If you have a teenager nearing prom age, hopefully you've got good credit. Between dresses, flowers, limo rides, and hairdos, the average family with a teenager is expected to plunk down a whopping $1,078 on prom this year, up from $807 last year, according to a new Visa survey spotted by USA Today. "This is social-arms-race spending," says the head of Visa's financial education programs. "It's extreme."
That arms race is being fueled by social media, the glut of celebrity fashion news, and teen-focused reality TV. Teens see prom as a "red-carpet" moment and "want to dress to impress," says the advertising director for Seventeen Prom and Teen Prom. Parents, particularly affluent parents, are eager to oblige, and "use their kids to proclaim their stature to other parents," one marketing psychologist says. The trend toward marrying later in life is helping too, making prom the preeminent young adult formal occasion.