I Never Buy My Kids’ School Pictures & I Don’t Feel Bad About It

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Mom groups these days are buzzing with school picture chatter: What should our kids wear? Which package should we purchase? But I’ll let you in on a secret that has allowed me to gleefully bypass the forced seasonal ritual. I never, and I mean never, buy school pictures—and I absolutely don’t feel bad about it.

Let’s journey back to my 1980s childhood. Picture day was a huge deal, but even more important was the day our packages arrived. We’d take the white-with-clear-window folders home to our parents, who would get out their best scissors and carefully cut out the photos.

Then there was that magical moment when we were handed several of the tiniest photos called mini wallets. (Why were they so tiny?) The next day, we furiously and excitedly traded those photos with our friends, sometimes signing the backs with our multicolored pens. Ah, nostalgia. But it’s not the 1980s or 90s anymore.

Today, there’s little reason to purchase our own kids’ picture packages. Well, there is one good reason to cough up a bunch of your hard-earned dollars—and that’s parental guilt. Somehow, we’ve convinced ourselves that we’re obligated to buy our kiddo’s photos—no matter how terrible they are.

Related: Mom Guilt—from One Full-Time Working Mom to Another

Then we have to display that classic 5×7 or 8×10 in a frame, in our home, for almost no one to ever see—ever. That is, if the photos even make it into a frame. Let’s be real. Most of us throw the pics into a to-be-dealt-with-later pile that is never actually dealt with.

The solution to this wasteful purchase is quite simple: Just don’t do it. Don’t purchase the gold package. Who needs 57 photos of their kid, plus the kid’s-face-on-a-pillow and two (bonus) keychains? Don’t talk yourself into the smallest package—which is never less than $30 for a mere four prints that we agreed you wouldn’t be hanging up anyway. Don’t be tempted by a “moderate” package, which will set you back about $75.

That money is better spent on clothes for your kids, lunch food, school supplies, or even splurge items for yourself. Pay to put gas in your car or put it toward a medical bill instead. There’s no rule that says you have to take out a second mortgage on your house or delay paying your rent just to buy your children’s school photos.

The reality is that many of us have multiple children. Even the cheapest school photo package, multiplied by two, three, or four (or more) adds up—fast. Not only are you forking over a lot of cash, but you’re buying items that will likely go unused and unappreciated.

Stop and think for a moment. What are you going to do with those photos, besides keep them in the envelope and shove them in a drawer? You’ll pull them out, years from now, and hand them over to your adult kid, who will, in turn, store them somewhere. Can we all agree on how silly this is?

My own parents recently handed over all of my leftovers—and you know what I did with them? Buried them somewhere I don’t even remember. Because what am I going to do with a 4×6 of my sixth-grade photo—the one where I cut my own bangs the night before and have a look of middle school torture on my face? That stack of photos will never see the light of day.

I get that many moms feel photo-guilt due to affordability. They think that other moms are buying photos, so they have to as well. But if you’re in this camp and your budget is already strained, I want you to know that not everyone buys the photos. I swear.

You aren’t a bad mom for rejecting the ridiculously overpriced packages. In fact, by deciding to spend your money on necessities instead of frivolous extras, you’re teaching your children financial responsibility. You should be applauding—not berating—yourself.

Now, if you’re a mom who adores your child’s awkward smile and cowlick-filled hair and you simply cannot pass up the photo with the customized background, I’m not throwing shade. It’s your money, it’s your home, and it’s your kid. Plus, there’s that rare situation when your child’s pose, outfit, or facial expression is so hysterical, you just have to purchase the pics. That’s absolutely fine. If you want to buy the custom photo blanket with your kid’s mug plastered all over it—you do you.

As for everyone else, if you’re on the fence about what to do, ask yourself a few questions. One, why do you want to order these photos at this time? Two, how many pics do you actually need? Three, what are you going to do with them—for real—once they arrive? If you don’t have a designated person or place for them and you’re only ordering out of guilt, do you really need to click the purchase button?

I have yet to order school photos, and my four kids simply don’t care. They know that it’s not the norm in our family, and they are perfectly content with the yearbook they receive every May. No mini wallets, school-photo-on-a-coffee-cup, or packet of prints necessary.

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