Not so, at one Philadelphia high school where everything needed for the prom is free! All donations come from local businesses and volunteers.
Not only are they free, but the gowns, tuxedos, shoes and jewelry can all be found at the "Prom Shop" at Arise Academy Charter High School in Center City, Philadelphia.
Senior and junior high students are selecting prom attire, something that might not be possible if not for the support and donations from dozens of local businesses and volunteers.
"David's Bridal and Men's Wearhouse and so many of our other sponsors have donated all the trimmings and everything a girl could need to be a beauty at the prom," Prom Shop co-founder Judy Rappaport said.
Savida Jones, a senior, decided on a red apple, beaded bodice and halter gown.
"I saw other dresses that I liked, but [co-founders] Miss Judy and Wendy [Stupp] thought I looked nice in this one; they said it was a red carpet dress and I really like it," Jones said.
For her very first prom, 17-year-old Shartece Brown chose a stunning tangerine one-shoulder gown.
"I feel awesome, like a princess," Brown said.
Arise Academy is the nation's first charter high school dedicated entirely to youth from foster care, students who've had more than their share of struggles.
"Our goal with the prom is to replace memories that aren't so happy with wonderful memories," Rappaport said.
" It was an amazing event last year and everyone came back on board this year...this is the best thing I've ever done in my life," Prom Shop co-founder Wendy Stupp said.
In its second year, the Prom Shop will allow at least 80 young women and men to attend the 2011 Junior-Senior Prom next Thursday night.
It will be 17-year-old Brian Griffin's first prom.
But senior Bashaar Muhammad was too modest to tell me about his experience at last year's event.
"I got to be prom prince. It caught me by surprise," Muhammad said with laughter.
Arise Academy's Junior-Senior Prom will be held next Thursday night at the African American Museum, which is donating the space. Neiman's is providing the flowers and Clays Bakery is providing the cake!