While Lee picks up the tab for the prom, dinner and limo, his date is likely to shell out an equal amount for her dress, hair and makeup. That makes the couple's senior prom roughly a $1,000 evening.
Lee says he's tried to cut costs at proms and other formal and semiformal events. The problem, he says, is that the girls call the shots: where to eat, what limo to rent, where to go afterward. "Our dates, who don't have the burden of paying for it, usually make the bulk of the decisions."
The girls don't exactly dictate, he adds, but "their opinions weigh heavily on what we decide to do."
Still, there are ways to cut costs, especially if you plan ahead, shop for deals, and, well, scrimp a little. A few tips:
Plan ahead: The typical prom dress costs about $300, says Kathy Stepp, a financial planner and mother of three from Overland Park, Kan. But if you start shopping early and look for sales, you can cut that cost by at least half.
"If you know that a prom is in your future, you can be looking all year for a dress that's on sale," she says. "Also, with online shopping, you can find more bargains because you are not limited to what's in the local store."
Many prom dress sites sell designer gowns at retail prices, but there are a few that provide real bargains. For instance, www.designerapparel.com. picks up unsold inventory from the likes of Nordstrom and Bloomingdale's and sells it for significantly less.
A gown that originally cost $299 at Bloomingdale's, for instance, was recently listed on the site for $88.99. A knee-length gown that sold for $148 at Barrie Place was listed at $99. Target also sells designer formals online, retailing Isaac Mizrahi gowns for $40 to $150.
Just keep this in mind: If you buy online, allow extra time to accommodate shipping and a potential return if the gown doesn't fit. And the same goes for shoes.
You also can save on your limo costs. If you book at least a month before the prom, you can probably save 10% to 20% over what you would pay if you booked the week before the big dance, says James Martin, a sales manager for ULC Limos in Irvine.
That's because limos are partly priced on a system of supply and demand. When bookings are light, limo firms charge less; when they start to run low on cars, they begin boosting their rates, he says.
Look for group deals: As anyone who has been a groomsman knows, tuxedo shops typically provide discounts of 5% to 30% for those renting in a group. Prom-goers can take advantage of this by getting a few friends together and asking for the group rate.
The more the merrier. Ten boys will get a better deal than two or three.
For those guys who are fully grown -- and find themselves fielding multiple requests to be a prom date or escort for other formal dances -- buying a tuxedo may be the better option.
Matt Black, sales manager for Men's USA, a discount clothier based in West Los Angeles, says he'd rent a nice wool tux for $125. He'd sell the same tux -- new -- for about $150. And if kids came in to buy in a group, he'd provide a group discount that would make the cost of buying every bit as inexpensive as renting, he says. (Polyester tuxes can be purchased for as little as $80, he added.)
But, what if you grow? At 17 or 18, most boys are typically slim but close to their full height, Black says. However, if you think you're going to grow in either height or girth, you can buy a touch large and have the tux tailored to fit. Tell the tailor to leave the extra material alone, so you can let it out later. Tailoring might cost $25 to $50 -- still considerably less than renting again.
Bigger is sometimes better: When it comes to limousine rentals, it pays to travel in a pack.
At ULC Limos, a limousine with seating for two costs $40 to $45 an hour; a limo with seating for 10 costs about $55 per hour. That's the difference between paying $20 per person per hour and paying $5.50 per person per hour.