Prom planning for high school teachers is one of those whirlwind projects that is only as stressful as you make it! I’ve been a class sponsor in three different schools, planned two proms, and assisted on several others. Every school has different expectations and budget needs, but here are some general tips to make the prom planning process as painless and fun as possible for all involved.
Tip #1 – Estimate the Budget
The hardest part of planning an event is figuring out and sticking to a budget – especially when excited students with magical ideas are involved. When estimating your budget, you can plan based on the money that you already have, the potential money you will have after additional fundraising and ticket sales, or a combination of both. After the budget is determined, the committee should choose their top three priorities where they would like to spend the most money (ie. Venue, DJ, Food). For tips on hunting down necessary items on the cheap, see our post How To Find Free and Cheap Classroom Stuff.
Tip #2 – Choose a Venue
If you are looking to rent a space to host your prom instead of having it (for free) at your school, there are a few things you should take into consideration: location, cost, and space. How far away is this venue? Is it a safe drive for teenagers? Will they have a way to get there? Will the cost of the venue skyrocket ticket prices? Is the space adequate for the potential number of students and chaperones, the DJ and equipment, food and drinks, tables and chairs, etc.?
Tip #3 – Commit to a Theme
Choose a theme that hasn’t been used for the last five proms. The theme students choose should allow wiggle room with decorations and not be too vague or too specific. Think “Stars” (vague) vs. “A Night Under the Stars” vs. “A Winter Night Under the Stars in Iceland” (too specific).
Tip #4 – Book the DJ
The one detail students always talk about after prom is the music, so make it memorable! When looking for a DJ, you’ll need to consider the amount of space they will need to set up their stage and equipment, what additional support they will need from the venue, if they will allow students to choose a playlist, and if they have uplighting. If you’re on a budget, look for a local college student or, if school rules allow, a current student who has honed their DJ skills. Consider offering to rent the necessary equipment in exchange for services or a reduced fee.
Tip #5 – Decide on Decorations
Decorations can eat up A LOT of your budget if you aren’t careful. If you have access to creative minds and some extra time, handmade decorations can go a long way into saving money (and sometimes they look nicer too!). However, if you are pressed for time and have money to spare, there are several companies that sell large themed prom decor. Check out Andersen’s or Oriental Trading for some ideas.
Tip #6 – Food and Drinks
Chances are, many students grabbed dinner before prom, but all parties are better with food! Choose bite-size or hand-held snacks that are self-serve and can sit out for several hours. When in doubt, a candy buffet is always a hit! Glass dishes and lighting can even make the food table part of the decor! As for drinks, sodas and lemonade in drink dispensers are super easy to handle. Prepare cups of ice ahead of time and the students can get their own drinks. Just make sure the drink station is ALWAYS adult-supervised 😉 Oh, and have PLENTY of cold mini bottles of water!
Tip #7 – Favors/Goody Bags
Keep. These. Low, Cost. The days of fancy engraved champagne glasses are becoming a thing of the past. A small token with the prom theme, school, and year plus some candy in a themed bag should do the trick! Keychains, photo frames, pens, and pop sockets are great modern-day souvenirs that you can buy in bulk!
Tip #8 – Photograph Plan
Prom is a very expensive date night, so professional photographs can be an expense some students can’t afford. If you want to take the traditional route with studio photo packet orders, be sure to hire a photographer well before the event. You can offer a free selfie station for students who may not want the expense of professional photos. Students love taking group photos and selfies any chance they can, so spending the money on a themed backdrop with props is always a win!
Tip #9 – Prom Court
If this is part of your school’s culture, you’ll want to make sure that the voting is handled during the week before in school. Purchase Prom Court sashes, King and Queen sashes, King crown, Queen and Princess tiaras, and flowers. Don’t forget to color coordinate and order these important items in plenty of time for the date!
Sample Budget – $12,000 with 400 guests at $30/ticket
Venue – $3000
DJ – $1000
Decorations – $2000
Food & Drinks – $1000
Favors – $2000
Photographer – $500
Prom Court – $200
Miscellaneous Expenses – $500
This leaves $1,800 left in case you don’t reach 400 guests or you have an unforeseen expense. Anything leftover can be saved for graduation, class trip, or next year’s prom!
If you’ve done this prom planning business before at your school, drop your best tip in the comments. Let’s make this a one-stop-shop for the useful information!
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