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Why prom culture costs so much more in the U.S.

Why prom culture costs so much more in the U.S.

With this year’s high-school grads partying across the country, it seems that Canadians are showing a little more financial restraint on the rite of passage than their American peers.

Canadian households with teenagers plan on spending an average of $508 on prom this year (down from $804 last year), while Americans intend on shelling out more than double that—about $1,130, according to a recent survey by Visa Canada.

American dads are the biggest spenders, planning on forking over $1,426; American moms plan to spend $873.

Then there is the splurging on “promposals” – a public prom invitation modelled on a marriage proposal. Thirty-five per cent of Canadian families with teens reported no plans to spend any money on a promposal, with the remaining 65 per cent planning to spend an average of $151. In the United States, however, households with teens plan to close to $400 on a promposal.

So what’s with our neighbours’ extravagance? And why are Canadians holding the purse strings a little tighter this year?

It’s all pure speculation, but analysts suggest that several reasons could explain Americans’ willingness to go big or go home this prom season.

“When you look at the way other holidays are celebrated in the States, like Halloween or July 4, they tend to be bigger than in Canada,” says Kyle B. Murray, professor of marketing and director of the School of Retailing at the University of Alberta’s Alberta School of Business. “They’re more commercial too, and I think you could say that about Christmas and Easter. Canadians are more likely to celebrate in smaller family gatherings.”

Another contributing factor could be the fact that Canadian university students tend to stay close to home, while it’s more common for U.S. teens to leave home for college.

“After grade 12 in the U.S., as a rule you leave home whereas in Canada it’s the opposite,” Murray says. “The vast majority of students in university and college come from the surrounding areas. At UBC, most students are from Vancouver. In Edmonton and Calgary, people tend to go to U of A or U of C. There are exceptions but mostly Canadians stay home or close to home. So prom is a bigger deal from that perspective: because students are leaving, they may never see those people [high-school friends] again. That might make it a bigger deal and a bit bigger party.”

The promposal is a phenomenon in itself, one that, so far at least, seems to be more established in the U.S., says Carla Hindman, Visa Canada’s director of financial education.

“I saw a promposal coming out of an airport [in the U.S.],” Hindman says. “There saw a gaggle of students, a giant banner, someone playing a flute, flowers, and Champagne--all simply to invite someone to prom, and that’s sort of on the low end of the scale. There are very elaborate promposals taking place in the States and crazy exploits teens are taking on to invite people to prom. Prom culture seems to be more amped up in the States than in Canada.”

The survey also found that Canadian parents are shifting the costs to their kids slightly more this year, shelling out for 76 per cent of their children’s prom costs, compared to 81 per cent last year.

With Canadians spending less on prom this season than last, it appears we’re a little more cautious than our American counterparts, with good reason: with tuition fees rising across the country, there’s a need to be thrifty.

“When the costs get up to close to $1,000 or prom, it might because people take a bit of a pause and ask: Is this the best way to spend money, particularly for a high-school student who may have post-secondary school right around the corner?” Hindman says. “It’s great to see that people are spending a little less this year because…there are lots of great ways to have a great prom without breaking the bank.”