The back-to-school 'must have' I will never buy again

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

Parenting is expensive, especially at this time of year. I've already bought three lots of back-to-school shoes, bags, lunchboxes, stationery and text books. Plus I've paid for a term of extra-curricular activities for each of my three kids to ensure they are active and well-rounded individuals.

So if there's a way to save money in this infinite money-pit activity of parenting, I'm unashamedly all about it.

That's why I'm never buying personalised labels again.

Sure, they might be a tiny expense compared with, say, a term of gymnastics (something I know from recent painfully expensive experience). But it's the sheer lack of necessity that irks me.

If you look at the ads we all see pop up on Facebook and Instagram, you'd be convinced that unless we purchase a suite of personalised labels for everything from their pencils to their shoes and – worst of all – to iron onto their uniforms.

The way the products are marketed, you would think the labels provide some sort of homing device that automatically returns your belongings to you and guarantees you won't spent every second school drop-off elbow-deep in the lost property bin, trying to find a shoe or a lunchbox or a ruler or a sock.

What a rort!

I admit, I haven't always thought so. When my eldest son, who is now 15, was small, I purchased a bumper pack of labels to ensure all of his belongings were personalised and adorable at kindy.

I came across the pack of labels the other day. Cute little red labels with ladybugs on them, which he was obsessed with at the time.


I'd used perhaps eight of them – all on lunchboxes which were subsequently lost anyway. Once I'd realised the clothing labels required ironing, I opted out of that one. Ironing is not something we do in this house, so I still have a full pack of those.

The fact is, even with the most adorable ladybug label and your child's name clearly printed, you probably won't see that object again if it goes missing. And honestly, who is labelling their pencils?

I've come up with an easier solution that has served me just as well, and at a fraction of the cost. I've invested in a black permanent marker, and I – wait for it – write my children's names on their stuff.

I write their names on their rulers and pencil cases. I write their names on the tags of their school uniforms and the inside of their shoes. I write their names on their school bags and lunchboxes.

I do not, however, write their names on their pencils – there comes a point where this labelling exercise seems to verge on the ridiculous.

They all still lose things. All. The. Time.

Sometimes they're returned, sometimes they're not, but I'm pretty sure our hit rate is exactly the same as it would be the cute colourful sticky labels.

I threw my son's old labels away too. At 15, he's not so into ladybugs any more. He also doesn't let me write anything on his stuff so I pretty much feel like I'm just making a charitable donation to Office Works at the start of each year.

As for my younger two, a permanent marker is all they've ever known, and they've never questioned it or asked for anything different. Let's face it, buying labels like this isn't for the kids, it's for the parents.

But in a world where we have so many expenses as we watch our children grow, why on earth are we inventing more reasons to put our hands in our pockets?

So I'll keep on using my black permanent marker, and I've finally thrown out my son's ladybug labels. He's taken it well – that is, he couldn't care less.