Portrait Pictures Shouldn't Be Pricey

Now that the school year is underway, we've been spending money on all sorts of extras:  instruments, field trips, and yesterday my kids gave me the forms for school pictures.  What a racket!  Every year, I look over the price list and think that this is insane.  The packages are very expensive and they often include an odd selection of sizes.  In addition, they charge extra for things such as a colored background, and you don't get to see the pictures before you buy them.  And we're not talking beautiful, professional pictures here – they're school grade pictures!

For example, the first package listed on the order form includes appoximately five "pages" of photographs.  On a "custom" background (which is anything other than gray), this package cost $54.00.  That's a lot of money for 27 pictures, 9 of which are a miniscule 1 1/2 by 2 1/2 inches, and 12 are 2X3.  I don't know about other families, but I find that the teeniest pictures are often wasted on us.  Basically, you are getting six pictures of any decent size (1 8X10, 3 5X7s and 2 3X5s).  That's not much for $54.

I recognize that many of us get so busy with life that it is hard to get the kids out to have their pictures taken regularly.  That is one of the benefits of the school picture program:  it is at school.  No spending your Saturday sitting around a portrait studio.  Even so, I think the cheapness of a local chain studio makes it worth the effort to get your child over there.
We often use the JC Penney portrait studios, just because they've worked well for us in the past.  I know that many other stores also offer portrait services, including Sears, Kmart, Walmart and Target.  If you are not going in the Christmas card season, you can often get in without an appointment, and they offer a variety of backgrounds, low or no sitting fees, packages or per-sheet charges, and they are cheap.  Of course, the regular price isn't usually that good, but with a little effort you can easily find discount coupons. 

Just yesterday, I decided to take the kids to get their pictures taken.  I used to keep a file folder of photo coupons gathered from various sources, but yesterday I just hopped online and found a JC Penney coupon for $3.99 sheets with no sitting fee and a free 8X10 , or a $7.99 portrait package that has roughly the same number of photographs as the one offered at school for $54.00.  That's a substantial savings!
We went over to the studio, without an appointment, and were told that they could fit us in in about a half hour.  We did some errands and returned.  The photographer took about twenty minutes taking about 10 shots of my daughter, then we got to choose whether we got the package (one pose) or ordered individual sheets.  Of course, it was hard to chose between the poses so we ordered a few different ones.  We ordered eight sheets with a total of 20 pictures, and were able to choose more of the larger pictures and just a few of the smaller ones.  With the free one, we paid for 7 sheets at $3.99 each, and after tax the total bill was just under thirty dollars.  Whoohoo.  We got the pictures we wanted, with the backgrounds we wanted, in the sizes we wanted, and saved about $25.  That was definitely worth the extra effort!

One key, that can be inconvenient, is that they usually won't allow a family to use more than one coupon per day.  Therefore, to get the best prices, you need to bring the kids on different days.  This can  be a negative in the logistical sense, but I find it is partially offset by the fact that my kids are a lot more cooperative and pleasant if I'm only trying to get one person photographed at a time.  This works even better if you can manage it so that one parent takes just that one child – the pictures get taken and they get a little special time as well.

Other coupons that are currently being offered include:

Sears:  $2.99 photo sheets with a $14.99 sitting fee (free for their Super Saver club members)

Target:  Free 8X10 and $3.99 sheets with no sitting fees

Walmart:  30 photo package for $7.99, no sitting fees for first subject

Kmart:  $7.99 for the first 8 sheets, $1.99 each thereafter

There are nearly always specials available…be sure to check before you go.

About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.
  • Jen

    Great article. Just got my first picture form (first kid is in preschool). Holy Cow – it is a racket! Great advice!