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Nearly Six Percent Inflation Where? At the Prom

Wednesday, 24 Apr 2013 | 2:21 PM ET
Nancy Moran | Workbook Stock | Getty Images

Remember when going to the prom meant buying a dress at a 5-7-9 store for, like, $80, picking up some heels at Nine West, and renting a tux with a loose collar at Men's Wearhouse? Throw in a corsage and tickets, and the whole thing set you back maybe $250.

For that you ended up with a photo, which would both horrify and humor you years later and memories which are probably better than reality was.

By the time my children were in high school, prom had expanded to include limos, hair, make-up, nails, and spray tans.

Meantime, the photos haven't gotten any better. Just more expensive.

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Visa said prom spending this year will average $1,139. That's up nearly six percent from 2012, and up a whopping 41 percent from 2011.

Gold may be down, Apple may be collapsing, gasoline prices are lower than they were a year ago, but prom costs a fortune.

When you break it down by region, the biggest spenders are in the Northeast ($1,528!!), while sensible Midwesterners spend the least ($722). In a surprise, the less a family makes, the more it spends on the prom.

Parents making less than $50,000 a year will spend on average $1,245, more than $100 above the national average. Parents who earn more than $50,000 will spend only $1,129. Maybe one reason the parents who spend less are making more is because they think things through...

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Here may be the most surprising finding of all: Single parents will spend on average $1,563, "almost double the amount that married parents plan to spend at $770."

Put. Down. The. Credit. Card. Think big picture. Yes, you can try to buy your teenager's love in the short term, but you're blowing money that could be better spent on college. Well, at least the savings difference will cover the cost of college books. Ok, maybe if they're online books.College is about the only thing outpacing prom in terms of inflation.

Visa has been releasing its prom forecast over the last few years, and this year it's throwing in a free app called "Plan'it Prom" to help parents and students budget (do you really need an app for that?). "Prom has devolved into a competition to crown the victor of high school society, but teens shouldn't be trying to keep up with the Kardashians," said Visa's head of US Financial Education Nat Sillin.

Sillin suggested cost-conscious parents and teens rent dresses instead of buy and have makeup done at a department store's cosmetics counter (sometimes for free!). It also points out that parents are paying most of the cost of prom—59 percent—leaving "little incentive for teens to cut costs."

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Kids, believe me, prom is not worth the cost of the monthly mortgage. It's an awkward rite of passage that can be really fun, but is usually...complicated. Go, have a good time, but don't spend like this is going to be the MOST IMPORTANT NIGHT OF YOUR LIFE. It's not (at least, I sure hope it's not).

Now don't get me started on the cost of weddings...

—By CNBC's Jane Wells; Follow her on Twitter: @janewells

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  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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