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Jewish World Review May 19, 2002 /8 Sivan, 5762

Tom Purcell

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Consumer Reports

Advice for prom goers this year: Hold onto your money | Proms sure have gotten expensive these days.

According to a report from, high school kids are spending nearly $3 billion annually for dresses, accessories, flowers, beauty products, limos and other prom-related items. It's not unlikely for the average couple to spend upwards of $1,000.00 for the one-time event.

And that got me thinking about my own prom experience back in 1980.

Unlike most kids then, I had some dough. I was running a retaining-wall repair business and making a pile of money in the process. I wanted to spend big money on the big night, but am grateful I didn't spend too much.

You see, I didn't know my date very well. She was pretty and, more importantly, available. We arranged a pre-prom meeting to get to know each other. We played tennis on a blistering-hot day, then headed back to her house for something cold to drink. She berated her sister for drinking all the Tang, then turned her turret on me.

She'd heard about me, she said: a regular class clown. She warned me not to do anything elaborate. I better not show up in a limo, wear a top hat or cane or do anything else to embarrass her. I knew right away things were going to work out fine.

Still, I wanted to impress her. I bought her the finest corsage in our high school (it was $45.00, a lot of dough in those days). I also bought a box of frozen steaks, and snacks and other refreshments for the after-prom party. But my investment turned out to be a bad one.

On the day of the prom, my friend Gigs and I - we double dated - took a drive to the downtown Pittsburgh Hilton to make sure we didn't get lost later. Around 8 p.m. we picked up our girls for photos and false enthusiasm. We were late for dinner (we got lost) and the awful night was under way.

I'm certain my date didn't spend hundreds of dollars on her dress like girls do now, though I remember she looked great. The truth is, I can't remember what she was wearing because I hardly saw her all night long. She and the girl Gigs came with spent most of the night in the ladies room, while Gigs and I counted how many times the hard-rock band played "Cocaine "(9 times).

Finally, around 11:30, the dance was over. Unlike teens these days, we didn't retire to the honeymoon suite. We took the girls home. But our suffering wasn't over yet.

We picked our dates up again the next morning and drove to a country cabin where my friend Cook was having an after-prom party. The cabin was a two-hour drive, but it took us five (we got lost). My date didn't utter a word until about 2 p.m., when she challenged Gigs and me to a tennis match. I took it as a good sign. It wasn't.

You see, Gigs is an outstanding athlete and I'm no slouch myself. Once the game got under way, our testosterone got inflamed. After every point we scored, Gigs and I high-fived each other, laughing loudly. We creamed the girls, and after the match they refused to talk to us.

Gigs and I spent the rest of the day tossing a football and eating the steaks I brought. Around dusk, the girls found us and told us it was time to leave. We got home five hours later (we got lost) and the tortuous affair was finally over.

So I have some advice for prom goers this year: hold onto your money. Don't be the unwitting dupes of savvy marketers who want you to buy their unnecessary prom items. They know that kids your age have big allowances and overworked, guilt-riddled parents who will cough up the dough if you ask them.

They know they can exploit your insecurity and your peer pressure, common to all teens. Through ads on MTV, they know they can convince you that you need teeth whitener, expensive cosmetics, high-priced haircuts, clothing that costs a fortune and a myriad of other unnecessary items.

But don't give in. Look, both the recession and the events of September 11th have caused many Americans to get back to the basics, back to what really matters. The greed and excesses of the '90's are over. Thus, it isn't fashionable, or shouldn't be, for you high school kids to blow your dough on unnecessary prom junk.

Save your money, and be content that you're about to experience one of the worst nights of your life.

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05/10/02: Don't take her for granted
05/03/02: Letter to the parents of a tubby teen
04/26/02: Zacarias Moussaoui gets expert legal advice

© 2002, Tom Purcell