Who Should Pay for Prom?

young man and woman taking selfie at prom
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You've found a great prom date, but there's one thing you and your prom date should figure out before the limo picks you up: who should pay for prom? Don't assume it's always the guy. The prom rules have changed.

The History of Paying for the Prom

Traditionally, the guy would do the asking and then pay for the evening: the prom tickets, limo, dinner and pictures. His prom date would only pay for his boutonniere

In the 21st century, it's easy to conclude that this earlier practice of the guy paying for almost everything was chauvinist -- just another way for male hegemony to play out. This view isn't exactly wrong, but it's definitely an oversimplification that overlooks the totality of the situation.

For most of the 20th century, few jobs were available to female teenagers, So, for many families, it would create a hardship for the the girl to have to come up with half the cost of prom without being equally able to earn money.

The Etiquette of Paying for the Prom in the 21st Century

Today, things aren't as black and white. A girl can ask a guy to prom, and there are same-sex couples attending prom. So, probably one generalization we can make is that in this century who pays shouldn't arise from a consideration of gender. 

There are two current views about who should pay for the prom. One view is that modern prom date etiquette says that whoever does the asking should pay for the tickets. Then, the couple should decide together who pays for the other costs. The limo, pictures, and dinner could be split up between the two or covered by one person.

This is the view advocated by the 21st century version of Emily Post: whoever asks, pays the costs. "If they participate in a post-prom party, (the person invited) may offer to share the expenses or even pick them up, but the prom (dance) costs are (covered by whoever asked)."

The other view is that the costs of a contemporary prom, which can run a $1,000 or more, should always be split as it's too heavy a financial burden to be put on one person. 

The Bottom Line

Really, any of these dictums aren't as valuable as just using your common sense. Probably the first thing to consider is: are the two persons equally able to pay? If they are, then there's no particular reason why whoever is invited should assume that the cost is always on the inviter. That's a little insensitive, even rude.

If the richest kid in the school invites a person from a working-class family with few resources, then a general sense of what's best for everyone suggests that the person with greater means (and without making a big deal of it) should provide most of the prom funds. This should be done in a way that's low-key and not embarrassing.

For example, "Hey, look, what about if you get the prom tickets and I'll pick up the limo and the after-party?" Since the limo and afterparty costs are the big ones, this does what's needed. It assigns most of the cost to the person who can more easily pay without making the other person feel obligated or patronized.

Etiquette, after all, is just a formalization of doing things in a way that leaves everyone feeling good -- about themselves and the other person.

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