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When It Comes to Proms, Poor Outspend the Wealthy

Prom couple getting into limousine
Jupiter Images | Photolibrary | Getty Images

Poor families pay more for their kids to go to prom, not just as a percentage of their income, but in absolute dollars, a new study finds.

Visa's annual Prom Spending Survey found that although overall spending on proms has fallen by $59 from last year and is the lowest it's been since 2011, the average family will still spend $919. Compared to last year, much more of that total is being shouldered by parents rather than the prom-goers themselves. In 2014, parents expected kids to pay 44 percent of their prom costs, but that's fallen to 27 percent this year.

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There are regional variations in spending around the country, with families in the top-spending Northeast shelling out an average of $1,169, with their counterparts in the more frugal Midwest spending an average of $733.

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But an even bigger discrepancy emerges when prom spending is compared to income — and it splits along unexpected lines. While more affluent families with annual incomes of $50,000 or more plan to spend an average of $799 on this year's prom, those with incomes between $25,000 and $50,000 expect to spend $1,109. Families with incomes under $25,000 will spend a staggering $1,393 — for those just under the income threshold, that's nearly 6 percent of their yearly income.