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You Spent HOW Much on Your Kid's Prom?

Former prom-goers, one and all, raise your hand if you still remember the color of your corsage. Your ride to and from the prom—town car or limo? Parent’s sedan? Make and color? The height of your heels? The titles of even three of the songs you danced to that evening, and whether you kissed anyone on the dance floor?

Stumped? Me too, which is why I was stunned by this number: $1,139. That’s how much the average American family will spend for their teen to go to the prom this year, according to Visa Inc.’s annual survey.

But don’t worry! Visa has all kinds of tips to help prom-goers and their parents save money on the big event. Such as? “Many restaurants offer special menus targeting prom couples,” offers the “Tips” section of Visa’s Plan’It Prom app. “Look for restaurants that offer discounted rates for multi-course prom dinners. Eat great while spending less.”

Whoa! Dinner out? At a fancy restaurant? This was not on our agenda way back in—ahem—1986, and I went to a fancy private school on Los Angeles’s Westside. I mean, my school pretty much defined “excessive” in those days (much to the dismay of my frugal parents). But even we ate at home. Or at the prom. Or … heavens, I don’t remember what I ate or where I ate it, but I know it was not in a four-star restaurant. (That was reserved for the Sweet Sixteen parties I went to the previous year, but that’s another story.)

MORE: Biggest Prom Controversies

Then there’s the makeup tip: “Visit your local mall or department store’s makeup counter and ask for a makeup consultation. … Enjoy your professional makeup job at a fraction of the price.” OK, let me get this straight. Girls are hiring makeup artists to do their face for the prom? I had one professional makeup job in my entire life, an hour before my wedding, and I worried that that was excessive.

I’m starting to see how this all adds up, quickly.

Of course, the prom was a huge event for me and my friends, too. By spring of my senior year, I’d already missed the junior prom and four winter formals. Dateless, every time. I was determined to snag a warm male body and drag him, if necessary, to the Senior Prom, held on the deck of the Queen Mary in Long Beach, Calif. This was not a minor feat, as I went to an all-girls school and I was not in the cool crowd. The cool crowd partied with the guys from the boys school on the weekend. My crowd did all-female jaunts to the movies.

But somehow—and today, I can’t even remember the details—I managed to find a boy named Mike, sometime around March or April, who asked me out on a few dates and said “yes” to my prom invitation. We went in June, and this is what I remember:

  • My dress was white, a strapless affair with tulle and lace (like a bride’s), which strikes me now as absurd and almost disturbing. It was also not particularly flattering.
  • The Queen Mary is a better venue for tourists than prom-goers, and Long Beach Harbor is more industrial than romantic.
  • Three years after our prom date, Mike came out as gay.

RELATED: Tips to Help Your Teen De-Stress About Prom

So, boys and girls of 2013, this is my message for you: You are not about to enter some prom reality show. You are not turning into a celebrity for a night. You are a teenager, going to a really nice dance—with all that that implies.

The night may be lots of things—but probably not worth $1,139. Save your money for college. I hear that’s getting pricey, too.

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