in case. But if your teen is set on thered carpet treatment, sites such as Hautelook offer huge discounts on designer fashion.

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Before shopping for earrings, necklaces, and bracelets, encourage your daughter to go through her jewelry box and yours. Offering her a nice piece to wear may help make the night more special. If she has her heart set on something new or decides nothing works with her dress, thrift shops and the mall stores mentioned earlier peddle accessories as well as clothing. But be discriminating: Pass over jewelry that appears cheap and plasticky in favor of items with more weight and a higher-end look. Rent the Runway also is a good place to look for jewelry that can be gotten for a song and sent back the next day.

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If your daughter already owns a pair of glittery shoes, press them into service. Strappy platform shoes with stiletto heels can cost a fortune and she won't be able to dance in them. But if practicality bows to style, hit the bargain shoe outlets and join sites such as ShoeDazzle that carry footwear that's perfectly trendy and perfectly cheap.

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A visit to a salon seems to have become a necessary component of prom preparation. But is it really worth the price? Contact a local cosmetology school and set up an appointment with a student who can do up prom hair and/or makeup for little to no cost. Throw a pre-prom bash at home and have a group of friends do each other's hair and make-up. And make-up counters in department stores do free makeovers, so take advantage.

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Before your son goes for a tux fitting, call around to see how much the ensemble will cost. And don't be afraid to ask for discounts; organize a group of friends and rent in bulk from the same store so you can negotiate a cheaper rate. Make sure the tux includes all the essentials -- a shirt and cufflinks, vest or cummerbund, shoes, and tie -- to prevent high-priced, last-minute outlays. Stop in a few consignment stores, as well; you might be surprised at the selection.

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A homemade boutonniere or corsage can help you stay within the prom budget and doesn't take much time. DIY flowers require only a few blooms from the grocery store or your garden and a stop at a craft store or the dollar store for a roll of flower tape, perhaps some ribbon, and pins if you don't have any. Some online tutorials for DIY prom flowers call for wire, as well, but a video at Martha Stewart Weddings says this is unnecessary.

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Even if you split the bill among a group, limousines cost a pretty penny. Look into party buses, which can hold more people and potentially bring down the per person price. Again, don't hesitate to negotiate for a cheap prom rate. You may also have a friend or relative with a nice ride who would be willing to lend it to a responsible teen.

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Suggest that your teen's group gather at someone's house for a fancy meal rather than shelling out for a fine-dining establishment. Ask each parent to make a special dish, serve soda in wine glasses, and maybe even ask younger siblings to serve as the waitstaff. Prom-goers might also find it more fun and memorable to eat at a favorite neighborhood diner or some other casual place in all their finery. If the group decides to head for a nice restaurant, suggest they order multiple appetizers and share them tapas-style instead of choosing individual main courses.

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You, the parents, as well as your teen, will want many photos to remember this special night. Everyone will be taking tons of candid shots with their phones anyway, so a professional prom photo is not necessary. If all the parties involved want a posed picture, have a creative friend or relative do the shoot. Make it more special by printing the pictures and sharing with your teen's date and family; digital prints are much cheaper than relying on a professional. You also can do some fancy editing before printing and posting on Instagram.